He Had Us at Hello
Stephen Oddo was Jerry Maguire before Jerry Maguire
Published in 2017 San Diego Super Lawyers magazine on January 20, 2017
In the 1990s, Stephen Oddo, a shareholder rights attorney at Robbins Arroyo in San Diego, worked two jobs that bring to mind the power and glamour of both Washington, D.C., and Hollywood. First, he was press secretary to Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.); then after getting his J.D., he was a sports agent. He was Jerry Maguire before Jerry Maguire.
So was being a press secretary anything like you see on TV?
“Not at all,” says Oddo. “I certainly provided quotes to journalists, and I was quoted occasionally in newspaper articles, but there wasn’t ever the circumstance where I got up and answered questions from multiple reporters.”
OK, what about Jerry Maguire? Were there any similarities between Oddo and Tom Cruise’s character in the 1996 hit film?
“That was my story in a nutshell,” says Oddo.
Here it is. After graduating with an English degree from Santa Clara University, Oddo went on to Northwestern University for a master’s in journalism. A reporting job at The Desert Sun in Palm Springs led to his press secretary job in Washington, D.C., in 1989.
“It was very unique to be on the other side of the equation,” he recalls. “I was required to put out statements for the congressman when anything significant happened. … But I also was responsible for putting together newsletters to his constituents—which wasn’t that different from writing stories, except obviously I had control over editorial content.”
Oddo loved being in the nation’s capital. “You really feel you have your finger on the pulse of the nation. I walked by the Supreme Court every day. I crossed the Capitol grounds to the office building where my congressman was. That in and of itself is kind of thrilling.”
The stint ended when his father told him he was retiring soon from his political science professorship at University of San Diego; and if Oddo wanted to take advantage of the school’s free tuition for family, he needed to enroll immediately. So: Farewell, D.C.; hello, S.D.
Oddo had been an athlete in high school, so in 1994 he and a partner launched a sports agency and lived on hope for about five years—waiting for, as he puts it, “the big name that was gonna put us on the map.”
They found him: a San Diego native named Akili Smith, who was turning heads as a star quarterback on the University of Oregon football team. An intense courtship ensued. Oddo and his partner would take the whole family out to dinner and sit with them in the stands to watch Smith play.
“We wound up with an unsigned agreement that he would sign with us as soon as the football season was over,” Oddo recalls. NFL rules dictated that athletes going out for the draft couldn’t sign earlier. At season’s end, Oddo and his partner treated the Smiths to another dinner.
“While we were at dinner he got three calls,” says Oddo. “They were from Steve Young, Warren Moon and Troy Aikman, all of them clients of Leigh Steinberg—who at the time was one of the top football agents—all of them telling him that he’d be an idiot if he didn’t sign with Leigh Steinberg. So on Monday he signed with Leigh Steinberg.”
Oddo has also worn a third hat: author. Six years ago he self-published Avalanche: Lessons of Love, in collaboration with his sister, Kris Ochoa-Keane. The book details the March 1991 avalanche in Canada’s Bugaboo Mountains that killed a group of heli-skiers (including Ochoa-Keane’s husband of almost 20 years), the subsequent legal battle, and a widow’s struggles to work through grief and find new meaning for her life.
“We thought it was a very important story to tell,” he says. “I’m very proud of it.”