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Wine, women and thieves: NFL rookies better keep their eyes open

By Tim Graham

AURORA, Ohio -- Derek Wolfe was a rookie last year for the Denver Broncos and learned quickly he couldn't trust anybody like he used to.

Wolfe would break up with his girlfriend of five years and fire two financial planners.

He couldn't even rely on a close friend he'd admired since high school.

Wolfe was suspicious of his buddy and left $20 lying on a table to see what would happen. The friend, who Wolfe eventually discovered had a drug problem, pocketed the $20.

"It wasn't that long ago I didn't have a dollar to my name," Wolfe told a room full of first-year players tonight at the start of the 2013 NFL Rookie Symposium. "So don't worry. I'm watching that $20 bill.

"He took it off the table. He didn't say he took it. He had two days to tell me. Never told me. So I had to tell him, 'Hey, man ...' "

Wolfe's story was one of many jolts delivered during a roundtable session that explored common rookie pitfalls and pratfalls.

Wolfe was joined by three other 2012 rookies: St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David and San Diego Chargers tackle Michael Harris. Ross Tucker, a former Buffalo Bills offensive lineman, was the moderator.

"You have to test women, test your friends, test everybody," Wolfe said to a smattering of applause. "I have to find out if they're real or not.

"Most people will say anything to get in your pocket, man. Everybody has a motive. They either want to be your friend, or they want something from you. You want to be around people who want your friendship and want your time.

"Don't waste your time on people who just want money because it gets ugly."

Wolfe dumped two financial planners because "They were rats," he said. Brockers added he fired his first financial planner, too. David claimed he spent $20,000 on tickets, trying to keep people happy when they called to ask for them.

Tucker, an economics major from Princeton, underscored how easy it is for a young man to get separated from his money.

Tucker revealed he made three financial blunders his rookie season in Washington by investing in a bad real-estate deal, a hedge fund and what turned out to be a pyramid scheme.

"I've heard horrible stories about third-cousins five times removed asking for money," Brockers said. "I'm glad I never had that.

"But the hardest thing for me is the inner circle. I'm talking about moms, dads, grandmas, stuff like that. Those people are the ones that think they're owed something. You really don't owe them nothing. I know they took care of you, but in all reality you don't owe them nothing.

"My reality was trying to tell them 'No' because it's hard. My mom, she gave me birth. She brought me into this life. And she wanted a new Range Rover, and then she wanted a new house, and then she wanted to add on the house."

Tucker asked what Brockers agreed to buy his mom.

"I didn't pay for all that," Brockers said.

Tucker pressed him.

"I paid for the house and the Range Rover," Brockers said.

The room erupted in laughter. Brockers rubbed his forehead. Brockers noted it was a 2008 Range Rover that's being paid through an escrow account, and he wanted to buy his mother a new house because, "Where we were living at was a s---hole."

David said, "My dad hit me up every time he'd see me for, like, it wasn't a large amount, but for $20, $30."

Those personal stories provide a glimpse into the lives of young men from sometimes difficult backgrounds and who have trouble coping after they've plunged into money.

Even a simple occasion like going out to dinner can turn into a fiscal event.

"When you sit down with a group of four, it's funny how it turns into a group of eight," Wolfe said. "People just keep joining and joining. Then the bill comes to the table and they all look at you.

"Are you going to tell your buddy that cuts grass for a living to pay for it? You don't have a choice at that point. So you have to pick and choose who you eat with."

How did Wolfe learn to deal with expensive hangers-on?

"I might have to go to the bathroom at that point," Wolfe said. "I'm just going to get out of there."

Of course, no friends can run up a tab like teammates do.

An NFL right of passage is the rookie dinner, where veterans stick newbies with monstrous tabs.

Brockers, the 14th overall pick last year, cringed when the bill arrived at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in St. Louis. He'd heard stories about 2008 second overall pick Chris Long getting zapped for $26,000.

Brockers got off lightly. His bill was only $13,000.

"You're going to be treated like s---. Let's be honest," Wolfe said. "You're going to be somebody's bitch for that day. You're going to carry their helmets. You're going to carry their pads. They're going to probably put ink in your shoes.

"The best way to handle it is laugh at them. Just do it and laugh like it's funny because it's a joke. And you're going to do it to the next group of rookies."

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | [email protected]


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | [email protected]


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | [email protected]

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