Few professional athletes have had as much success jumping from one franchise to the next as four-time Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal. For 11 consecutive years, playing for the likes of Tennessee, San Diego, New York, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, he blocked for a 1,000-yard running back. He might have been the greatest journeyman in NFL history.
While Neal’s career accomplishments put him in rarefied air, the diversity and number of his activities since retiring after the 2008 season place him in a class all his own. On Saturday night, thanks to the Clovis North High School Bronco Foundation’s fundraiser, he takes the next step in a five-year journey that grows more fantastic by the day.
Neal, as well as the San Diego Chargers [12-1 favorites to win the 2015 Super Bowl], are item No. 7 on a list of live auction items that have been lassoed up by the foundation and donors for Clovis North’s annual Stampede:
“7 Priceless Football Weekend for 4 with Lorenzo Neal and the San Diego Chargers: watch Saturday’s pre-game practice, tour the locker room. and take pictures with your favorite Chargers. Receive executive parking pass for Sunday, attend the Chargers’ executive tailgate with Lorenzo Neal, and then go into the game –November 23 vs. the Rams.”
The list of potential prizes for supporters of this central Californian school doesn’t end with the chance to chill with Neal, the opportunity the feel the fire of fantasy football stud and MVP candidate Phillip Rivers from but feet away, get half a side of Organic beef butchered to one’s specifications or a beer Kegerator. Thanks to generous sponsors such as California Industrial Rubber Company, Inc. and Fresno dermatologist Kathleen Behr, silent auction items like botox are on the table too. Dr. Behr has provided 50 units of the cosmetic toxin for the evening’s festivities.
So, how exactly did Neal find himself here? Was it divine providence, or mere caprice, that led him from paving paths for Adrian Murrell, Warrick Dunn, Eddie George and Corey Dillon to being sold at the Panoche Creek River Ranch off North Highway 41?
The power to unravel this koan is beyond me.
I do know this: “Low Daddy” has become an entrepreneurial Krakatoa whose powers may just be unfathomable. He has spewed more revenue-generating and philanthropic lava, in more directions, than most minds can grasp.
Poppycock, you say?
The 43-year-old’s unofficial c.v. since retiring says otherwise. In it, we get some standard retired-player coaches’ clinic type stuff here, and a lot of NFL broadcast and radio color commentary there, but it gets pretty non-predictable in a hurry.
In the last five years, Lorenzo has also been:
– Hanging with comedian Adam Corolla, talking door hinges, flipping properties and why serving time sometimes isn’t all that bad.
– Taking care of his 1971 and ’72 Cutlass Supremes
– Headlining an apparently short-lived reality TV show project called “2nd Shot at Glory,” packaged as “American Idol” meets “The Biggest Loser” meets America’s most beloved pastime… football.” The show was to involve Neal and at least three other former NFL players supervising the efforts of pro football prospects.
“Participants can be from every position in the NFL. Can you imagine a kicker winning? – the outrage, the pandemonium!,” we read on the show’s Web site. “Finally, you can have your 2nd Shot at Glory by competing against other men from all across America for money, glory and most importantly, the opportunity for a spot on an NFL roster.”
“The winner receives $500,000 cash prize and a guaranteed contract with a professional agent to negotiate their first contract.”
– Overseeing another apparently short-lived project called Fan Foods Inc., a grocery store with a not-sizzling Facebook presence.
– Getting the word out on breast cancer
– Providing for his children, including a daughter who has suffered seizures and speech delay
– Running a non-profit called Worldwide Athletes, LLC. Purpose = All about getting kids access to higher education.
– Helping students at Fresno High School set and achieve goals through his “Changing a Generation Foundation.”
– Charging up to $2,000 per hour – with occasional half-off discounts – to speak to kids in a motivational manner.
– Hawking a workout device called The Body Stretcher
– Wearing a CrossFit T-shirt at a CrossFit gym grand opening
– Endorsing the StreetStrider, said to be the world’s first indoor/outdoor elliptical cross trainer
– Being a professor at Football University
– Helping run an anti drunk-driving service called Safe Ride Solutions. “Basically, it’s like having a AAA card for partying,” Neal told Yahoo Sports. “You call an 800 number, and an off-duty police officer comes to you and drives you home in your own car, no questions asked. It’s totally confidential. When we pitched it to the NFL, they gave us their approval and told us it was OK to shop it to teams.”
– Crashing his truck into a pole after getting drunk on the Fourth of July. Nobody was hurt. “[He] just ran off the road, struck a pole,” officer Axel Reyes told KFSN-TV. “Nothing real major about it.”
– Owning a commercial real estate business
– Educating folks about nutrition
– Keeping that Football Great status on lockdown; Hanging with other greats at a sports bar.
– Getting interviewed by former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson; Maybe not making friends at USA Football’s anti-concussion Heads Up program after telling him: “The way that I blocked, I used my head first all the time, but now running backs can’t lead with their helmet. I think the helmet protects people. More injury and trauma is caused if you run with your head up because your neck is not protected.”
– Forgiving the robber who stole more than $1 million worth of stuff from his Clovis home, including Ali vs. Fraiser boxing gloves and 438 designer purses – each valued at $1,500 to $6,000 – owned by his wife. Neal reported the purses were hidden behind a secret door few people would know about.
– Telling Sports Illustrated why some older NFL players looking to extend their careers in San Diego, Oakland or San Francisco chose to delay filing for worker’s compensation. “You don’t want to file a claim while you’re still playing because teams will use it against you and you won’t have a job. Just like with concussions, guys still try to get back on the field because they want to stay employed and you only have so many years that you can play the game,” he said.
“Let’s be real.”
This Saturday night, boosters of the Clovis North Educational Complex who are at least 21 years of age will have the opportunity to buy time with a man who embodies our nation’s obsession with youth and vigor, or purchase a toxin that reflects the same.
Still, the price at which LoNeal’s company will be ultimately sold tells us no more about who he really is than the spot he earned on this NFL all-decade team. No mortal can see to the core of us, but spoonful by spoonful our deeds and words uncover what’s beneath.
Once, not long ago, Neal and his son were asked what ice cream flavor they would describe themselves as. Neal praised his son’s answer – vanilla – then charged ahead thusly: “I would describe myself as a Neapolitan because it’s chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry … You have to be able to adapt to your environment. You can’t be everything, but if you can be that Neapolitan,” the 1993 fourth round draft pick mused.
“It’s hard not to like strawberry and it’s really hard not to like chocolate. It’s hard not to like vanilla. I want to be loved by everyone, and that’s me. Consistency. That’s what I describe myself as.”