SAN DIEGO – The real-life “Jerry Maguire“ is riding a nice comeback wave.
A decade after his personal and professional life bottomed out, agent Leigh Steinberg has another Super Bowl MVP client, saw his 11th former client elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and likely will have two clients taken in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.
“It’s a great thrill,” Steinberg said in a phone interview from his office in Newport Beach. “When you’re representing athletes, there are probably three high points or marks of distinction. One is to have the MVP of the Super Bowl, one is to have a quarterback who can go very high in the draft, maybe the first pick, and one is to have players go into the Hall of Fame.”
Steinberg hit on two of the three two weekends ago. Edgerrin James was elected to the Hall of Fame and the next day, Patrick Mahomes was named Super Bowl MVP after helping rally the Kansas City Chiefs to a 31-20 victory against the San Francisco 49ers.
Two of Steinberg’s newest clients, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, both of Alabama, are expected to be first-round draft picks.
Representing a Super Bowl MVP is nothing new for Steinberg. It’s just that it had been 25 years since his last one, Steve Young.
This time, it was with one of the NFL’s most exciting young players.
“It’s wonderful,” said Steinberg, who added that Mahomes is the kind of player and person he has always sought to represent, someone of high character and strong work ethic willing to be a role model and give back to the community. “Again, first of all because of the type of person he is. He has a unique skillset. I still love the opportunity to enhance the best values in young people and prepare them not only for their playing career, but for a second career.”
Steinberg, who turns 71 next month, has picked up a nice second wind himself.
A powerful agent since 1975, Steinberg had an all-star list of clients that included many who would become Hall of Famers, including Young, Troy Aikman – also a Super Bowl MVP – Warren Moon, Howie Long, Thurman Thomas, Derrick Thomas and Bruce Smith. Known for a squeaky clean image, he battled alcoholism and bankruptcy, and let his agent certification lapse.
After getting sober and clearing bankruptcy, Steinberg was recertified by the NFL Players Association in 2013 and launched Steinberg Sports and Entertainment with the help of Chris Cabott. Steinberg is CEO and chairman, and Cabott is chief operating officer, president and lead agent.
Cabott said he got to know Steinberg through mutual friends when he was supporting a family member’s sobriety while Steinberg was pursuing his sobriety.
“I really respected his bravery to get off the canvas,” Cabott said.
Cabott, who helped shape Steinberg’s relaunched agency, said he started scouting Mahomes when he was a freshman at Texas Tech. “I thought there was magic there, with a distinctive playmaking ability we hadn’t seen before,” the agent said.
After struggling to contact the family, Cabott said he “got up the gumption“ to call Mahomes’ mother at work. “She called back two weeks later and the heavens opened up.”
Cabott and Steinberg met with Mahomes’ parents, Pat Mahomes and Randi Martin, and his godfather, former big league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins. “They were looking for something unique, something very boutique-focused, but with a lot of experience behind it. It seemed like we had that unique fit,” Cabott said.
Pat Mahomes pitched in the major leagues for 11 seasons and had heard of Steinberg.
“Being a professional athlete and a big fan of football, I definitely knew who Jerry Maguire was,“ Pat Mahomes said, referring to Steinberg, who was the inspiration for Tom Cruise’s character in the 1996 movie.
“We knew Leigh went through some stuff. He was out front about it,“ Pat Mahomes said. “He just built up a big trust and belief system in me and LaTroy Hawkins and his mom.“
They narrowed the field to five agents “and put Patrick in front of them and let him make the decision for himself,” Pat Mahomes said.
Before Steinberg and Cabott showed Patrick Mahomes the money, they showed him a plan.
“I mean, he was always upfront and honest with me and believed in me, and he and Chris had a plan for me going into the draft,“ Patrick Mahomes told The Associated Press at the start of the 2019 season. “It really came down to trusting those guys and seeing what they had planned for me.”
The Chiefs are likely to make Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP, the league’s highest-paid player this offseason. Steinberg and Cabott declined comment.
Steinberg has represented eight players who have gone No. 1 overall in the draft and 62 who went in the first round, including Mahomes at No. 10 overall in 2017. He’s equally proud of players who’ve found successful second careers and continue their philanthropy.
Steinberg himself mentors young people interested in sports careers through his Agent Academy and Sports Career Conference.
“He’s the godfather of our industry,” Cabott said. “That will never change.”
Steinberg has another milestone coming up. March 21 will mark 10 years of sobriety.
“People talk about the comeback; my real comeback is having been a good parent and maintaining continuous sobriety,” he said. “I didn’t do it alone. If there are people out there struggling and hopeless because of some form of substance addiction, there are 12-step programs and unique fellowships that can help. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The reason I’ve been public about it, the alcoholism, is it might inspire someone to help find a path forward.”
Although he doesn’t plan to slow down. Steinberg said his agency is set up for continuity. Steinberg calls the 40-year-old Cabott “a superstar agent,” and Steinberg’s middle son, Matt, 28, also is an agent with the firm.
“I’ve been blessed with high energy, and I picked a profession where everything I was interested in I could do,” Steinberg said. “I could make a difference in the world, I could be involved in motion pictures and write books.
“I’m filled with lots of energy and frankly I don’t see myself raising orchids or sitting on a park bench.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed.
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