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Folktales: Cards Go Hollywood
The Cardinals and their practice facility are at the heart of the movie 'Jerry Maguire'
By Kyle Odegard, special to azcardinals.com Nov 11, 2021
Photographs By Arizona Cardinals/AP

Tim McDonald was fed up.

After multiple free agent visits in 1993, the Cardinals All-Pro safety had been promised lots of things by lots of teams, but had yet to nail down a contract offer commensurate with his worth.

At the owners meetings in Palm Springs, California in late March, McDonald vented his dissatisfaction to Cameron Crowe, a burgeoning screenwriter who was tagging along for background on a movie he planned to shoot down the road.

"I had taken a trip to Tampa, and I had taken a trip to Philadelphia to meet their organizations," McDonald said earlier this year from his home in Rancho Cucamonga, California. "I remember being a little frustrated having to go through all this process, and wanting to get it over real quick.

"I remember talking to my agent (Leigh Steinberg) and telling him, 'Hey, I don't want to do too many more of these trips. Let's get this thing done. At some point in time, someone needs to show me some money.'"

McDonald swears the phrase was not a big deal at the time. He eventually did get the contract he wanted, signing with the 49ers for five years and $12.75 million.

More notably, Crowe latched on to those words and, after a slight tweak, turned it into cinematic gold. A quarter century later, it's impossible to hear 'Show Me The Money' without immediately picturing Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Cruise repeating it back to one another at increasingly strong decibels.

McDonald had no idea what he started, but chuckles softly at his indelible contribution to the Hollywood blockbuster, Jerry Maguire.

"Cameron Crowe was really good to talk to, and he asked a lot of questions about the process," McDonald said. "I kept wondering in my mind, 'What kind of movie is this?' Free agency didn't sound like much. It was kind of surprising. It was kind of different. But to see the movie, once it came out, it all made sense to me what he was doing and how he put it together."

After it hit theaters in 1996, 'Jerry Maguire' became one of the most memorable movies of all-time, as the story about an NFL agent (Cruise) and his client (Gooding) grossed more than $273 million and earned Gooding, Jr. a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Academy Awards.

Such smashing success was unknown in the years prior, but McDonald agreed to go along for the ride, as did his former organization.

Gooding's character, Rod Tidwell, played wide receiver for the Cardinals, and the team allowed Crowe – who declined an interview for this story – to use its practice facility to shoot many scenes.

The famous 'Help me, help you' conversation between Cruise and Gooding took place in the bathroom and locker room in Tempe.

Former Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry recognized the setup during his free agent trip to the facility in 2004 and later found himself re-enacting the scene after signing.

"When I saw it, I just couldn't believe how true to life it was," Berry said. "I thought that maybe they had generated a locker room. I knew that it was set in Phoenix, and it was the Cardinals and all that stuff, but it was as true to life as it could possibly be."

The Cardinals' practices were often held on the same days as the movie production, but generally at different times. However, former Cardinals wide receiver Frank Sanders said there were moments when he ran into the actors.

"I'm sitting in my locker room, and I'm walking back toward the restroom area, shower area, hot tub area, and I can see that Tom's in there," Sanders said. "Tom Cruise's name is much bigger than his height, and I didn't think that was him. But I knew it was him based on his hair and his style.

"He looked and said, 'Hey.' He just kind of washed his hands and turned and went the other way out. I guess seeing a star is like seeing a shooting star. You wish upon it and then you just don't get that wish. That's kind of what it felt like to me to watch him come in, and then go out the other way."

Game footage from the Cardinals' Christmas Night clash against the Cowboys in 1995 was used in the movie, and the production crew shot other scenes that evening.

"We're running out for the start of the game," said former Cardinals receiver Anthony Edwards. "We run out and I see this number 85. And I know that's not Rob Moore, and this guy's running out with us. And in my mind, I'm thinking, like, 'Who is this guy?'"

Gooding, Jr. had yet to be cast as Tidwell, but the producers got the shots they needed, including the iconic touchdown scene in the south end zone of Sun Devil Stadium at intermission.

"We're playing a game and they came in and said, 'Hey, halftime is going to be a little longer than usual, because they've got to shoot a segment when they're in the end zone,'" Sanders said. "The spin. And then when you're coming back out of the tunnel, you're seeing cameras and people walk by you."

More production took place at the facility in the spring of 1996, but was nearly postponed because Gooding sprained his knee on the first day of filming.

"We got him off the field with a cart," said John Omohundro, the Cardinals' trainer at the time. "He came in and got over there on Table No. 2. We give him first aid, and he says, 'I can't believe I hurt my knee.' I said, 'Well, you're going for authenticity.'"

In the midst of Gooding's treatment, a producer had him stand up and re-enter the room so the crew could film it. The audio engineers had previously shut off the ice machine because it was too loud during scenes, and it had to be turned back on so Omohundro could tend to Gooding.

"We had our little moments of crisis that we had to iron out," Omohundro said with a laugh.

While McDonald helped inspire the movie's plot, the player who gained the most fame from it was Rob Moore. Tidwell wore No. 85 in the movie because of Gooding's resemblance to the Cardinals receiver, and Moore's real-life highlights were used in the movie.

"They look almost identical in a lot of mannerisms and body structure," Sanders said.

Moore, who is currently the wide receivers coach for the Titans, is the anti-Tidwell, reluctant to accept any credit for the success of 'Jerry Maguire.'

"I got a lot of undue adulation for really doing nothing," Moore said. "You're associated with an all-time great movie. All I did was give a few instructions here and there. Outside of that, I didn't really do much."

Moore said his biggest contribution came behind the scenes as the directors tried hard to portray a true football experience on the big screen.

"They asked me if these things were realistic that they were trying to project on film," Moore said. "They literally had an 'X' marked on the field, they had some linebackers or defenders, and then they had offensive players. The offensive players were running to the 'X' catching the ball and the defenders were trying to hit him as hard as they could.

"So I'm staying there watching it, and these guys are getting teed off on. And I'm just sitting there like, 'These guys better be getting paid a lot of money,' because I must have seen to seen two or three guys get concussed. And they just kept bringing more and more guys out there. Give me another take, another take, another take. And I was just like, 'Alright, that was impressive.'"

After Jerry Maguire came out, Moore graced a 'GQ' cover with Gooding, Jr. and his teammates couldn't resist a few jabs when the season began.

"It was like, 'Rob, hey, man, can you make plays like Tidwell?" fullback Larry Centers said. "'Hey, man, we need you.' We gave him a hard time about it. We used to call him Tidwell from time to time at practice."

To this day, Moore continues to hear about his involvement in the movie.

"Oh, all the time," he said. "My players want to talk about it all the time. Michael Crabtree used to always walk into the meeting room and say 'Show me the money.' That was his introduction to the meeting for the day. So I've heard that, I don't know, 500 times."

It seems everyone wants to know if the Tidwell character was based on one specific person.

It wasn't a portrayal of McDonald, who may have come up with the money line, but didn't have the persona.

"No, no, no," McDonald said. "I'm much more of a low-key guy. I shy away from the cameras. I didn't have a dance. Never did. Made a lot plays, but didn't have a lot of dances. That's the furthest thing from me."

It wasn't Moore.

"You would never see me out there doing cartwheels and back spins and things like that after a touchdown," Moore said. "I'm quite sure they took some liberties in regards to that."

It wasn't Centers.

"I had a bunch of people back home asking me, 'Did they make this movie (about you)?" Centers said. "I was in a contract year, I think, at the time, and they were asking me how much of that movie was based on any of my story. I told them none of it, as far as I was concerned. But of course, I did want them to show me the money."

Crowe, it seems, combined aspects of multiple personalities to come up with Tidwell, and then added that touch of Hollywood drama to raise the stakes.

One thing that did ring true: the players' hunt for a fair contract, and the agents' attempt at keeping clients with them while poaching others.

"At that time, remember, agents were not making a solid four (percent) commission," Sanders said. "They were probably making between one and three. And it was a dog-eat-dog world. Like, your cousin could have been your agent. You didn't have to have a degree or a true certification.

"And so agents at that time were willing to do a lot of things, and to make themselves available for you at any circumstance or situation. The commissions and the money that was made being an agent at that time was a booming business, because the money had just changed. So to see a lot of that stuff that was happening in the movie, yeah. You can get four or five guys to sit around each other, and if we told our stories, we could piece together a good movie."

The Cardinals understood movie scenes were being shot at their facility in 1995 and 1996, but that was the extent of it.

"We didn't know it was going to become what it ultimately became," Centers said. "I'm happy I was there to be somewhat of a representative. I have a clip in the movie that is pretty famous and I'm proud of that. People actually come up to me from time to time and say, 'Hey, I saw you in Jerry Maguire.' That's kind of cool."

They all went to see the movie when it was released, interested in the plot and how their stomping grounds would look on the big screen.

"It was deja vu, like I was an interested observer," Omohundro said. "It came across really nicely. The facility was, at that time, just a few years old. So it was state of the art. Best that could be designed and planned for. And so it presented well."

'Jerry Maguire' is one of the rare films that has multiple memorable lines all these years later.

You had me at hello. You complete me. Jerry, did you know the human head weighs eight pounds?

And, the magnum opus, courtesy of McDonald.

"As time passed, I thought it would kind of fade away," McDonald said. "But it's stuck around for a while, and people still use it. I still hear people saying it, and I kind of smile. My wife hears it every now and then she's like, there's 'Show Me The Money.' I guess it's a catchy phrase."

Images around the Cardinals' involvement with the 1996 movie 'Jerry Maguire.'

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