by Dave Douglas, Producer
In 1975 the Vietnam War officially ended and Americans no longer had to endure the grim news images of bombed villages and wounded soldiers. Instead they turned their attention to the failed assassination attempt of Lynette “Squeeky” Fromme on President Gerald Ford, the arrest of heiress Patty Hearst and the disappearance of teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
That same year, the Cal-Berkeley war protests had ended and a young Cal law student had been in the midst of them. His name was Leigh Steinberg. Steinberg was a dorm counselor in Cal’s Norton Hall and many members of the football team had just moved in. Steinberg’s job as he described it was “to make sure that there was one wall left standing” after the school year.
One of those football players just happened to be the Golden Bears starting quarterback and the number one pick in the entire ’75 draft. His name was Steve Bartkowski and his agent at the time was a lawyer assigned to him by the university who would handle Bartkowski’s contract negotiations with the Atlanta Falcons. It didn’t go well. Bartkowski became frustrated and expressed his concern to his friend and dorm counselor. Steinberg didn’t think that it should be so difficult to find a way to deal effectively with the Falcons and that Bartkowski should expect to be paid a great deal as the new face of Atlanta’s franchise. Bartkowski asked Steinberg if he’d be his agent and Steinberg agreed. He was 25 with no experience in the art of player representation whatsoever.
Little did Steinberg know that he was joining a shady band of greedy and side-dealing player reps who were often out just to line their own pockets. Steinberg also had to face off with bottom-line owners and ruthless general managers who were loathe to part with their money. But he became instantly adept at the art of negotiation and put the interests of his clients first. In the end, Steinberg got Bartkowski a $600,000 deal which was the highest ever at the time. Bartkowski’s contract easily surpassed the previous blockbuster deals of O.J. Simpson and Joe Namath and Steinberg would go on to become one of the most influential and respected NFL agents ever.
Years later, Hollywood director Cameron Crowe called Steinberg and asked him if he could follow him around for a year to experience the life of a high-powered NFL agent. Soon after, Crowe made the movie “Jerry Maguire” and it is thought that Tom Cruise’s character is at least based partially on steinberg. The chance meeting of a young college quarterback and his dorm counselor changed everything. 1975 was just the beginning…NFL agents were here to stay.
Caught in the Draft 1975: Agents of Change premieres exclusively on NFL Network Thursday, April 9th at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
The Caught in the Draft series is produced by David Plaut and Neil Zender
The 1975 episode “Agents of Change” was produced by Bob Angelo and Dave Douglas