Glenn Parker is a team player. The New York Giants offensive tackle is a 10-year veteran of the NFL, and he is one of only five athletes to have played in the Super Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the league. When Parker is on the field, nothing can take his focus off the game -- that is, unless he gets thirsty.
"One of the funniest things that happened on the football field centered around wine," says Parker. "I was playing against Chris Doleman [of the Minnesota Vikings], and in the heat of battle most people are talking trash. He just looks at me and says, 'Hey, I hear you collect wine.' I said, 'I sure do!'"
For the next three quarters, the football players-cum-wine lovers talked about favorite vintages amidst the punting, passing and touchdowns. Says Parker: "The guys in my huddle were saying, 'Would you shut up about the wine? We're trying to play a game here!'"
It's rare to find someone passionate about both football and wine, and Parker knows it. "It's a shock to many people -- the idea of a big guy holding a little wineglass, swirling and sniffing and doing the whole bit," says the 6-foot-6-inch, 315-pound athlete.
Parker, 34, wasn't always a wine lover, nor was he always a football fanatic. Raised in Huntington Beach, Calif., Parker preferred bodysurfing at the beach to team sports at Edison Beach High School. And at Golden West Junior College, his focus was on getting a scholarship. "I just wanted to go to school for free," says Parker.
He later attended the University of Arizona, and he was chosen in the third round of the 1990 draft by the Buffalo Bills. In 1997, he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. This year, he started playing with the Giants, and he recently purchased a home in Warren, N.J., where he lives with his wife, Casey, and two young daughters, Madeleine and Emily.
"Now that I've moved to New Jersey, no one will ship wine to me," he says. "But I'll find some way around it. I'll get the wine."
Ironically, it was Parker's football career that jump-started his 2,000-bottle collection, which primarily features California Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux. While playing for the Bills, Parker met many French-Canadian hockey players who introduced him to wine.
"I was really into microbrews at the time. I loved the different types," says Parker. "Someone once said, 'If you love that, you'll love wine.' And I said, 'Sure, that's snobby stuff,' but then I tried it, and there was so much more to learn."
Parker started picking up assorted cases at local wine stores. "I read different publications, trying to get to where I had the knowledge from vine to wine, how it was made and what affected the taste," he says.
And he's also concerned with value. "I'm very cost-conscious, and I'm always looking for the next bargain," he says. Often, he opts for Bordeaux, especially châteaus Cos-d'Estournel, Mouton-Rothschild and Gazin. "I think that every year, for the most part, Cos-d'Estournel and Gazin provide very good values for very good wines, and I really like what Mouton does, especially in the off years," says Parker, who particularly likes Château Mouton-Rothschild 1993.
Just as football indirectly introduced Parker to wine, the NFL fostered his vinous hobby. The league sponsors a continuing-education program that provides internships for football players interested in learning about different careers. Parker knew exactly what he wants to pursue after football -- both broadcasting and wine.
While with the Kansas City Chiefs, Parker had interviewed local chefs on a cable television show called Gridiron Gourmet. Having already dabbled in broadcasting, Parker then chose to intern for a week at the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1998.
"I spent one day doing every part of the wine business," says Parker. Last season, he returned to the winery for two weeks, spending the first half of his stay helping to give tastings and tours to trade groups. Then, Parker was on his own.
"I gave public tours all by myself, just wandering around the winery," he says. "It was a lot of fun." It was especially fun for those getting the tour, who didn't foresee being led through the vineyard by a pro football player. "What I tried to do was inform everybody right at the start that I was an intern and what I did for a living," he says. "So many people have the vision that football players make so much money they can just retire. But you have to do something with your life. And I have a passion for wine."
Parker also has a place in the kitchen. Football season, his craziest time of the year, is his busiest time at the stove. "Cooking to me is a real stress reliever," he says. "I come home from a very hard day at practice, working out and learning new plays. One of my favorite things is to sit behind the counter and start chopping up vegetables."
Parker assumed the cooking role when his wife got pregnant with their first child. "She didn't enjoy the taste of her own food, so it was destined for me to take over," he says. "And I said, 'If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right.'"
He went to Daniel's Restaurant in Hamburg, N.Y., and asked the chef, Daniel Johengen, if he could watch, study and learn the business. "I really got into it -- learning the prep work, stocks and sauces and being right with them on the line."
Parker recently enjoyed a particularly gluttonous dinner of his own -- one that took six hours to eat. It turns out that the head chef of New York's Lespinasse, Christian Delouvrier, is the brother-in-law of Giants strength coach John "Mother" Dunn. Says Parker, "I found this out and said, 'Oh my God! Get me in!'"
Within three days, Parker and three of his teammates, quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Jason Garrett and kicker Brad Daluiso, secured a reservation. "We had a lot of Alsatian wine with a little bit of residual sugar. The way they stood up to the fish dishes was great," says Parker. By night's end, the four football players downed 15 courses of food -- including three main courses each.
Parker, a self-proclaimed "non-recipe cooker," treats his family to home-cooked meals three or four times a week.
Of course, the wine he craves is a deciding factor. Says Parker, "There are days when you get done with a day of football and you're just like, wow, I need to sit down, relax, have a good meal and a great bottle of '87 BV Cab."