Reel Life: 'Jerry Maguire'
By Jeff Merron
Special to Page 2

It's a sports movie, it's a comedy, it's about business, it's about romance. "Jerry Maguire" did boffo box office when it came out in December 1996 because, unlike many sports films, it had broad appeal. And it had a rejuvenating mix of idealism and realism. Realism? Writer-director Cameron Crowe did do his research. But does "Jerry Maguire" depict the life of the big-time sports agent accurately? You decide.

Jerry Maguire poster
In Reel Life: Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is an agent who works for a large firm called Sports Management International.
In Real Life: Maguire is a fictional character, although no fewer than three agents have claimed the character is based on them. The most famous of these is Leigh Steinberg, who did serve as a consultant, and Crowe did follow Steinberg around for a while to get a feel for the life. Drew Rosenhaus, another agent, also consulted on the film. He told USA Today that he saw the film with his girlfriend. "The entire movie we were, like, 'O man, that's the business, and that's me.' "(A short video included in the DVD package features Rosenhaus on "How to Be a Sports Agent.") Finally, ESPN The Magazine recently reported that Crowe said Gary Wichard, another agent, was an inspiration for the Maguire character.

In Reel Life: Maguire says he has 72 clients.
In Real Life: Several agents said this was an impossible workload. "Big firms have specialists for marketing, contracts, finances," says one. "One person handling everything should have two or three clients."

In Reel Life: Maguire is a sharp-dressed, well-groomed and handsome man.
In Real Life: "I've never seen an agent who looked like Tom Cruise," said Scott Layden in 1997, when he was the Utah Jazz general manager. "It's usually more like Ratso Rizzo."

Tom Cruise
If sports agents looked and dressed like Tom Cruise, they wouldn't be sports agents.
In Reel Life: Maguire writes a "mission statement," entitled "The Things We Think and Do Not Say." In the statement (the full text is included on the DVD), he emphasizes the love of the job, and says that the firm should cut back on the number of clients it serves, and provide more personal attention.
In Real Life: The mission statement, by one account, was inspired by a memo former Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg wrote in 1991. The 28-page screed was leaked to Variety and quickly became notorious. In the memo, Katzenberg advocated cutting costs and at the same time included statements such as, "Let's not be afraid to admit to others and to ourselves, up front and with passion, that we love what we do" and "The time has come to get back to our roots." Revisiting the memo a year later, Bernard Weinraub of the New York Times wrote, "Mr. Katzenberg may have stated the obvious but ... his comments stirred an outsize reaction." Kind of like what happened when Maguire wrote his memo.

In Reel Life: The mission statement says that SMI was founded in 1981, the same year Maguire joined the firm. It had four clients at first, including "The first American Frisbee champion, Chester Savage, who was actually born in Australia."
In Real Life: According to the International Frisbee Hall of Fame, Victor Malafronte, of Berkeley, Calif., was the first World Frisbee Disc Champion, back in 1974.

In Reel Life: In his mission statement, Maguire writes, "In the words of Martin Luther King, whose suit I suggest you all visit before they move it from its display in the Atlanta airport: 'A life is not worth living until you have something to die for.' "
In Real Life: In a speech delivered in Detroit on June 23, 1963, King said, "If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." The MLK Jr. suit on display at Atlanta's Hartsfield airport was a stunner, wrote Colin Campbell in a 1992 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article: "I'd seen the Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit before, so I didn't need to stop there (except to marvel, I don't know why, at King's three-button gray suit, nine-transistor portable radio and Timex watch)."

In Reel Life: An SMI employee, Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger), is on the same flight as Maguire. She eavesdrops on a conversation he's having -- he's sitting in first class, while she's in coach, but she hears the whole conversation clearly.
In Real Life: According to the National Campaign for Hearing Health, airplane cabin noise ranges from 95 to 115 decibels. Boeing's lead sound engineer, on the other hand, told USA Today in 1999 that cabin noise, while the plane is cruising, is below 80 decibels. In any case, Maguire and his seatmate probably would have had enough trouble just hearing each other in normal conversational tones. For them to be heard by someone sitting in coach, they'd have to be talking very loudly.

Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger
Renée Zellweger played an accountant inspired by Cruise's Maguire, though not in an Arthur Andersen kind of way.
In Reel Life: Boyd says to Maguire, about the mission statement, "I was inspired, and I'm an accountant."
In Real Life: As we now know, after the creative bookkeeping at the heart of the Enron and Worldcom debacles, accountants can be quite inspired, though perhaps not in the most inspiring ways.

In Reel Life: Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) takes Maguire out to lunch a week after Maguire received a standing O for his mission statement ... and fires him. Maguire and Sugar return to the SMI office and both start calling clients immediately, competing for them in a kind of phone duel. After it's all over, Maguire has retained just one of his clients, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.).
In Real Life: Most athletes would feel more loyalty to their individual agent, not the firm, and most firms have a legally applicable policy that allows agents to keep clients who they had when they became firm members, Ralph Cindrich, a former IMG agent, told USA Today. The phone duel couldn't have happened. "He'd be able to get his personal items, then a guard would escort him out," Cindrich said.

In Reel Life: As Sugar fires Maguire, "Happy Birthday To You" is sung at another table.
Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Cruise's Maguire manages to keep Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Rod Tidwell as a client.
In Real Life: "Happy Birthday to You," by Mildred J. and Patty S. Hill, is a copyrighted work and is listed in the credits. The Hill sisters, both schoolteachers, wrote the song in 1893, as a greeting -- the original four lines of lyrics ("Good morning dear teacher, good morning to you ...") were entitled "Good Morning to All." In 1924, Robert H. Coleman published the song without permission, and added a second verse -- "Happy Birthday to You." This led to a lawsuit, which the Hills won, and they copyrighted the song in 1935. It now earns about $2 million a year in revenues.

In Reel Life: One of Jerry's clients says, "I don't know what you do for your 4 percent."
In Real Life: Most agents make between 2 and 4 percent of a contract (the cap is 4 percent for the NBA and NFL, 3 percent for MLB). Agents make more -- usually 15 percent -- when they set up endorsement deals.

In Reel Life: Marcee Tidwell (Rod's wife, played by Regina King) rides Jerry even harder than Rod throughout the film.
In Real Life: Crowe, in his DVD commentary, says that while doing research for the film, one agent told him, "Fear the protective wife most of all."

Cuba Gooding Jr.
Wherever Gooding goes, somebody always yells "Show me the money."
In Reel Life: Maguire convinces Tidwell to stay on as his client. Tidwell responds, in part, by saying, "Show me the money."
In Real Life: Crowe said he got that line from former Arizona Cardinals safety Tim McDonald, who he had been following around while researching the movie. "He was actually at an owners' meeting to be paraded through the lobby to get his price up, because he was a free agent," Crowe told the Toronto Sun in 1996. "He said, 'I've got a wife and I've got kids and I've been beaten up for five years here in Phoenix and now I'm a free agent. Show me the money."

Says Gooding in his DVD commentary, "That line has haunted me ever since. I can be at a funeral, in the back you'll hear some (jerk) go, 'Show me the money.' "

In Reel Life: Tidwell is approached by a kid at an airport, who asks, "Are you Hootie?"
In Real Life: The reference is to the front man of "Hootie and the Blowfish." Gooding, in his DVD commentary, says this happened to him in real life shortly after the scene was shot -- a fan approached him in an airport, mistaking him for Hootie's lead singer, Darius Rucker. In the Spanish-language version, the line, "Are you Hootie?" is changed to "Are you Ice-T?" Crowe explains on the DVD that Hootie wasn't popular enough in Spain for the reference to register.

In Reel Life: Jerry's girlfriend, Avery Bishop (Kelly Preston) tries to inspire him after he's fired. She says, with great emphasis, "You are Jerry-Ma-f---ing-guire."
Kelly Preston
Kelly "bleeping" Preston played Cruise's power-hungry girlfriend in "Jerry Maguire."
In Real Life: The insertion of the adaptable expletive into the middle of a name, as a form of promotion, goes back at least to the 1940s. As Jim Bouton recounts in "Ball Four," when Ted Williams took batting practice, he would yell out, "My name is Ted f---ing Williams and I'm the greatest hitter in baseball."

In Reel Life: Jerry, in his car, tries singing the lyrics to "Bitch," by the Rolling Stones, but he quickly has trouble with the lyrics and switches the station.
In Real Life: It's a great tune, but it can be tough to sing along with if you have trouble decoding the lyrics. If you're tempted, here are the first two verses. You can find the rest on the web:

    I'm feeling so tired, can't understand it
    Just had a fortnight's sleep
    I'm feeling so tired, Ow!, so distracted
    Ain't touched a thing all week

    I'm feeling drunk, juiced up and sloppy
    Ain't touched a drink all night
    Feeling hungry, can't see the reason
    Just had a horse meat pie

In Reel Life: Tidwell says to Jerry, "F--- Reebok. All they do is ignore me."
In Real Life: In the original script, the line was "F--- Nike," but Reebok agreed to pony up big bucks for the major product placement and promotion the film promised to provide -- despite the "F--- Reebok" line. The centerpiece of the deal: At the end of the film, Tidwell would finally land a deal with Reebok, and do a commercial that would be shown while the credits rolled. Tidwell's Reebok commercial ended up on the cutting room floor, though, and Reebok sued TriStar pictures for $10 million, claiming breach of contract. The suit was eventually settled out of court. The Reebok spot, which cost $1.5 million to produce, is smart and funny. You can see it in included in the "Special Edition" DVD package. It's entitled "My First Commercial, by Rod Tidwell" and concludes with a message from Reebok: "We didn't notice you for four seasons. We're sorry."

"Jerry Maguire" was a product placement dream machine, reported Entertainment Weekly in 1997. Among the 25-plus products featured were Coke, Gatorade, Toshiba and Marriott. TriStar asked $3 million for the right to put sunglasses on the bridge of Cruise's nose, but there were no takers.

In Reel Life: When Jerry breaks up with Avery, she says, "I did the 23-hour Nose Route to the top of El Capitan in 18 hours 23 minutes. I can make this work."
In Real Life: There are 70-plus routes up El Capitan, and the 3,000-foot "Nose Route" is the best known. The average climber goes the distance in about four days, and in November 2001 Timmy O'Neill and Dean Potter made it in a record three hours and 24 minutes. The first ascent, in 1958, took 45 days. The most likely reference Avery was making would have been to Lynn Hill's record-setting 23-hour free climb of the Nose in 1994. Of course, that would have made Avery one of the best climbers in the world.

Jonathan Lipnicki
Jonathan Lipnicki greatly underestimated the weight of Cruise's head.
In Reel Life: Dorothy's son, Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), says, "The human head weighs eight pounds."
In Real Life: An average adult human head weighs about 12 pounds.

In Reel Life: When Jerry sees Dorothy in a slinky black dress before they go out to dinner, he says, "That's more than a dress. That's an Audrey Hepburn movie."
In Real Life: Aubrey Hepburn was an elegant, stylish actress known for her classiness on and off the screen. She won an Oscar, in 1953, for her first U.S. movie role, in "Roman Holiday" and was also famed for her roles in "Funny Face," "Love in the Afternoon" and "My Fair Lady." She also played Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), in which she looked cute and stunning and also happened to wear a slinky black dress.

In Reel Life: One woman in the divorce group says, "I broke up with the cowboy. And now he's stalking me." Another woman asks, "What's the current definition of stalking?" and the first woman replies, "Coming over uninvited."
In Real Life: The American Heritage Dictionary says the kind of stalking they're talking about is: "To follow or observe (a person) persistently, especially out of obsession or derangement."

In Reel Life: The night before the draft, Frank Cushman (Jerry O'Connell), one of Maguire's two clients, who's slated to go No. 1 in the draft, is stolen by another agent.
In Real Life: "The cutthroat part of the business is where a guy's trying to steal your clients," agent Dan Levine told the Kansas City Star. "It's a reality -- a bad one, but a real one." But, while most agents will admit that client-stealing goes on, few will admit that they engage in the practice.

In Reel Life: Matt Cushman, Cush's father (Beau Bridges), drinks "bloody beer," a mixture of beer and tomato juice.
In Real Life: According to, it's easy to make a bloody beer -- just mix four ounces of beer with four ounces of tomato juice, and enjoy. Another recipe for bloody beer calls for a full glass of beer with just a splash of tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix.

In Reel Life: After Tidwell scores a touchdown, he does a backflip and a funky dance in the end zone.
In Real Life: That's Gooding doing the backflip -- no stunt double for that one (a stunt double was used for the scene when Tidwell runs into a goalpost). Gooding, in his DVD commentary, says Paula Abdul helped him choreograph the dance.

In Reel Life: When Tidwell is injured and on his back in the end zone, Maguire runs through the tunnel and onto the field. Then he stands there calling Tidwell's wife on his cell phone.
In Real Life: An agent wouldn't be allowed to run onto the field.



Jeff Merron Archive

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Reel Life: 'The Hustler'

Reel Life: 'Rocky'

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Closer Look: Lost in a 'Field' of imagination

Closer Look: 'The Rookie' in reel life

Closer Look: 'Bull Durham' in reel life

Closer Look: 'Hoosiers' in reel life

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