When NFL players retire from football, sometimes their money situation becomes more than a little bit precarious. Many start their careers in their early 20s, with little or no financial management instructions. So once the salary and bonuses dry up, they don't always have someone in their corner who can help them make their small fortune last. This is a predicament facing athletes of all sports, however, and some incredibly successful athletes have famously gone bankrupt. Mike Tyson made hundreds of millions of dollars during his career, and in spite of the fact that he is the definition of a stable, sensible individual, he went bankrupt in the early 2000's. Among the most prominent football players to go bankrupt recently are Warren Sapp back in 2012 and Vince Young about a month ago.
Aside from simply living unsustainable, lavish lifestyles, there are other reasons for these athletes encountering financial difficulties. One is less than reputable agents, who support the players under their charge until their careers ends and then take what they can, leaving the athlete with very little. Another cause is that they sometimes don't acknowledge that their careers may not last very long. Finally, several notable athletes have suffered major financial devastation due to divorce and child support.
Talking about broke athletes can be upsetting because a lot of us idolize them. The good news is that other prominent athletes are able to make their career earnings last and start other business ventures that enable them to maintain their lifestyles. Not surprisingly, a few NFL alumni have become football analysts for TV networks, such as Hines Ward, Kurt Warner and Warren Sapp, who is clawing his way back out of the red with his salary of just over half a million with NFL Network. Thank God he’s charismatic, because without the football savvy and personality to match, he’d probably have spent the rest of his life with his throat under his ex-wives’ shoes.
Other former athletes choose to start theme restaurants commemorating their careers. Wayne Gretzky has a restaurant/sports bar in downtown Toronto, Mike “A-Train” Alstott owns a restaurant in Florida and others such as Mike Ditka, Brett Favre and of course John Elway have opened eating establishments.
Some former football players, and one current one, have went another way and established wineries. Wine is a massive business worldwide, and while countries like France and Italy generally still out produce the United States, the U.S. still produced about 20 million hectolitres of wine in 2013. Here’s my list of 5 NFLers, past and present, who have ventured into the wine business. Joe Namath is not on the list, as he never owned a winery, but is rather, just a massive supporter of the industry.
5 Mike Ditka: Terlato Wines International
Da Coach had a great career as a player, prior to swapping his cleats for a clipboard. He won 3 Super Bowls, earned 5 Pro Bowl trips and was the first tight end ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. His overall football knowledge got him an assistant coaching job very quickly after his retirement in 1972. He worked for Dallas until 1981, then he became head coach for the Chicago Bears and really hit his stride as a sideline leader, winning the Super Bowl for the 1985 season. He was fired from the Bears after a sub-par season in 1992 and was hired as coach of the New Orleans Saints 5 years later, where he worked 3 unsuccessful seasons prior to his retirement from coaching. A few years later, Ditka started his restaurant business that has multiple franchises across the US.
Having been an oenophile (wine-lover) for much of his adult life, Da Coach eventually decided to try his hand in the wine business, joining with long-time friend Bill Terlato, with whom he had shared a love of football and wine for decades. His first attempt, in the early and mid-2000s was not particularly successful, but in 2012, he launched a new line of 9 wines, all of which he named to honor different aspects of his career. The wines were given names like: “The Player”, “The Coach”, “The Champion” and “The Hall of Famer”. His line has styles of wine ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir in the red category, and Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc of the white variety.
4 Joe Montana: Montagia
“I haven’t seen a tackler like that since Joe Montana!” “Joe Montana was a quarterback, you idiot”. “I said Joe Mantegna!” Mantegna is of course an actor and what’s seen above is an exchange between two extreme redneck characters in the brilliant 1998 Adam Sandler masterpiece: The Waterboy. Montana is without a doubt, one of the greatest field generals of all time. Not only did he amass 4 Super Bowls during his career, he also holds the record for most Super Bowl MVP honors and was an 8-time Pro Bowl selection, before being inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2000. He was also the quarterback for the largest Super Bowl point differential in history, in 1990, when the 49ers wiped the floor with the Broncos; 55-10.
Montana’s winery adventure started in the late 1990s, working with former Beringer (one of the oldest and most reputable wineries in California) winemaker and friend Ed Sbragia. His wine making venture was somewhat successful for a while and has not ended, but in 2012, he put his massive wine-country ranch up for sale for the price of $35 million. He still produces wine to this day with Sbragia, under the portmanteau between their two names: “Montagia”.
3 Dan Marino: Marino Estates Vintage 13
Another Hall of Fame quarterback, Dan Marino, was involved with the wine business in support of his foundation to raise awareness and funding for autism research. Needless to say, his NFL record was unbelievable, still holding dozens of Dolphin records, while also being the first quarterback to throw for 5000 yards in a season and 40 touchdowns in one season. On top of all that he was a 9-time Pro Bowl selection and won Rookie of the Year. The one thing missing on his resume, however, is a Super Bowl ring. His one Super Bowl appearance was at Super Bowl XIX, which he lost.
As previously mentioned, Marino’s time spent producing wine was largely aimed at supporting the Dan Marino Foundation, which he and his wife founded in the early 90s to help raise funding and awareness for autism and a variety of related cognitive disabilities. His purpose for setting up the Vintage 13 Marino brand was to raise funds for this charity, with $1.25 of each bottle sold as a contribution. While the campaign was successful, Marino’s foundation has since moved on to other fundraising strategies; mainly corporate sponsorship deals.
2 Drew Bledsoe: Doubleback
After Drew Bledsoe hung up his cleats after the 2006 season, he decided to turn his efforts in part, to another two passions of his. These are the Walla Walla Valley in Washington and of course wine making. The four-time Pro Bowler and one-time Super Bowl winner started up his Doubleback Wineries with his long-time friend, Chris Figgins, with whom he still co-operates his business.
Bledsoe and Figgins have had notable success and focus on quality by producing small batches and focusing on making the final products the best they can possibly send out to the public. Their 2011 Vintage was a success and their next reported release will be in late 2014, and will be dedicated to the memory of Bledsoe’s great uncle.
1 Charles Woodson: Twenty-four Wines
The only defensive player on this list is, of course, one of the greatest DB’s of all time, the eight-time Pro Bowler, Heisman winner, and Super Bowl winner, Charles Woodson. A few years ago, being a lifelong admirer of wine, Woodson partnered up with Rick Ruiz, of Robert Mondavi fame, to launch his own brand: Twenty-Four by Charles Woodson. His Napa Valley based operation only produces two kinds of wine every year and only produces a very limited amount, guaranteeing that the batches it does produce and offer to the public are of the highest quality. They produce less than 1000 cases every year, and the two varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
When the NFL caught wind of Woodson’s entrepreneurial undertaking, they quickly issued a warning that he was never to be seen openly endorsing his own product, as it could have an adverse impact on adolescent viewers. It is good that this warning was issued, because half the commercials we see on Sunday afternoons are most definitely not beer ads. Underage individuals aren’t going to drink because a Pro Bowl defensive back starts a wine business and produces a great product. Just like those same kids don’t smoke because a camel in sunglasses tells them it’s cool. However, it's still good that the NFL is doing what it can to make sure young football fans do not develop a taste for fine wines.