In the grand old
tradition of American capitalism, a man once trained for a career in high
finance by attending Yale, Princeton and the Harvard Business School. Today he
preps with the Kansas City Chiefs. As a result, aging professional athletes who
once faded away into low-income oblivion now plow their loot into real estate,
blue chips, employment agencies, cleaning plants and—the hottest new commodity
of them all—fried chicken.
What is it about
a batter-dipped thigh that lures them? Well, primarily, the chance to get
of big money figure that this new sports star-cum-executive has been created by
an era of elephantine bonuses and soaring salaries, which in turn was created
by a sports-crazy populace. Then, too, more and more professional athletes are
college educated—a new breed of thinking muscle, men with one eye on the ball
and the other on their stock portfolios. Actually, if I may be candid and not
unkind, today's big-leaguer need not be a cerebral heavyweight to hit the upper
tax brackets. All he needs is scoring clout—and, ultimately, the high-priced
services of a cunning and devoted financial adviser. The star racks up the
points. His money coach lines up the promising financial plays.
Then one day
coach tells star that fried chicken is a glamour investment. Buy a hot plate.
Frame a dozen huge action-color portraits to grace the walls. Wrap the premises
in neon, vinyl, a few hundred feet of Formica and stainless steel. Throw in a
couple of chickens. Voilà! Our hero is in business.
the athlete-restaurateur is not a sudden, entirely new, phenomenon. There were
pioneers in the game. Jack Dempsey has been feeding provincial Broadway
strollers for decades. It seems like forever. Manero's is an established name
in steaks, and Tony, the 1936 National Open golf champ, still plays the host at
his Greenwich, Conn. outpost for carnivores. For years the late Lefty O'Doul
welcomed oldtime ballplayers and tourists to his San Francisco bar at 333 Geary
Street—a location he admired because it was the closest available to his
lifetime batting average of .349.
booming appetite for gastronomic venture dates back to that historic day when
some advertising wizard decided children would devour bits of soggy wheat if
they were sold as the "Breakfast of Champions." The same impressionable
prepubescent has now grown up, and the theory is that he absolutely will not be
able to resist a stuffed shrimp, fat-fried in the name of Broadway Joe
with a little bit of fame and a lot of example, athletes are rushing into the
feed business. They are dealing in all sorts of more or less edible exotica,
from catfish to escargots, to root-beer slush and burritos (which are Mexican
hot dogs and therefore may or may not be small burros as one might imagine).
Across the map, sports-world heroes are tied up in bars, pizza parlors, posh
private clubs, superburger stands and carry-out kitchens. Where expertise is
lacking, confidence rules. As New York Jet Gerry Philbin enthuses, "Listen,
I know all about restaurants. I've been eating in them all my life."
Of course, few
members of this growing lineup of athlete-restaurateurs actually get back into
the kitchen to pit the avocados or stuff those shrimp—although former Defensive
Back Brady Keys insists that he personally dipped and breaded and experimented
with spices while seeking the exact formula for his All-Pro Chicken. (All-Pro
Chicken, now there is a sturdy name. Can't you just see those drumsticks
bulging with tasty muscles?) And San Francisco Warrior Jerry Lucas claims,
"I did everything from cooking to writing the manuals" for his Beef 'N'
merely lend their names for a price. For a weekly fee, pro golfer Frank Beard
blesses Kentucky Fried Chicken. That's old Colonel Sanders himself tattooed on
Beard's golf bag. Visibility and contact—what politicians call pressing the
flesh—is a must. Redskin Defensive End Bill Briggs pulled off his shoulder pads
and got into a gold ruffled shirt and tux to greet guests at The Bridge, a
rococo supper club he was involved with in Washington. Ben Davidson, the
mustachioed Oakland Raider, shows up regularly at his Big Ben's Handle Bar in
Hayward, Calif. Don Drysdale can be seen champing on a big slab of beef in his
Dugout. And Maury Wills often plunks the banjo in the five-piece band at his
informal Pittsburgh boîte, The Stolen Base.
athletes cater to soul as well as body. For $10 Chicago Black Hawk boosters get
both dinner and a ticket to the hockey game from Stan Mikita's plush suburban
inn. Ex-pro wrestler Stan Mayslack runs charter buses to the University of
Minnesota football games from his Minneapolis bistro. The Washington Redskins'
Marlin McKeever runs the Trojan Barrel near USC and sponsors boozy round trips
to Tijuana for the bullfights. Old-fashioned melodrama, German oompah bands,
even rock music, are traditional with the Red Ram chain, a sentimental favorite
in ex-Packer Jerry Kramer's bulging investment portfolio. And at the Pearl
Street Warehouse in Dallas there is pool and billiards and dancing, as well as
food, plus the thrilling prospect that Joey Heatherton, Co-Owner Lance
Rentzel's wife, might stop by to frug.