Black Gold Green
With a short shelf life as a professional athlete, New Orleans Saints of all ages share their transitions to enterprises away from football.
Wide Receiver, 2006–2015 | Minority Owner of the Philadelphia Soul | Partner, Main Squeeze Juice Co.
Making it to the National Football League (NFL) is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for a few lucky athletes. But while fame and fortune can be byproducts of today’s game, things can get dark for players after the stadium lights fade.
While mega-contracts — like the five-year, $150 million extension that Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan signed in May — garner the headlines, most players don’t make megabucks, relatively speaking of course. The average NFL player’s salary is about $2 million annually, but that’s a mirage inflated by deals like Ryan’s. The median income is closer to $750,000 per year, and since NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed, a player can be cut at any time without warning. According to the NFL Players Association, the average player’s career is just over three years, so player salaries can end up falling short of a nest egg that will last a lifetime.
As a result, too often players go from sitting on top of the world to carrying its weight on their shoulders.
Sports Illustrated’s Pablo Torre reported in March 2009, that 78 percent of NFL players are either bankrupt or are under financial stress within two years of retirement. Since then, the NFL has started a mandatory Financial Education Program and an optional, more advanced Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. As a result, more and more players are gaining business savvy, becoming entrepreneurs, and investing in ventures to maintain and grow their wealth. Biz New Orleans spoke with several New Orleans Saints about their move from the gridiron to off-field careers.
Marques Colston knows a thing or two about success. While he was the Saints’ last pick in the 2006 draft and the late seventh-rounder out of Hofstra University — not exactly a football factory — Colston became a favored receiver who finished his career in New Orleans as a Super Bowl champion and the franchise’s career leader in touchdowns (72), receptions (711), receiving yards (9,759), career yards per reception (13.7), and yards from scrimmage (9,766).
Today, Colston is still connected to football. He has been a minority owner of the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul since 2015 and bought into the Albany Empire earlier this year.
“The business side is like night and day from the players’ side,” Colston said. “It’s been a really great learning experience getting to see both the front of the house and the back of the house and really developing that understanding of both sides and how they work together.”
In May, Colston and his wife, Emily, became partners in Main Squeeze Juice Co., a New Orleans-based juice and smoothie bar that he discovered on LinkedIn after three years spent looking for the right franchise opportunity. The Colstons will be co-owners of the company’s flagship Magazine Street store, slated to open with 19 other locations later this year, and work with the company’s executive team to support the brand’s expansion.
“We think that we have a synergy that we can leverage to expand nationwide,” he said.
Kicker, 1982–1994 | Founder, Morten Andersen Global Inc.
Public Speaker, Author, Private Kicking Tutor and Filmmaker
Morten Andersen describes himself as the embodiment of the American dream. After coming to the United States as a 17-year-old exchange student from Denmark, Andersen said he only tried football because his school didn’t have a soccer team. Within a year he was kicking at Michigan State University, eventually as an All-American.
The Saints drafted Andersen in the fourth round of the 1982 NFL draft, a relatively high pick for a kicker, and he quickly proved to the team that it was a good decision. After 25 NFL seasons, “Mr. Automatic” retired as the league’s all-time leading scorer (2,544 points), was a seven time Pro Bowler, one of only two kickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and one of 25 players to have been twice named to an NFL All-Decade Team (1980s and 1990s).
While with the Saints, Andersen opened the sports-themed Champions restaurant in Lakeside Mall in the space Pottery Barn currently occupies. When he officially retired at the end of the 2008 season, Andersen created a golf outing company that organizes 10-stop tours at some of the United States’ most exclusive private courses, including Augusta National, home of the annual Masters Tournament.
In addition to golf, he heads Morten Andersen Global, a business-to-business consulting company, is a published author writing his second book, and works as a public speaker, private kicking tutor, and filmmaker. This summer he will premiere a documentary in Scandinavia on the “Gold Jacket Experience,” a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“We had a film crew follow us all around Canton last summer to capture every moment at the Hall of Fame,” Andersen said. “I don’t think it’s an angle that’s ever been seen before.”
The Morten Andersen Family Foundation’s Special Teams for Special Ops program, which raises money to support critically wounded Special Operations soldiers and the families of the fallen. "The Great Dane" says he spends more than half of his time working in philanthropic endeavors.
“I try to pick fun projects and people that I want to work with to do good things,” he said. “I’m definitely staying busy.”
Offensive Tackle, 2006–2017 | Managing Partner, Port Orleans Brewing Co.
In his early years in New Orleans, fans knew Zach Strief’s number before they knew his name. As an offensive lineman, a position ineligible to catch the ball, he was required by NFL rules to wear a jersey number in the 60s. However, when the Saints were in short-yardage situations, Strief would line up as a blocking tight end, a position that can be thrown to, so the referee would turn on his microphone to alert opposing teams: “No. 64 is eligible.”
It wasn’t too long before the Who Dat Nation knew exactly who No. 64 was. Drafted in the amazing 2006 class, Strief played 12 seasons with the Saints, including the last five as a team captain. As the clock on his playing days ticked down, however, Strief joined with his father-in-law, Tommy Discon, and Ricky Thomas as managing partner of Port Orleans Brewing Co., a 12,000-barrel brewery with a tasting room and beer garden on Tchoupitoulas Street.
“I was toward the end of my career and knew it was time to find something to transition into,” Strief said. “It sounded like an industry that I would really enjoy, so I jumped on it.
“It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work,” he added. “New Orleans is still very young in craft beer — there’s a lot of options, and, like any brand, it takes time to connect and build a relationship with customers.”
Strief has carried over some elements of his playing days into his new venture. At a practice last season, his head coach told him he wanted a beer with his name on it. That led to a limited edition Sean Payton Blonde Ale.
This summer, Port Orleans will release a Steve Gleason-themed brew, with proceeds going to Team Gleason, his former teammate’s foundation that assists individuals with the terminal neuromuscular disease ALS.
“We realized there was a tremendous market for something related to my football career with the Saints,” he said. “So we thought about doing another limited edition, and Steve was the first person we thought of. He’s been in and had our beer. Now we have a partner that we can pass some of the profits to and do some good things while making beer that people will enjoy.”
Quarterback, 1971–1982 | Motivational speaker, spokesperson
Comparing Ryan’s $30 million annual salary, with Archie Manning’s deals with the Saints is almost laughable. According to a 1981 Sports Illustrated feature, Manning’s rookie contract paid him $84,000 a year, his second-year pay rose to $166,250, and his final Saints contract climbed to $367,500. While those figures seem minuscule for modern pro athletes, in the early 1980s, Manning was the third-highest player in the NFL, and the first Saints superstar to really cash in on his celebrity. He became a ubiquitous presence in New Orleans as a pitchman for industries as varied as radio, insurance, banking and automotive, namely Metairie-based Royal Oldsmobile, a gig he held for 35 years. “Up until they stopped making Oldsmobiles,” Manning said.
When Manning hung up his pads, his wife, Olivia, thought he’d go into coaching, but after playing into his mid-30s, Manning wanted to have an influential presence at home as patriarch of what would become the “first family of football.” While he had learned the automobile business as part of Oldsmobile’s dealer development program, Manning decided against working with cars. Instead, he went to work in investment planning at Morgan Keegan, making corporate speeches and marketing appearances on the side. Four years later, he joined Jim Henderson as the color analyst for Saints Radio broadcasts, a position he held for 12 years.
“It was a great time in my life,” Manning said. “It was a fun, fun relationship that he and I had. He’s a great friend, the ultimate pro and the best sportscaster New Orleans ever had.”
As their sons, Cooper, Peyton, and Eli, moved into the high school, collegiate and professional football ranks, the Mannings spent a lot of time on the road watching their sons’ games.
“Those were some killer weekends,” Manning said. “We’d watch Eli play in New Orleans on Friday, fly to wherever Peyton and Tennessee were playing on Saturday, and catch up with the Saints to call games on Sunday.”
He gave up calling Saints games after the 1997 season, which allowed him to watch Peyton and Eli’s pro careers, during which they won two Super Bowls each.
Today, the inaugural member of both the Saints’ Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame says he doesn’t get the same amount of calls as he used to, but he’s still keeping busy. Manning can still be found on the motivational speakers circuit, where he gives as many as 25 speeches a year, as well as at his namesake Manning’s Eat, Drink, Cheer and the Manning Passing Academy.
“I wanted to get off of the road,” the 69 year old said. “I was flying 130, 140 days a year.”
Manning is still featured in national advertisements for Gatorade, DirecTV, and Nationwide insurance, as well as health care companies NuVasive, Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, Leading Health Care of Louisiana, and spends as much time as he can with Olivia, and his sons’ families in New Orleans, Denver and New York City.
“We’re right back at those ole ballparks and gymnasiums that we spent so much time at with our boys,” he said.
Linebacker, 1986-1992 | Founder, Swilling Design & Development
With 490 tackles, 107.5 quarterback sacks, and six interceptions in his career, Pat Swilling was known league-wide for tearing down opposing offenses. But off the field, the 1991 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year and member of the vaunted “Dome Patrol,” the best linebacking unit in NFL history, was laying the foundation for his post-football career in construction.
After brief stints with the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders, the five-time Pro Bowler finished his 13-year playing career and returned to New Orleans as a full-time real estate developer. Swilling said he became interested in construction by watching his father and uncle, subcontractors in his native Georgia, build throughout their professional careers.
“I didn’t want to be just a subcontractor,” he said, “I wanted to own my own construction business.”
Swilling bought his first property, a double, in New Orleans during his days with the Saints, and quickly turned his focus to commercial properties. He estimates he’s developed more than 50, maybe up to 100, buildings in the city, mostly in eastern New Orleans, in the past 20 years. He said his on-field and business success helped him become a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from 2001 to 2004.
“A lot of young guys don’t understand that they’re not going to play forever,” he said, “but I always knew football would end. Even when I was playing, I was looking at properties, building in the offseason, and playing during the season. While I was knocking down quarterbacks, I was also building a future for myself.”