The Surprising Football and Wine Connection

Former head coach Dick Vermeil is one of the leaders of the new connection between pro football and the wine industry

For years the NFL has been known for quarterback sacks, halftime snacks, and of course the league’s beverage of choice, BEER.  But hold-up for a minute, a more sophisticated movement is afoot around the league and it has to do with combining football with the cultured beverage, Wine.

That’s right… the big tough guys of the NFL are apparently entering the realm of the wine and cheese crowd.  In a great piece by columnist Joshua Green from The Atlantic, he tells the story that the league’s wine crowd has grown further than tough-love former head coach Dick Vermeil starting his Vermeil Wines from Napa Valley.

Other retired NFL players Joe Montana, Drew Bledsloe and Rick Mirer also are active in the industry as wine-makers. Even the J-E-T-S are commemorating the opening of their new stadium with a wine.  However when talking wine and the NFL, the “key” word for players and coaches is “Retired” as the league will not allow current players and coaches to be associated in endorsing alcohol products. 

After a rash of NFL related alcohol related incidents, league commissioner, Roger Goodell, decided in 2008 that alcohol was a No-No for endorsement – funny that this edict did not reach some of the boorish alcohol-fueled fans that pack NFL stadiums or the many big beer company football ad buyers.

It is too bad that the NFL does not allow “active” personnel to be alcohol related endorsers – remember the great “Tastes Great…Less Filling” ads from the ‘70s with NFL players like LC Greenwood and Bubba Smith.  But I digress… the commissioner’s stance has forced current NFL star and budding wine aficionado, Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, to “quietly” be part of the wine crowd. 

The current NFL Defensive Player of the Year has a budding wine label TwentyFour – after his jersey number – that is getting attention in wine circles.  Unfortunately Woodson has been told by the league that he cannot promote his label while still being an active player – that means he cannot even comment on one his wines.

So let’s keeping score here — domestic violence, illegal guns, and wine-making are all against league policy…ok I was just checking.  However even though the league offices have quieted Woodson’s wine activities for now — which I don’t agree with the commissioner’s “Large Net” policy – I am calling on all NFL fans to put a good bottle of wine out too for their next halftime spread.

BTW:  I have to give a “Hat Tip” to good friend Bryan Kolesar of The Brew Lounge for enlightening me to the growing wine movement in the NFL…funny that a ‘craft beer guy’ likes wine too.


Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)


Former Olympic Sprinter Justin Gaitlin Works Out at Tennessee’s Pro Day

Former 2004 Olympic 100 meter champion Justin Gaitlin is trying again to impress NFL talent evaluators enough to get a shot at playing on Sundays.  Gaitlin was a participant this week at the University of Tennessee’s Pro Day — reportedly running a best 40-yard dash time of “only” 4.42 seconds, which was less than several players at this year’s combine — in hopes to improve upon his brief mini camp tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007.  In that mini camp he didn’t make the team, but you have to wonder with the NFL’s fascination with “world class” speed that someone will take a flier on him.

Gaitlin, who is considered a long shot by the NFL sources that I have talked to is currently serving a 4-year suspension — reduced from 8 years after an appeal —  for failing a doping test in 2006.  He has only played football sparingly in high school and college so trying to get back into the game at its highest level will be an extremely difficult task. He will most assuredly have to learn how to run differently for route running (football requires short choppy steps and cuts instead of long strides), learn to follow the flight of a ball into his hands while running, and work hours with a juggs gun to help catching the ball.

The league’s fascination with world class speed has always been prevalent and I can still vividly remember my favorite made for television sporting event, “The NFL’s Fastest Man” competition where football road runners Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Rod Woodson, Willie Gault and others strutted their stuff.  The first attempt to convert “world class speed” goes back to 1952 when former Olympian Ollie Matson signed with the Chicago Cardinals. His conversion ended at the Hall of Fame, but other “speed” prospects have made varying degrees of impact. Matson and former Dallas Cowboys receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes (fringe hall of fame candidate) are the high water mark and sprinters like John Carlos are at the lower end of spectrum.  Carlos had never played the game before when he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970’s.  The game was so “foreign” to him that he even needed the assistance of a couple of reporters just to put on his pads and uniform when he joined the squad during his brief 1-year stint in the NFL. Other Olympic speedsters that have tried to make it on the gridiron have included: Special Teams Pro Bowler Michael Bates (Panthers), James Jett (Raiders), Sam Graddy (Raiders), Ron Brown (Rams), John Capel (Bears/Chiefs) and others.  Also look out for LSU explosive small running back/kick returner Trindon Holliday (2nd in 2007 NCAA 100 Meters, clocked a 10.02 in the Semi-Final Rd) in the next couple of years.

With Gaitlin running an astonishing 9.77 seconds in the 100 meters, one has to ask “Does pure track speed really have anything to do with the total game of football?” Sure being able to run a fast forty-yard dash makes you a “special player”, but I always want to see how a player performs in pads with someone coming after them with malice in their heart. John Gruden said of Gaitlin at his 2007 tryout “If (his speed) can transfer to football, you have a real threat,” and then he added, “If it can’t, then it won’t work.” Gruden quotes sum up the “world class” speed debate succinctly. Football is a game that requires instincts, quickness, intellect, agility, toughness, awareness, and several other characteristics that can compensate for pure speed. Having blazing speed can get a receiver past someone on a go route, but not being able to stay in bounds, get off a jam, take a hit, or most importantly catching and holding onto a ball can cause a “world class” sprinter to be a non-entity on the football field.

The odds are long against Gaitlin and we will have to wait and see if he can make it. Hopefully he will not hear the same words Capel heard from Dick Vermeil as he was being cut in Chiefs training camp in 2002, the heartful coach said “‘John, you’ve got to go home and do what you’re best at (running)”.