Fame is strange. Until I got to San Diego, I never experienced saying hello to someone and having them scream, “Oh, my God!” I never got the Justin Timberlake treatment until recently.
It’s weird when someone walks up to me and says, “You’re Marcellus Wiley! Oh, my God, you’re this and that. I’m a fan! My kids love you! They’ve got posters of you in their room!” And after you hear all that you’re like, “OK.... So how’s your day?” How do you respond to something like that?
It’s really tough because I have to build up a shell around myself. I love to talk to people -- I love to talk, period -- and I love to just shoot the breeze with someone. If I go to a restaurant or a bar, I’m used to being the one who says hello to you. If we’re both walking to a door and only one of us can fit, I’m used to stopping, looking at you and saying hello as you walk by. But what happens now is if you do that, you will have hourlong conversations at that doorway.
What you have to say is there’s got to be a median between still being polite and also still getting things done that you need to do without being delayed by interviews at the grocery store.
Being recognized is cool. It’s not a hassle. It’s not a problem. But it’s funny, being in a town where Junior Seau lives and rules, I’m glad to be Marcellus Wiley. Because I dare not ask Junior, “Are you going to go to the San Diego State basketball game?” They would have to call U.S. Marshals for security. For me, they might say, “Just make sure you sit by an aisle” or something.
I was out with Bruce Smith one time earlier in my career. We went to a basketball game. We’re in the bathroom. I thought getting an autograph request was weird when we were in a restaurant. Getting an autograph request in the bathroom -- I mean, we’re at the urinal and a guy’s like, “Oh, my God! You’re Bruce Smith! Let me get your autograph!” It would have helped if Bruce could have gone to the bathroom, went to the sink and used the hand soap. But this guy kind of wanted it right there, whether the paper was dry or wet.
I’ve got two nicknames: “Wild Style” and “Dat Dude.” In Buffalo, my teammate, Gabe Northern, called me “Wild Style” because it sounded pretty close to my last name, and also that’s how I played. I’m very uncoordinated. Most people don’t know, except my teammates, that I’m very uncoordinated. If you don’t believe me, watch the Arizona interception -- my arms go left, my legs go right, and I try to stay somewhere in the middle.
When I got to San Diego, I started an entertainment company after my new nickname, “Dat Dude.” I used to call my teammates “dat dude” because I got tired of saying “You the man.” I think about that fan who comes to the game and sits in the cheap seats with a hot dog and a Coke. He’s got bad seats so he can’t see everything, and he’s not paying attention half the time. But he keeps peeking, and every so often he asks his buddy, “Who’s dat dude?” I hope that would be me. I want “dat dude” to be me.
I want to dispel the myths. Tell the truth. One of the things about being a professional athlete is 80% to 90% of us were on the yellow brick road to being a star. The stars of today, very few of them came from a humble background athletically. Most of them were high school All-Americans, college stars, pro superstars. But if you’re not that, you get the benefit of being on both sides of the fence.
Ivy League guys, such as myself and Jay Fiedler, we get the benefit of being on the outside looking in, as well as being on the inside. We were at Columbia and Dartmouth. Being a Columbia player, you’re on the outside. You’re looking at college football almost as if you don’t play it.
When I finally got the opportunity to go in the second round of the draft, I heard guys my age saying, “Aw, man, how’d you go in the second round? You’re not good. You went to Columbia. I don’t care how good you are, you went there and didn’t play against anybody.” Countless people have said that. They don’t say it in a way to provoke me, but they’re like, “Man, how’d you get drafted?”
It’s still kind of a novelty and a joke, because people are like, “Man, how did you go there and get drafted?” There are guys who go to big schools and they’ll come home and tell their boys, “Man, I couldn’t get a look. The scout was just trippin’ on me.” And then they’re like, “Man, how do you go to a school that nobody knows about and get drafted in the second round?”
My answer is: “I don’t know, but that’s my life right now.”
I know going somewhere that isn’t a traditional football school hurts you in some respects. Your tools are not as sharp usually as a guy who has been playing against great competition all the time. He not only has talent, but he also has to have great technique. You’ve got to have technique to get you over the top.
The advantage to being anonymous is, when everyone else is kind of living in that hype, you have an easier chance to focus. You don’t have to deal with as much pressure.
I wasn’t thrown to the lion’s den the first year. I was able to keep growing. I have a 3-year-old daughter, Morocca, who lives with her mother in Virginia. She acts a lot like me. She has my eyes, for sure. She has huge eyes. She’s funny, just because she loves her daddy. She loves her mom, too. But she really just enjoys being around me.
Morocca lived with me during my last season in Buffalo. Just the two of us. I had to take care of her as well as being a football player. That was tough, not only playing football but coming home to a toddler. I’d pick her up from day care after I was done with practice, and we’d spend our evenings coloring or reading or just playing. That was one person you can’t tell that you’re tired. They don’t know what the word means, and they really don’t care what the word means. They want to play. So I had a game when I got home every night.
The only thing she knows about daddy playing football is, daddy plays football. It’s not daddy plays football, he’s good, he’s bad. Daddy plays football, he had a great game, a terrible game. Daddy plays football, he has money, he doesn’t have money. It’s not a situation where she cares, or even knows, what I’m doing. She just knows I’m her daddy.
I’m glad I don’t have a son. If I did, I wouldn’t want him to play football. I’m not putting a son through the stuff that I deal with. I don’t want that old, “Oh, you’re Marcellus Wiley’s son?” Whether I tell him every day, “Son, you don’t have to play football,” the expectations will be there.
I had a fork in the road when I graduated. Either I was going to go to the right and play in the NFL, or I was going to go to the left and be a counselor.
I was going to be a counselor making $20,000 a year, when now I’m in the NFL and I can go to a speaking engagement and make $20,000.
The thing that makes me feel as if I have a lot of money is not the cars, not the home. It’s when I have cash. The richest I’ve felt wasn’t when I signed my contract, not when I bought a Ferrari, not when I wrecked the Ferrari and went out and bought a Mercedes. What blew my mind away is when I had $13,000 in cash in my house.
We played the Raiders and you couldn’t buy tickets, but all of my friends and family wanted to go to the game. I couldn’t pay for every game everybody wants to go to, so I said, “You pay the ticket price, you get to go.” And I purchased $13,000 worth of tickets for that game. It was like 200 or 300 tickets. Everyone paid cash, and I felt rich.
But I remember when I got a $4-million bonus check. It didn’t stay in my hand long, because I put it straight on the Xerox machine. I had to photocopy that 100 times just to be like, “Man, I had a check this big at one time.”
The football players are jealous of the basketball players, because in basketball they’re guaranteed contracts. I can say, “Yeah, I made this amount of money! Woo-hoo!” But I can’t get too excited, because I have to eat for the rest of my life.
You can watch some stories of people, football players and celebrities, who have spent a large amount of money and don’t have any more. You can’t live in the moment of it. I guess that’s why I never feel too rich.
Because now I never want it to end.
A WORLD OF HURT
Fourth in a series
Marcellus Wiley, a Pro Bowl defensive end for the San Diego Chargers, spoke throughout the season with The Times’ NFL writer, Sam Farmer. Wiley reveals some of the gritty behind-the-scenes realities of America’s most popular sport.
Part 1: NFL life: Not all it’s cracked up to be.
Part 2: Tuesday, the toughest day of the week.
Part 3: You gotta play hurt.
Today: The price of fame.
Saturday: No time for sympathy.