He brings a rare benevolence to the athletic pimp game. This makes him the people's champion. And the people's champion looks very much like one of the people – especially if the people are offensive linemen.
Ron Todd is 6-foot-3, 335 pounds with smart, black-rimmed glasses and an infectious smile. While corporate giant Octagon boasts quarterbacks Kyle Boller and David Carr, and Anna Kournikova, and IMG boasts Venus and Serena, Ronald C. Todd represents the athletic working class.
I first saw him in action in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel at the 1999 scouting combine in Indianapolis. He looked every bit the former Bowling Green offensive lineman. He was there to get his client some face time. The client was Marcello Simmons, who in '93 was a fourth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. After three years with the Bengals, Simmons spent the next two in Toronto of the CFL and wanted back in the NFL. And Todd was his guide. Todd walked Simmons over to then-Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas.
"Emmitt, this is Marcello Simmons," Todd said. Thomas extended his hand, peered over his bifocals and skeptically eyed the cornerback. "Can you run?" Thomas asked.
"Like a deer," replied Simmons.
Thomas, tickled by his answer, laughed. The agent then invoked some Bundini Brown. "He's speaking the truth!" said Todd.
"I'll see if I can get you a workout," said Thomas.
"I just wanted you to meet him, to see him in person," Todd said.
Todd laughs at the memory now. It's a big, robust laugh – the kind you'd expect from a big, robust man.
"I look forward to the combine every year," he said. "The combine is my Super Bowl."
Though that particular visit failed to net a contract, he stays positive.
"Nothing much came from that," he said. "But he got a workout. And sometimes that's all you can ask for."
All any agent can ask for is a client with some first-round promise. That's what Todd had in the spring of 1995, when Hugh Douglas, a defensive end from Central State, was selected in the first round by the New York Jets. Then the jackals came around doing their jackal things.
"Man, as soon as he signed that contract, people came after him," Todd said. "They told him things like, 'You might like Ron Todd and he's your friend and all, but I can take you [to the] big time.' "
The following year, Douglas gave in to the jackals. He parted with Todd and was eventually lured to the darkest side of the emissary force – a place where the ultimate payday comes at the expense of controversy,
risky holdouts and tarnished reputations. It's the place where Drew Rosenhaus resides. On this episode, Todd offers the pleasantly defiant perspective of a man already familiar with humility but open to some
"That's the business and I got eaten up," he said.
Since then, Todd has operated a one-man show out of his office in Dayton, Ohio. He's located right off Highway 70, a few minutes from the airport.
"So I can get in and get out!" he said.
He mostly represents the undrafted players, guys from smaller schools, or players who weren't getting what they needed from existing player-agent relationships.
"When you ain't the flavor of the month, you get pushed aside," he said.
Charging the standard 3 percent from players making the league minimum, he isn't building an empire, just a business founded on integrity, respect and basic communication.
The people's champion gleaned his knowledge from the people. And the lure of celebrity doesn't obscure his focus. He says he's learned the business from the players and not from other agents.
"I work for you," he tells his guys. "But a lot of agents think it's the other way around."
Jordan Hicks is the typical Ron Todd client. An undrafted defensive lineman and long snapper from Georgetown College in Kentucky, Hicks signed a one-year tender with the Oakland Raiders. Hicks said some of his teammates haven't spoken to their agents since the draft.
"We've spoken everyday so far," Hicks said. "He's relentless and he's willing to do anything to help you."
And although Hicks only recently signed with Todd, the relationship has already transcended the professional sphere.
"It's almost like a friendship," he said.
These days, Todd's clientele consists of four guys: Hicks; Marquis Smith, an undrafted outside linebacker with the Raiders; Jordan's brother, Reese Hicks, an offensive lineman with the Broncos; and Steve Bellisari, a quarterback for the Dayton Warbirds of the Arena League.
When I first asked Todd about his quest to help the low-profile athletes, he said something to the effect of, "Man, these guys need me."
I'm usually skeptical about anyone who has a great need to be needed. See, most people get involved in other people's lives just enough to really screw them up. Then they exit and move on to the next disastrous site – all the while deluding themselves as heroic. But this isn't the case with Todd. His view of himself is realistic and his heart is genuine. When he says, "I'll be your agent for life," he means it. And that begs the question: What about Hugh Douglas?
"I call him every year on his birthday," Todd said. "There's no hard feelings. I was his first agent. And that's something that can never be erased."
At some point, any agent story inevitably finds its way into a Jerry Maguire anecdote, so here's mine: The line uttered by Renee Zellweger's character is the one of which I'm most fond. "I just want to be inspired," she said. I love this line. I want to see people succeed and I want to see them happy. The people's champion inspires me.
Alan Grant is a former NFL defensive back and the author of "Return to Glory: Inside Tyrone Willingham's Amazing First Season at Notre Dame."