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More than just a way to get to the stadium

In the NFL, luxury cars are more than just a way to get to the stadium. Find out what Emmitt Smith and other football stars drive.
Image: Maybach 57
The Cleveland Browns’ Orpheus Roye drives this 2007 Maybach.Maybach
/ Source: Forbes Autos

Orpheus Roye is not a small man.

At 6'4" and 330 pounds, he is a defensive tackle for the National Football League's Cleveland Browns.

Befitting a man of his physical stature, Roye likes his cars large. His fleet of seven vehicles features some of the biggest rides from an array of mostly luxury manufacturers. Among them are a 2004 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class coupe, a 2005 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged, a 2006 Bentley Flying Spur, a 2007 Mercedes S550 sedan, and the most massive of all, a 2007 Maybach 57S.

Most of the cars are black, but his latest, the Maybach, is white. "The Maybach makes me feel like I’m a king," Roye says, shortly after finishing up a grueling Friday practice earlier in the season.

Roye says he didn’t have much growing up, and he thinks of his vehicles as a symbol of making it. They are a reward he gives himself. "I work hard enough," he says.

But not all of them are rewards. At least one is kept as a reminder of his roots — Roye still hangs on to his first car, a 1996 Buick Regal.

To some in professional football, owning luxury cars is not only a way to celebrate their success, it's a way to fit in with peers. Players pull up to practice in the latest sports cars, SUVs, and rare classics, and teammates take note.

"You go in the parking lot and you see these nice exotic cars coming in. As a young guy, you’re like, 'I want to get a car,'" says cornerback Christian Morton, who was recently picked up by the Denver Broncos.

Morton recalls noticing fellow players' preference for luxury automobiles during his first NFL season with the New England Patriots in 2004. "I remember going in the parking lot and seeing all the Escalades rimmed up with 24s. There were about 15 Escalades, about 10 Range Rovers. You had the Phantom and some little Lexuses. But it seemed like there were a million Escalades."

Morton’s parking lot awe is not uncommon. “There is a social pressure to fit in,” says Christopher Henry, director of NFL player development. “There is a pressure to keep up."

But for some NFL veterans, practicality is still a priority.

Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, says he sold the 2002 Lamborghini Murcielago that he once owned, even though it was the coolest car he has ever driven. It was “Cowboy blue,” with blue suede inside. “I didn’t drive it enough,” he says.

Smith, who retired from the game in 2005 and is now an ESPN analyst, played for 14 years, 13 of them with the Dallas Cowboys. He won three Super Bowl rings with the Cowboys and was named to the Pro Bowl eight times.

He owns three vehicles. He has a Hummer H2 for himself — it’s either a 2003 or 2004 model, he isn’t sure. He says a 2005 Mercedes-Benz 600 V12, which he calls “a classy car,” is for both him and his wife. And Smith, a father of four, has a 2008 Cadillac Escalade ESV as the family vehicle.

Smith says he is “a big fan of automobiles that are tricked out” and wants to put 24-inch rims on his Escalade.

The players said they do a lot of research before they buy a vehicle, from asking each other for recommendations to scouring magazines for cutting-edge trends.

“You can get a lot of ideas talking about cars in the locker room,” Morton says.

Morton owns a 2003 Land Rover Range Rover, a 2005 Bentley Continental GT, a 2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport, and a 2007 Lexus LS 460. “I wanted to get a Mercedes S550 because everyone was talking about it, but then I realized I didn’t want to be like everyone else,” he says.

That urge for uniqueness aside, many players seem to share the same taste in vehicles. “Every player wants a Yukon, Tahoe, Denali, Escalade, or a Range Rover,” says Kevin Shuler, manager of Elite Auto Concierge, an Atlanta-based shop that deals in new and classic car sales and modifications. “You’re not a ball player if you don’t have one of those in the garage.”

To stand out amid all that sameness, many opt for customization. “They normally want the car completely done — rims and tires and stereos,” Shuler says. “When they first get drafted they want a huge stereo system. As people get older they don’t spend as much money.”

Elite is co-owned by Charles Woodson of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, Shannon Anderson of the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat, and the rapper T.I. Its customers include dozens of athletes from the NFL and the NBA.

Shuler says getting a new exotic car is a quick way to grab attention, but older cars prized for their exclusivity are increasingly popular among players. “The trend is to get a classic ride, because anybody can get a new car and not everyone can get a classic,” he says.

James Brown, host of NFL Today on CBS, attributes players' taste in cars to their elite status in their profession. "They belong to a class that is very selective by virtue of their doing what many of us can’t. A lot of their choices in cars, whether it’s a Bentley or a Lamborghini or a Ferrari, is reflected in that,” he says. “A number of athletes that have been at their craft and profession for a while are starting to show an appreciative eye to classic cars — street rods and muscle cars."

A collector himself, Brown says he has offered advice to more than 20 NFL players who have come to him with questions about vintage cars, including Michael Strahan of the New York Giants and Jayson Taylor of the Miami Dolphins. "What I’m finding is that more of the guys are becoming savvy and sophisticated buyers," Brown says.

Rarity is what drew Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Rod Coleman to his 1977 Chevrolet Impala convertible. "I had it repainted the Falcon colors: it's black and the roof is red,” Coleman says. “The interior is black, red, and white, and I put some 14-inch hydraulics on it.” (Hydraulics allow a car to be raised and lowered using switches on the dashboard.)

Coleman is also working to customize a 1977 Chevy Caprice convertible. "I like the body style," he says.

He usually selects what car he is going to drive according to his mood. "It’s like my personality — sometimes I like to be low key and sometimes I like to show off and sometimes I like to be laid back."

He calls his Dodge Ram pickup "kind of country and city." When he is on the go, he prefers the BMW 645i.

And like Orpheus Roye, Coleman has a nostalgic streak. He still owns his 1991 Acura Legend.

Ten NFL stars talked to us about their favorite vehicles. To see what vehicles these players favor for reasons both showy and sentimental, click on the “slide show” link above.