By BERNIE WILSON, Associated Press
SAN DIEGO (AP) — It's been three years since Leigh Steinberg had his last drink of vodka, the personal demon that sent his personal and professional lives crashing out of control.
It was on March 20, 2010, when Steinberg was standing in the doorway of a treatment center for indigent alcoholics, the last place anyone would expect to find the super agent who was the inspiration for Tom Cruise's character in "Jerry Maguire." There wasn't a bed available, so his brother drove him to a residential rehab center where he spent the next 10 months.
Thursday is his third sober birthday. It's a big milestone for Steinberg, who plans to relaunch his sports and entertainment agency this year as well as work on numerous other projects, including an autobiography and his continuing crusade to raise awareness of the damaging effects of concussions.
"I wanted to focus on sobriety first so I absolutely could make sure I had an intelligent plan to deal with it," Steinberg said in a phone interview from his office in Newport Beach.
"I continue to be a work in progress. You don't get cured from alcoholism. It's a lifelong condition, but with diligence, you can stop from drinking. Once it's in your brain, it's not like, 'OK, I've been sober for three years, I can start drinking again.' "
On Saturday, friend and business partner Richard Gillam will throw a party to celebrate Steinberg's three years of sobriety and his real birthday, which is next Wednesday.
"I get to repeat the Beatles lyrics, "Will you still need me ... ," Steinberg said, quoting from "When I'm Sixty-Four."
Digging out from the wreckage caused by the fog of alcoholism has included settling a personal bankruptcy case and repaying a loan to former NFL player Chad Morton in a tangled case that badly damaged Steinberg's career.
He's working to put together the financing to relaunch his sports agency. Later this year he'll take the test required to regain his certification from the NFL Players Association, which he let lapse during his battle with booze.
"I will prepare thoroughly," said Steinberg, who then will begin recruiting clients. Within a year, he hopes to be certified in all major sports.
His only current client is SMU coach June Jones, who's been with Steinberg since his NFL days.
Steinberg, who always had a squeaky clean image, envisions a company that would assemble superstar talent in football, baseball, basketball, hockey, boxing, MMA, action sports, golf and tennis.
Earlier this week, he took to Twitter to solicit suggestions for the title of his autobiography, will be published sometime between the end of the year and the Super Bowl, appropriate timing considering the number of title-winning quarterbacks and Hall of Famers he used to represent.
He said there's interest in a movie based on the book. And no, Cruise won't star in it.
Steinberg said he's been asked why he doesn't just retire from being a sports agent. He said he can make enough money from speaking engagements, his book, writing for Forbes.com and other outlets, and teaching sports and entertainment law classes at local colleges.
It turns out he's still idealistic.
"I still get fulfillment and gratitude in helping young men realize their dreams," said Steinberg, who represented players such as Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Warren Moon, Bruce Smith, Howie Long, Derrick Thomas and Ben Roethlisberger. "I think the concept of role-modeling and a focus on second careers never goes out of style. And I haven't noticed the field of representation is greatly improved."
Steinberg said he remains "hard-wired to be of service." Over the decades, he said, his many clients have raised an estimated $760 million in various charitable endeavors. His late father, who was a high school principal in Los Angeles, admonished him to treasure relationships, especially with family, to make a difference and help people who can't help themselves.
"Look, the way I've made it through all of this is by perspective," he said. "I'm not a starving peasant in Darfur. I don't have the name Steinberg in Nazi Germany. I don't have cancer. I don't live in a repressive country. I was born an American in the most democratic and economically rich country in the world and I didn't fight in a war to preserve that. The least I can do is try to extend that to people and try to make a difference."