Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams, one of the top pass rushers in the NFL who is in the second year of a record-setting contract that could see him earn $100 million over six years, is thinking back to his first contract.
In Toronto for Sunday’s NFL game at Rogers Centre between the Bills and the Atlanta Falcons, the No. 1 draft pick from 2006 remembers the terms but not the full dollar amount.
No, this is not about his football contract. It was the deal he made at age 16 for his first car, a used 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix GT.
Growing up in rural North Carolina with his mother and three older siblings, money was tight. A promising athlete who was concentrating on finishing school and launching a football career at the time, Williams knew having a car would make life easier.
“It was the only one I could afford,” he says.
“I don’t remember what the total price was — I had to finance it — it wasn’t in my name (it was in my mom’s name) but it was my car, obviously. I think it came to $200 and something a month for four years.”
Williams paid for the car by earning money from a part-time job at a Subway restaurant during the school year, when not at football practices or games.
In the summer, he earned extra cash laying bricks with his father and uncles.
Although he was more of a saver than a spender, when it came to his wheels, he was happy with his choice.
“I really liked them (the Grand Prix),” he says. “When I was growing up, one of my real good friends, his mom had one, she had the Grand Prix GTP or GTX. I just so happened to find at the dealership a used Pontiac Grand Prix GT. …
“When I was in high school, I definitely thought it was awesome.”
Williams, who taught himself how to drive on the backroads of rural North Carolina, found the Grand Prix to be a practical, if plain, ride.
A point A to point B driver, the two-time Pro Bowl player laughs when asked about any memorable road trips in the Pontiac.
“I didn’t do many road trips — I really didn’t do much!” Williams chuckles.
“The only thing I did as far as a road trip was driving from Raleigh to Richlands. Raleigh’s where I went to college and Richlands is where I’m from.”
If Williams’ first car sounds somewhat plain, remember that popular bumper sticker: “Don’t laugh, it’s paid for.” Because by the time Williams was attending North Carolina State University, his car was paid off.
Maintained and in good shape, the Grand Prix was passed along to his teammate and friend, Detroit Lion Willie Young.
Big even as a teen at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds (“teeny” in his own eyes, he claims: “I definitely wasn’t the size I am now”), his size hasn’t limited his automobile choices, even if it did mean his seat was pushed all the way back. “I didn’t have anyone in the back seat, that’s for sure.”
Now 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, the 28-year-old’s rides have fallen on all sides of the size spectrum over the years.
“I’m either in something that’s like, ‘How can you stand it?’ (he’s driven Smart cars as well as an even tinier three-seat European electric car) or I’m in something that’s really big. So it all depends.”
Going big for his first new-car purchase Williams chose an H2 Hummer coming out of college, picking it up before Houston chose him in the draft. The behemoth was a popular ride in his home state at the time.
“It wasn’t an SUV that was crazy Escalade-priced or anything like that. It was at my price and then I had it souped up and that’s what I did as far as the stereo and the rims because I really didn’t get that before.
“It was candy red over gold. It was red but the gold gave a shimmer to it.”
These days, Williams owns a luxury SUV as well as an American muscle car but those purchases haven’t grabbed the headlines like the five Chevy Camaros he picked up in 2011 and the five Dodge Chargers he signed for in 2013.
Those 10 cars were a gift for the Houston police department’s traffic-enforcement division. With their “ghost” lettering, the cars have helped the cops take aggressive drivers off the road.
Now an honourary Houston Police Chief, he says he’s just happy to have made a difference.
And though he’s fast and aggressive on the field, Williams prefers to leave those moves on the gridiron and take it easy behind the wheel.
“I’m a pretty relaxed person. I just drive point A to point B and get there safely. I’m not anything too crazy.”
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