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.
"When we aren't playing football, that's what we do," Udeze said. "We buy cars off each other."
Big Pat, of course, is the undisputed King of Cars at Winter Park.
"I personally don't hear him talking about the cars, but every day I leave this place, Pat's in a different car," Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said. "I think that's how he gets all his publicity. All these young kids want the fancy rims, the nice paint job, the speakers, TVs in their cars, things like that."
'We got to move the seat back for Kevin'
According to its website, Automotive Concepts offers 44 products. There's the Katzkin leather interior, strut grills, suicide doors and stereo systems loud enough to make you grab your ears and ask, "Are we in the Metrodome?" Except when Williams cranked up the sound system inside his maroon Escalade, one could actually understand the words, too.
During last month's walk through the Automotive Concepts shop, there were cars being customized for New England Patriots and former Gophers running back Laurence Maroney, Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin, Wolves player Trenton Hassell and another local guy by the name of KG.
"That's Kevin Garnett's right there," Williams said. "We got to move the seat back for Kevin."
Williams moves around the room and mentions how the company recently had to fire a paint crew. Mistakes aren't an option when the company is traveling all over the country to pick up vehicles, transport them to New Hope, customize them and then deliver them.
"I know some guys who send their cars to Florida and don't hear anything for six months, even though they're calling and calling," Udeze said. "[Automotive Concepts] went to L.A. and picked up a car of mine and brought it here for me. They know they only have one chance to make a good impression, so they do. But then when a former [Southern Cal] teammate of mine like [Seahawks linebacker] Lofa Tatupu calls me and wants to know where he can get his car done, I send him to Pat, and the shop goes and gets his car in Seattle."
Birth of a businessman
Williams was involved in two similar shops in Buffalo when he played for the Bills from 1997 to 2004. He sold his share in one but kept the other. After he retires, he'd like to keep his interests in the shops in Buffalo and New Hope and open other shops, including one in Monroe, La.
"When I first moved here to Minnesota, and I was still staying at the Sheraton downtown, I'd just get in my truck and ride around looking for stuff," Williams said. "Today, guys ask me, 'How do you know how to get around like you do?' And I say, 'You got nothing else to do most of the time.' Basically, it was work out until 12 and get in my truck and ride and go get lost."
Williams found Automotive Concepts while lost two years ago.
"I had just bought a truck and I needed it customized," Williams said. "I found Jeremy and we just hit it off. And then I brought everybody else with me."
On the field or on the road, some guys can't help but follow "Big Pat."