His fists full of asparagus stalks and shade in short supply, Troy Vincent would gaze at the venerable brick manor across the road and get to thinking about the future. He was just a young teen working the fields for $2.25 an hour at Lang's farm in Yardley, Pa., a couple of miles across the Delaware River from his home in Trenton, N.J., but the future Philadelphia Eagles cornerback already craved life's finer things. That big house near the fields, with its 14 wooded acres, winding driveway and wrought-iron fence, was something he could get used to. He had felt that way for years, ever since his mother, Alma, first took him to Yardley for Halloween—the night they left their decaying urban streets for the spoils of suburban trick-or-treating. "It was one of those houses that gave the big candy bars," he says. "I just knew I wanted to live like that, but it would mean some hard work. I'd always had jobs as a kid—selling watermelons in Trenton, then working at Lang's, and washing dishes at Pizza Hut. Nobody was going to give me a good life. I had to earn it."
With boundless enthusiasm and disdain for the measly 40-hour work week, Vincent has spent his splendid 11-year NFL career—the first four with the Miami Dolphins, who took him out of Wisconsin with the seventh pick of the 1992 draft, and the last seven with the Eagles—matching his on-field success with business and charitable ventures that are equally rewarding. Vincent also serves as one of the NFL's wise elders, speaking to young players at league-held seminars on the importance of sound financial planning and preparing for life after football.
He is, in fact, nothing if not in demand. Eltekon, the financial-services company Vincent started with Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor, veteran wideout Cris Carter (who on Monday came out of retirement to sign with the Miami Dolphins) and college friend Mark Mangum, has him in an office three days a week and returning calls at all hours. "He's always working on something away from the field," says Eagles free safety Brian Dawkins, who was drafted by Philadelphia in 1996, the year Vincent arrived. "He's too busy. It's amazing how much he does away from the game and then how good he is on Sunday. I always say I want to be just like him, only without all the phone bills."
At 31 Vincent is one of the league's elite all-around corners and the steady leader of perhaps the NFL's best secondary. Fresh off a bye week, the Eagles' defense held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense without a touchdown in a 20-10 victory on Sunday at Veterans Stadium. The secondary never let the Bucs find a rhythm, harassing quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Rob Johnson (23 for 38,155 yards combined), with Vincent shackling wideout Keyshawn Johnson (three catches for 38 yards).
At 6'1" and 200 pounds, with 4-3 speed, Vincent is the rare corner who can punish a wideout as well as run with him, talents that are at a premium in Philadelphia's aggressive, blitz-heavy schemes. "He's out on an island in that defense, especially on the left side, where teams throw more often, and he's as good as it gets," says Houston Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. "It's clear he's done his homework." Indeed, despite his estimable physical gifts, Vincent would rather jump routes and go for interceptions than make big hits. He led the Eagles in interceptions for the last five seasons and was named to the last three Pro Bowls.
Behind this success is maniacal film study, a habit—no, make that a compulsion—that has Vincent at the team's facility during the season by 8 a.m., popping sunflower seeds and digesting the offense of that week's opponent. He often pulls his defensive mates aside to tell them about tendencies of the enemy receivers, information that will lead to interceptions, "and he's usually right," Dawkins says. "He'll tell me to make an adjustment, and sure enough, I'll get a pick." Says Bucs wideout Keenan McCardell, "You can tell he studies his opponents. When you face him, you have to be on your game because he's going to know everything you do."
Even the Philadelphia offense benefits: Before a 31-9 win over Tampa Bay in last season's wild-card playoffs, Vincent told receiver James Thrash to sell the Bucs' defensive backs on an outside route, then get inside quickly and release. Thrash used that tip to make a 21-yard catch that set up the Eagles' decisive touchdown.
If Vincent charged a fee for the locker room advice he doles out, he could retire tomorrow. Some players seek his business acumen or investment tips: In addition to Eltekon, Vincent owns a construction company and co-owns a day spa with his wife, Tommi. Other players seek spiritual guidance, and some can't seem to do without him.
"I've asked him about my dog [Vincent owned a kennel when he was with the Dolphins], about what bricks to use on my house, about everything," says defensive end Hugh Douglas. When Douglas called Vincent in early May to say he was about to drive a $300,000 Bentley off the lot, the ever-prudent Vincent said he thought it'd be a foolish purchase. "See, that's why I called!" Douglas exclaimed. "You always keep it real with me, Troy!" Douglas passed on the Bentley.
"It's the little things we do that separate us," says Vincent. "Everyone goes to the mandatory meetings, so what are you going to do above and beyond that? When I'm watching film of a guy I'm covering that week early in the morning, I feel good because I know he's home sleeping."