Brad Rock: Famed former Steve Young agent Leigh Steinberg back in the game

Published: Thursday, May 8 2014 9:56 p.m. MDT

Ricky Williams' agent Leigh Steinberg gestures while fielding questions from reporters during a news conference in Davie, Florida, July 25, 2005. It's been three years since Steinberg had his last drink of vodka, the personal demon that sent his personal and professional lives crashing out of control. After a stunning fall that included filing for bankruptcy, the super agent who was the inspiration for Tom Cruise's character in "Jerry Maguire" plans to relaunch his sports and entertainment agency this year.

STEVE MITCHELL, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Neither Steve Young nor Leigh Steinberg looked like a multimillionaire on the rise, that day in 1984.

At least not to one another.

The All-America quarterback and the legendary agent were just a couple of guys in jeans at Salt Lake International Airport. Steinberg, already a high-powered negotiator, had flown in to meet the former BYU quarterback, but they ended up paging one another.

“I was young-looking and casually dressed and Steve was really young-looking and casually dressed,” Steinberg said. “I didn’t see anyone at the airport that looked like the first draft pick, and he didn’t see anyone that looked like an agent.”

Small wonder they later joined to forge a contract that made the nightly national news. Though they differed politically, they agreed philanthropically.

And stylistically.

After signing Young's famous $40 million contract with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL, where did they go to celebrate?

“Probably Chuck E. Cheese’s or McDonald’s,” Steinberg said on Thursday.

Young went on to become a Hall of Fame quarterback and TV football analyst. Though he began in the USFL, he was the No. 1 pick in the 1984 NFL supplemental draft. Steinberg became one of the most powerful agents in sports and the face of all agents. Not that he was that on Thursday as the NFL draft commenced. His days of striking fear in the hearts of team owners and management are over.

His days as an agent?

Not necessarily.

Steinberg will be at Cottonwood High next Thursday to raise money for EyeCare4Kids, a charitable organization that provides vision help for the underprivileged. Admission to the speech at 7:30 is free, while cost of a VIP reception at 6:30 is $75.

So there you have the beginning and end of the story.

The middle, though, is complicated.

There’s no denying both Steinberg and Young wildly succeeded. The former negotiated over $3 billion in contracts. The latter accounted for 300 touchdowns in a 17-year career. Both founded and aided numerous charities. That was Steinberg’s credo and it was Young’s inclination. They have raised hundreds of millions for worthy causes.

It’s just that Steinberg took a detour, compliments of divorce, legal judgments, agent decertification, medical bills, alcoholism and bankruptcy that took him to his lowest point five years ago. Two of his kids had been diagnosed with a serious eye disease and in 2004 his father died of cancer. He lost two homes and ended up living for a time with his mother.

But things are looking better. He is four years sober and was recertified as an agent last fall. His best-known current clients are Southern Methodist coach June Jones and quarterback Garrett Gilbert — far from his old list that also included Warren Moon, Drew Bledsoe, Troy Aikman and boxer Oscar Del La Hoya. The main focus now, he says, is on athletes who branch out into film, TV, video games and other forms of entertainment.

His book, “The Agent: My 40-year Career Making Deals and Changing the Game,” made The New York Times best-seller list. Despite falling several million into debt, after first selling his agency for a personal profit of $60 million, he said, “I’m through all that and on the positive side economically now.”

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