Follow the stylish maroon Cadillac Escalade with the matching 26-inch, custom spoke wheels long enough and you get the feeling you might be trailing a pro athlete, an entertainer or a groupie from MTV's "Pimp My Ride." Get close enough to see the iced-out personalized emblem on the rear hatch and, well, even a car dummy who knows anything about the Minnesota Vikings knows who's inside.
"BIG PAT," the tastefully designed emblem reads in block letters.
"Yeah, they call me 'Big Pat,' or 'Big Nasty,' or 'Big Duke,' or all kinds of crazy names," said Big Pat Williams, the Vikings' 327-pound Pro Bowl nose tackle. "I have fun. Always. I'll always be laughing when I whip your ..." um, butt.
On or off the field, Big Pat usually finds a way to whip ... um, butt. On this particular day last month, he led a reporter and a photographer on his midday route from Winter Park, where he had just worked out and participated in an offseason organized team activity, to New Hope and Automotive Concepts, his 17,000-square-foot workplace away from work.
Williams doesn't roll up the sleeves and personally pimp any rides. That will come four years from now when he plans to retire to Monroe, La., and that newly constructed home with the nine-car garage out back. But Williams is a 25 percent co-owner and Bunyan-sized talking billboard for the successful 21-year-old Automotive Concepts, which, according to its website (www.ac-mn.com), is an "industry leader in automotive restyling and accessories."I always liked cars," said Williams, who owns 13, and, no, that's not a typo. "I watched those pimp shows on TV and I'd say, 'I got better ideas than what they're doing.' "
Teammates agree. Lots of teammates. And members of the Twins, the Wolves and other pro teams from coast to coast also believe in Automotive Concepts. Jeremy Luffey, another 25 percent co-owner and Williams' best local friend sans shoulder pads, said there are customers from at least a dozen professional sports teams.
They've come mainly through word of mouth. Mostly Big Pat's, well, big mouth.
"You should see Pat doing his networking around the locker room," said Vikings defensive end Kenechi Udeze, a regular customer. "Let's just say you don't have to worry about Pat after he's done with football. Pat has a future in anything he does. I always say he's a candidate for a reality TV show. Every day around here, it's a comedy skit starring Pat Williams. The rest of us just add a little flavor to the show."
Glue to the team
On the field, Williams is an interior offensive lineman's pain in the ... um, butt. He's big enough to hold his ground yet quick enough to zip forward in a blink. Off the field, he doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, throws a mean dart and rolls a wicked bowling ball, although teammates say he's stretching the truth by about 40-45 pins on that claim of having a 250 average.
"Two-fifty!" Udeze shrieked. "Now that's a bold-faced lie. The last time we played, I won two and [defensive end] Ray Edwards won three. The rest of [the Vikings' defensive linemen] weren't any good when Pat got us started, and Pat had been playing his whole life. He's good, but 250!? Nah."
Williams also is a sharp dresser, a bit of a neat freak and an 11-year veteran who, at 33, leads the Vikings locker room in a way teammates have compared to a big brother or, as Udeze said, "your high school football coach." Williams believes in coach Brad Childress, and vice versa, even though their first impressions of each other weren't exactly positive.
Williams no longer sees Childress as standoffish with the players. Childress sees Williams in better shape, and views him as a valuable ally in the locker room.
Winter Park's King of Cars
Hmm, let's see. What else is there about Big Pat? Oh yeah, the cars.
He's got a Bentley, a Mercedes and three Escalades. (Hey, the wife, Valarie, has to have something with which to tote the children -- Crystal, 15; Alesha, 14; and Big Pat II, 2.) There's also the Dodge, and the Impalas from '63, '64, '95 and '96, and ... well, you get the idea.
"I had one Impala that Torii Hunter wanted," Williams said. "Every time I'd see him, he'd say, 'I want that car!' So I sold it to him."
Williams has sold so many cars to teammates that he's lost count. Former teammate Marcus Robinson bought three of them.