As he barrels his way to the top of the business world at 48, Ronnie Lott wears his commitment a few inches below his sleeve. The Hall of Fame defensive back literally gave part of his left pinkie to football, instructing doctors to amputate the tip of the digit so that he could play against the New York Giants in the 1985 playoffs.
Given that Lott's San Francisco 49ers lost that wild-card game by a 17-3 score, does he ever stare down at the pygmy finger and second-guess his highly unusual decision?
"Yeah, I wish I did have it back," Lott says. "The sad part is that when your kids see something like that, it's hard for them really to understand why. It's hard for anyone to comprehend that, especially a kid. They look at me like, 'Daddy's crazy.' "
In the process I trust that Hailey (15), Isaiah (14) and Chloe (12) Lott have gained further insight into the exacting intensity that made their father one of the league's fiercest-ever hitters and, in my book, one of the two greatest defensive players (along with Lawrence Taylor) of his era.
As someone who had the pleasure of covering Lott on a daily basis during some of his glory years with the 49ers, the franchise with whom he won four Super Bowls in the '80s, I can still remember the maniacal yet methodical approach to excellence he exuded on an unbroken basis. I'm not surprised that in the 13 years since his retirement, Lott has become a wildly successful businessman, philanthropist and community leader by displaying the same level of dedication and contemplative zest for knowledge.
When I spoke to Lott by telephone on Thursday, he was in New York City traffic, having just rung the closing bell at the NASDAQ. Earlier in the day he had partnered with the stock exchange to host the inaugural All-Stars Sports, Business and Philanthropy Luncheon, an event designed to bring together athletes and corporate leaders to help with children's education in lower-income communities.
Eight years ago, along with ex-49ers teammate Harris Barton, Lott co-founded HRJ Capital, a private equity investment manager that is now charged with overseeing nearly $2 billion in assets. He also co-owns a pair of auto dealerships and has several side projects going as well, the collective result of a ferocious work ethic and an inherent intellectual curiosity.
Yet there I was on Thursday bemoaning the dearth of African-American front-office executives and trying to talk him into coming back to football. I got about as far as Ickey Woods on that infamous goal-line blast from Lott in Super Bowl XXIII.
"To say never is a pretty strong statement, but I guess in my mind I am where I am right now because I really enjoy what I'm doing, and I don't see that changing," Lott said. "You get to meet people who inspire you on such an amazing level, and right now I'm more interested in alternative investing and looking at new trends of innovation.
"You've got to remember, man, meeting a guy who is 28 years old with an idea – and his idea is to be better than Google – that really moves me. When I was coming out of school, I just wanted to be better than Jack Tatum, so I can relate. When I watch young people who want to create something valuable and lasting and have their signature on it, that's where I get really excited."
(Note to readers: There already is something better than that Internet company Lott mentioned. But I digress …)
Lott pointed out that many of the ex-players who've gone into upper management – Matt Millen, Dwight Clark, Ozzie Newsome – did so after forging strong relationships with owners and actively pushing toward that goal. Lott, after two years as a FOX NFL Sunday analyst, has stayed away from football, though he did interview with then-49ers coach Steve Mariucci for a job as defensive backs coach in the late '90s.
It didn't go so well, at least from Lott's perspective.
"Bill Walsh had asked if I'd be interested in coaching, and I said, 'You know what? Yeah, I would be,'" Lott recalled. "So he had me go meet with Coach Mariucci, and right at the start of the interview he pulled out pictures of his family and said, 'I want you to look at these.' He was trying to make the point that if I went into coaching, I wouldn't see my family much.
"I thought that was an odd conversation, because if you're going to be great in anything, you're not going to see your family a whole lot. That's part of being successful. I could tell that we didn't have the same vision. He could've easily said, 'What do you think about the opportunity of becoming a great coach?' But to start the conversation the way he did was strange to me. It would be like recruiting a CEO for a new business and saying, 'You're probably not going to make it,' instead of, 'Hey, I think you can build a great company.'
"When I walked out of that meeting, I thought, 'I'm never going to think about coaching again.'"
In my mind, Lott would be ideal as the man hiring the coach, either as general manager or part-owner with management control. He's a demanding boss who resists the temptation to surround himself with yes-men and, by the sheer force of his personality, compels those around him to raise their standards and respect the challenge at hand. He also taught me more about what really goes into winning football games than any player I've ever met.
It's probably no use trying to get Lott back into a world beyond which he seems to have progressed, but I'd love to see some enterprising owner take a shot.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Get ready for a remake of "Brian's Song" when the Chicago Bears visit the Detroit Lions. Brian Griese will make his passes sing and Brian Urlacher will chirp at the Lions' Roy Williams after shutting him up on the field. … When The Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson has children, she'll get down on her knees and give thanks that Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy is not their father. … The emotional Bucs will take sole possession of first place in the NFC South by winning at Carolina.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
The glorious spaceship in the desert – University of Phoenix Stadium, future home of Super Bowl XLII – to see the Arizona Cardinals host the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. This game has storylines flying from every angle: The Cards' budding quarterback controversy; the continuing war of words between Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his former offensive coordinator, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt; the fact that Whisenhunt and Cards assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm were passed over in favor of Mike Tomlin after Bill Cowher resigned in January; how big of a chunk Edgerrin James will take out of my expense account.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. Greg Ryan and Norv Turner are actually the same person.
2. Hip-hop artist T-Pain is working on another remix video of "I'm N Love (Wit A Stripper)" featuring the Packers' Al Harris.
3. ESPN will hold a town hall meeting in Cincinnati to discuss the Bengals' proposal to shoot pigeons at Paul Brown Stadium.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
The Steelers' thrashing of the 49ers allowed The Gameface to roll into Week 4, and we anticipate another laugher: Dallas, which seems to put up points at will, comes home to take on St. Louis, which has more trouble scoring than Kent Dorfman and won't have star halfback Steven Jackson (left groin tear). Even funnier, Isaac Bruce is guaranteeing victory for the Rams, and as much as I love the guy, I think he's guilty of the Greatest Snow-Job on Turf. I know, I know – all of this is a setup, but even if the hungry Rams sneak up on the fat Cowboys, I still see them losing their lunch money.
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
In the wake of yet another resounding victory, Beat the Gypsy, everyone's object of undying ridicule on draft night, sits atop the 12-team "Sex, Drugs and Fantasy Football" league with a 3-0 record. And though my buddy Malibu is the proud possessor of the league's lone undefeated team, he's still in a somewhat grumpy mood, given his projected defeat to The Big Show – the team run by his teenaged son, A-Man. "This bye is killing me," Malibu moaned. "No Clinton Portis or Santana Moss, and Andre Johnson is still hurt." I told him to relax; to add the Colts' Anthony Gonzalez, who'll thrive as the No. 3 wideout against a Broncos team with the league's best cornerback (Champ Bailey) and another elite cover man (Dre Bly); and to play his beloved Michael Turner. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Malibu, A-Man also hit me up for advice – understandable given his panic over the absence of Steven Jackson and Drew Brees, who has a bye and, as A-Man notes, "hasn't stopped sucking all season." (Enter Derek Anderson and Kenny Watson.) I told him to have faith in the draft picks on which I advised him (Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker and Jason Witten) and to try not to think about what the Ravens' defense will do to Anderson.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
A moment of silence, please, for Marcel Marceau, who died earlier this week at the age of 84. A really, really long moment of silence.
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, whose excellent book, "The Miracle of St. Anthony" (Gotham Books, 2005), is being made into a movie with accomplished director Sam Weisman attached. Come to think of it, Woj and I and many of our most awesome colleagues recently did those shots, though we weren't quite aware what we were celebrating at the time.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
"Kevin Everett News Blooper #13"
IF CAL WINS A FOOTBALL GAME I'LL …
Coming off a 45-27 thrashing of Arizona that will deprive water polo coach Kirk Everist of all forms of Mexican food, margaritas included, until midnight of Jan. 1, the sixth-ranked Bears face their toughest test of the season – a conference game at No. 11 Oregon. Cal, which hasn't won in Eugene in 20 years, was a 5½-point underdog last I saw, and we're calling in one of the big guns: Rugby coach Jack Clark. Winner of 15 of the past 16 national championships, Clark has a bit of Red Auerbach in him, which makes his impending sacrifice all the more notable. "I don't know, Mike, this 'If Cal Wins a Football Game I'll …' thing is over the top," Clark writes. "Outwardly sane people have given up: sex, '70s classic rock, coffee, Mexican food and beer! This is wacky behavior. I'll tell you what: If we beat Oregon I'll give up my Aston-VSG Double Corona's until January. It will hurt my ability to be contemplative at the end of the day with a smoke on the deck, but what the hell – Oregon is a big game."
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
To everyone in the Yahoo! Sports/Rivals.com family, our remix of Ludacris' "Move (expletive)," for the perceived competition:
"We're doin' a hundred on the highway
So if you do the speed limit, get the hell outta our way
We're 24/7, comin' like a Range Rover
And you about to get ran the hell over
Move, stiffs, get out the way
Get out the way, stiffs, get out the way
Move, stiffs, get out the way
Get out the way, stiffs, get out the way"
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"As a loyal-til-the- day-I-die San Diego Chargers fan, this season has been a hard one on me. As a 22-year-old, born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Virginia, being a San Diego Chargers fan has been difficult, period (especially during the years of 1997, 1998 and 2003). I was constantly asked, 'Why? why the Chargers?' Yet, I stood proud and tall, throughout the incessant heckling, insults, and verbal jabs. Last season finally put a stop to the majority of my non-believing peers. Many became bandwagon fans. After the firing of (Marty) Schottenheimer and the hiring of Norv Turner, I could already imagine the smirks on the faces of my cynics. I had my fair share of teasing and laughing at my Redskins-fanatic peers during Turner's tenure in D.C. But I guess the saying is true: 'What goes around, comes around.' I am no longer asked, 'Why? why the Chargers?' It is now, 'what happened?' My loyalty is still strong, but it hurts me to say that I finally agree with my skeptical peers because it is a question that I ask myself. Your column gave me hope. The truth has been written. May Schottenheimer return!"
Thanks, Melinda: Any small measure of comfort I can provide during this season of suffering is my pleasure.
"You are nothing more than a Chargers bashing Raiders fan. … You show your colors with the shading of your comments in your recent article (opinion) bashing the San Diego Chargers. The truth is: the Chargers have just finished the toughest three-game stretch of any team in the NFL which had them pitted against three top-level teams, and included back to back trips across the country, with the third game being against last year's Super Bowl team from the NFC. They were one 3-yard play away from being 2-1. … While 'your' Raiders avoid 'doom' as you put it by managing to block a field goal (a play that is typically more luck than talent), to avoid being still winless. … And they have the softest opening three games of any team in the_NFL. … Are you kidding me? The Lions at home, the Broncos (who were a play away from losing to the Bills), and let's not forget those terrific Cleveland Browns, at home! Look dude, have some balls, and tell the truth: you are nothing more than a Chargers-bashing Raiders fan. … You have an agenda, and are too chicken-*%#@ to say it in your Opinion Column. … Here's an idea … change your name to Mike Silver-and- Black!"
San Diego, Calif.
Given my history with Al Davis (getting banned from the facility and stadium locker room, for starters), that may be the single funniest nickname I've ever been given, at least while sober. This is the opinion of Michael Blue-and-Gold-A Golden Bears fan.
"Why don't you go on record right now and say the Chargers will not be in the Super Bowl? C'mon hotshot put what's left of your journalist credibility where your mouth is. He who bases his opinions on the result of the first three or four games, as well as any person associated with the Oakland Raiders, is the delusional one. Would you rather go 14-2, talk smack all year and lose in the first round of the playoffs at home to an inferior team every year or go 10-6, fend off unsubstantiated criticisms from irresponsible "journalists" and go to the Super Bowl every year? You are the former, and I, the latter. I'll see you in Glendale, Ariz., for the Super Bowl and I'll be sure to point out to security that your credentials are fake because you are not a 'journalist.' Then, after that, I'll sit back and watch the Norv Turner-coached Chargers hammer anything the NFC and all the pundits have to offer!"
Bad news, Scott: Neither you nor the Chargers will be at the Super Bowl. My journalist credibility and I will be.
"Finally someone has the guts to say 'Yes! Panic!' I went to the game Sunday (who can I send a bill to?). This defense stinks. (Brett) Farve was in a shotgun set alone in the backfield all day long and the Wadeless Wussy San Diego defense refused to blitz. This team needs a shakeup. Why Chargers management keeps hiring these nice guy coaches (see Mike Riley or June Jones) is a mystery. Call (Bill) Cowher or (Mike) Ditka or (Jimmy) Johnson and offer a blank check … please!"
Send the bill to Dean Spanos, but if you really want Cowher or Johnson, you might want to give him the option of paying on layaway.
"Well good for you! I think much of San Diego would prefer to have seen (A.J.) Smith fired rather than Marty. Your words couldn't have expressed Chargers fans sentiments any better. We here in SD are mystified and mortified at what we are seeing from the Chargers so far this year. I say, Bring Marty back, no matter who they have to fire!"
You go, girl.
"I agree with your assessment about the problem with San Diego being coaching. However, I see the main problem with the defense. Giving up 30 plus points two weeks in a row, that is the main problem. Ted Cottrell never should have been hired. While he may not have been running a bed and breakfast, he was away from the sideline. Drastic measures are in order … not as drastic as firing everybody and bringing back Marty. But, they should put (inside linebackers coach Ron) Rivera in charge of the defense. He certainly has a track record in that department. And, no, I don't think you are an idiot. But your friend Malibu sounds like one for being a homer drafting too many Chargers in his fantasy league."
El Centro, Calif.
I wouldn't call him an idiot, but let's just say his judgment gets a little clouded sometimes.
"Gotta love hacks like you who posts scathing emails sent him only to get the last word in. … like the radio jocks that cut off a caller that's debating with him. … Have fun in your sandbox."
I prefer to think of it as a clothing-optional beach.
"OK, I'm ready to cut you some slack. At your urging, I just read two previous articles you wrote in regard to Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick, and the PR fiasco everyone is so fond of writing (and speaking) about. I also read your article about the history of the feud between Belichick and Mangenius, and how this all came to pass. Thank you for that, as it speaks volumes for how this mess came to a head in the first place. Now that things have died down to a quiet roar, it seems public opinion has split into two groups: one side proclaiming that all teams cheat, and the other side pointing fingers at anyone who has ever worn a Patriots uniform and branding them as a cheater, thus explaining their recent success as being the result of something other than talent and hard work. What Belichick did was wrong. His arrogance has brought embarrassment to his players, his boss, the fans, and to himself. I have been a Pats fan for what seems like longer than I've been alive, and I've lived through some pretty dark days because of it. Irving Friar leaving at halftime during a home game … or worse, calling for a fair catch on the final play of the game against the Eagles when the Pats were down by seven, then flipping the ball to the ref and jogging off the field. I even know who wore No. 11 before (Drew) Bledsoe. And Mini Mac Herron, wherever you are, god bless. So now having to endure people bringing into question the teams recent success as something other than talent and hard work hits hard. Going forward, what I'd like to see is reporters like yourself continuing to seek out the truth about who knew what (and who didn't) in the hopes that in doing so, you could help to vindicate some of the outstanding players and role models this team has been so lucky to have in recent years. That's a story I'd really like to see."
I appreciate your taking the time to do the research, and I'll take your suggestion to heart. One question, Lanky: Have you and Mini Mac Herron ever worked out in the same gym?
"Recon with … a ahahahahahahahha. (Expletive), Silver you make me wet my pants. You really do. And, aside from the fact that you splutter a bit when you go oral, you're a helluva sports fan, writer and critic. Too bad I'm too old and too far away to hang with you."
You, me, Hope Solo, a whole lot of spluttering and some Tsing Dao in Qingdao? Sounds like a party, bro.
- Ronnie Lott