Jerry Maguire at 25: The real-life agent who inspired Tom Cruise's lead character
This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series.
It’s been 25 years since the release of Cameron Crowe’s seminal romantic comedy Jerry Maguire — launched on this day 13 December 1996 — a film that not only went on to rewrite the romcom rules, but also gave birth to some of the most memorable film quotes of all time.
From “Show me the money” to “you complete me”, these instantly recognisable quotes became part of our everyday language overnight, taking their rightful place in our shared lexicon on both sides of the Atlantic.
Starring Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr — the latter being the well-deserved recipient of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar — Jerry Maguire has often been called the last great romantic comedy. It had it all: a moral compass, a heartfelt message and a beautiful love story between Cruise and Zellweger’s characters.
Part of Jerry Maguire’s appeal was that it wasn’t just a classic “boy meets girl” story, nor did it rely solely on the same old hackneyed ideas one would usually associated with the genre. Presenting an engaging premise and characters you can’t help but root for, Crowe’s much-loved film is in fact a complete anomaly in romcom – it’s closer to a social film cosplaying as a romantic comedy, if you will.
Not only did it rewrite the romcom rules by asking some very pertinent questions about race and commodification of black athletes in a world run by old white men, it was also one of the very few films of the genre which could provide a true representation of an industry many of us knew almost nothing about.
In the film Cruise stars as the titular character, a handsome, high flying and very well liked sports agent, who faces a crisis of conscience after years of working in a soulless industry.
When Jerry is unceremoniously fired from his job for the crime of growing a conscience, he is left with one sole client in the shape of a down-on-his-luck NFL player Rod Tidwell (Gooding Jr). What makes this story all the more fascinating is that it is, in fact, based on real people.
Jerry Maguire was inspired by the story of sports agent Leigh Steinberg, who actually worked on the film as technical consultant, and his client, the American football player Tim McDonald, during the 1993 NFL Free Agency.
Although McDonald also appears as himself in the film, he was merely paid a lump sum for his cameo, and has never really received true recognition for his influence on the creation and development of the Cuba Rod Tidwell character.
More recently McDonald has spoken up about the matter, telling the Daily Mail: “I was Cuba in real life. That movie, that life, that world was my story and I don't think the world realises anything about it. It stings that no one knows the truth.”
While Gooding won an Academy Award for the role of Tidwell, McDonald has felt he was unjustly treated by the producers of the film, notably that he has received no credit for devising the “show me the money” quote.
In the film, it is uttered during a particularly heated phone call between Jerry and Rod, in which the latter asks his agent to prove his commitment to him. “Show me the money” subsequently became a phrase that carried with it the whole weight of the film and some important socio-political and race related issues.
In an industry where a Black athlete is cajoled with the offer of all the money in the world, just to play a game, Rod Tidwell represented the flip side of what happens to that same athlete when he is on his way out and scrambling to salvage some dignity.
Steinberg remembers the genesis of “Show me the money” differently, telling the Daily Mail:“Cameron Crowe asked Tim what he was looking for in the process and Tim simply said, 'I am looking for a team to show me some winning, some economic security and the way to the Super Bowl.' And then it was Cameron who came up with the phrase 'show me the money,’”.
But McDonald has insisted that the phrase came directly from him – at a moment when he had been a free agent and frustrated about the lack of offers coming his way: “I leaned over to my agent and said at 'some point somebody's going to have to show us the money.”
Still, whether it was said by McDonald or imagined by Crowe himself, this particular line will live on long before any of the film’s character and those that inspired it. Which is no mean feat for a simple off -the-cuff comment.
Jerry Maguire is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch a trailer below.