All-American

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I first learned to drive on an old tractor at my parents’ farm in Masonville, Iowa, when I was barely old enough and strong enough to hold in the clutch pedal.  My folks were American car lovers, and with five children all involved in sports they had a stable of older American-made cars and trucks for us to drive back and forth to school. They all had a couple of things in common — primarily their large steel-bodied frames and the fact that if or when one of them broke down, we were going to be under the hood with my dad getting it fixed.

The first one I remember driving was a 1968 GMC pickup with a manual “three on the tree,” which means that its three-speed gearshift was on the steering column. By the time I took off to college in 1999, my parents had bought one of our newest (and most expensive) cars, an ’84 Buick LeSabre. I drove that for the majority of my college career and even purchased it from them when I graduated. I then proceeded to drive that car a lot for my first couple of years in the NFL — until the transmission gave out and I realized it was time to let it go.

After my LeSabre died, I began to build my car collection, which has grown to eight vehicles of various years, ranging from 1932 to ’72.  I am an “American-made” guy — that’s all I buy. I love the process of fixing them up. We have done full restorations-customizations to some of them. I also love the hunt for (as we say in the classic car world) an “unmolested” car. Finding one in the same condition as it was the day it rolled off the factory floor is like finding a time capsule of American history.

Now, getting settled in retirement, I am teaming up with hall of fame builder and painter Marcos Garcia and his crew at Lucky 7 Customs in Antioch, Calif.  I want to help other athletes get the cars of their dreams, and do it in a way where they are not taken advantage of. I want them to get the experience that everyone deserves when they own an old-school car.

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This is a 1949 Chevrolet Suburban. I had this car built because I wanted it for our family car.
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When I bought this Suburban in 2007, from an owner in Compton, Calif., it was all torn apart and in pieces. We did a complete custom build on it — it sits on a 1997 Chevy Tahoe chassis and has a brand new crate engine.
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Working under the hood is very rewarding. It also seems to be simpler the older the car. This 1939 Chevy Master Deluxe, with the original straight-six, is a great example.
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Any day I get to drive my old-schools is a good day, whether I’m dropping the kids off at school and going on to the grocery store, or taking a weekend trip with my family down the California coast.
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My 1954 Cadillac Coupé deVille is one of my favorite builds, and it also won some major awards at the best California indoor shows. But once the shows were over we strapped a car seat in the back and headed out on a road-trip.
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Custom cars are something I have always loved and will always be into. Some of these cars will get handed down to my children when I am gone, but I am also going to take them with me with this killer rib piece from Eddy Reyes Sr., of Secret Sidewalk tattoo shop in Tracy, Calif.
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After any player retires, they need to find their new identity. This is mine. Professional athletes put their life into the sports they play, and when the games are over they all need something to put their passion and effort into.
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Being smart with your money while you’re playing makes life after football a lot of fun. I get to focus on my family and am able to take the time to learn a new craft from people who are at the top of their profession.
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I like to add a lot of subtle, vintage details to my cars — like this vintage Saint Christopher medal (he’s the patron saint of travelers). My parents gave me one when I first started driving, and I also now have a traditional tattoo of the medal (done by Jason Phillips, of FTW Tattoo Parlor in Oakland) on my arm so it is always with me.
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Living in the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Area is great because of the diversity of things that surround you, and the fact that you can find a car show or a cruise any given week of the entire year.
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What’s next for me? I look in the mirror (or chrome!) every day and work to be the best father and husband I can be. I am also pouring the passion I put into football into this next part of my life.

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