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This is what it was like at the top: It's 2006, and I am sitting in an office in a building in Beverly Hills, and a whole floor is dedicated to the sports-agency division. Huge pictures of clients like Corey Dillon and Rodney Harrison hang on the walls. I am on the phone with Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears. I'm trying to persuade him to switch agents, and I'm telling him to come to L.A. I sense hesitation, so I put the phone out the window.
"Do you hear that, Marcus? Do you hear it?" I yell. "You know what that is? That's Hollywood, baby. Hollywood's calling. You gonna answer the call?"
A week later, Marcus was in my office signing a representation agreement.
The transforming development in the agent business in the 2000s was Hollywood's move into sports. It started when CAA lured Tom Condon from IMG in 2005. The firm that represented Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie joined forces with the guy who represented Peyton and Eli Manning. That deal overshadowed another one: Steve Feldman and I joined The Gersh Agency, another of Hollywood's big talent firms.
After I left Gary Wichard, I teamed up with Steve, who had a small but solid client base that included Dillon and Harrison. Almost instantly we got some new clients, including troubled Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett (for whom we did some of our best work; a player no team should have touched got taken in the third round). But it was nothing like when Steve and I joined Gersh. At our new agency, we had something powerful to sell to players: celebrity. We told them, "Come sign with us and be a star." We put Marcus Spears in a TV pilot; NFL wideout Kassim Osgood made a guest appearance on Jericho; when I was recruiting receiver Steve Smith from USC we got him on an MTV pilot. We were selling TV and movies to athletes, and it was like having the freakin' Golden Calf.
Steve and I got meetings with almost any player we wanted. Tight end Dustin Keller, an eventual first-rounder out of Purdue, paid his own way to come see us. That doesn't happen. In November 2005, Steve and I flew to Ohio State to talk to receiver Santonio Holmes. We met him outside the football building, and he said, "Listen, I want to save you the time. We don't need to meet. I've been taking money from [an agent] the last couple years, and he's been taking care of my family too."
Had it been 10 years earlier, I would have probably said, "Santonio, whatever he's paying you, I'll double it." But now, being at Gersh, I had Hollywood to sell. Let the other agents pay kids.
That first year at Gersh was the best of my career. We were making inroads with all sorts of clients. I was earning a six-figure salary plus bonuses. I had health benefits for the first time. My wife was happy. It was everything I wanted.
Then it all came crashing down.