His fists full of asparagus stalks and shade in short supply, Troy
Vincent would gaze at the venerable brick manor across the road
and get to thinking about the future. He was just a young teen
working the fields for $2.25 an hour at Lang's farm in Yardley,
Pa., a couple of miles across the Delaware River from his home in
Trenton, N.J., but the future Philadelphia Eagles cornerback
already craved life's finer things. That big house near the
fields, with its 14 wooded acres, winding driveway and
wrought-iron fence, was something he could get used to. He had
felt that way for years, ever since his mother, Alma, first took
him to Yardley for Halloween--the night they left their decaying
urban streets for the spoils of suburban trick-or-treating. "It
was one of those houses that gave the big candy bars," he says.
"I just knew I wanted to live like that, but it would mean some
hard work. I'd always had jobs as a kid--selling watermelons in
Trenton, then working at Lang's, and washing dishes at Pizza Hut.
Nobody was going to give me a good life. I had to earn it."
With boundless enthusiasm and disdain for the measly 40-hour work
week, Vincent has spent his splendid 11-year NFL career--the first
four with the Miami Dolphins, who took him out of Wisconsin with
the seventh pick of the 1992 draft, and the last seven with the
Eagles--matching his on-field success with business and charitable
ventures that are equally rewarding. Vincent also serves as one
of the NFL's wise elders, speaking to young players at
league-held seminars on the importance of sound financial
planning and preparing for life after football.
He is, in fact, nothing if not in demand. Eltekon, the
financial-services company Vincent started with Eagles cornerback
Bobby Taylor, veteran wideout Cris Carter (who on Monday came out
of retirement to sign with the Miami Dolphins) and college friend
Mark Mangum, has him in an office three days a week and returning
calls at all hours. "He's always working on something away from
the field," says Eagles free safety Brian Dawkins, who was
drafted by Philadelphia in 1996, the year Vincent arrived. "He's
too busy. It's amazing how much he does away from the game and
then how good he is on Sunday. I always say I want to be just
like him, only without all the phone bills."
At 31 Vincent is one of the league's elite all-around corners and
the steady leader of perhaps the NFL's best secondary. Fresh off
a bye week, the Eagles' defense held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
offense without a touchdown in a 20-10 victory on Sunday at
Veterans Stadium. The secondary never let the Bucs find a rhythm,
harassing quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Rob Johnson (23 for 38,
155 yards combined), with Vincent shackling wideout Keyshawn
Johnson (three catches for 38 yards).
At 6'1" and 200 pounds, with 4.3 speed, Vincent is the rare
corner who can punish a wideout as well as run with him, talents
that are at a premium in Philadelphia's aggressive, blitz-heavy
schemes. "He's out on an island in that defense, especially on
the left side, where teams throw more often, and he's as good as
it gets," says Houston Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer.
"It's clear he's done his homework." Indeed, despite his
estimable physical gifts, Vincent would rather jump routes and go
for interceptions than make big hits. He led the Eagles in
interceptions for the last five seasons and was named to the last
three Pro Bowls.
Behind this success is maniacal film study, a habit--no, make that
a compulsion--that has Vincent at the team's facility during the
season by 8 a.m., popping sunflower seeds and digesting the
offense of that week's opponent. He often pulls his defensive
mates aside to tell them about tendencies of the enemy receivers,
information that will lead to interceptions, "and he's usually
right," Dawkins says. "He'll tell me to make an adjustment, and
sure enough, I'll get a pick." Says Bucs wideout Keenan
McCardell, "You can tell he studies his opponents. When you face
him, you have to be on your game because he's going to know
everything you do."
Even the Philadelphia offense benefits: Before a 31-9 win over
Tampa Bay in last season's wild-card playoffs, Vincent told
receiver James Thrash to sell the Bucs' defensive backs on an
outside route, then get inside quickly and release. Thrash used
that tip to make a 21-yard catch that set up the Eagles' decisive
If Vincent charged a fee for the locker room advice he doles out,
he could retire tomorrow. Some players seek his business acumen
or investment tips: In addition to Eltekon, Vincent owns a
construction company and co-owns a day spa with his wife, Tommi.
Other players seek spiritual guidance, and some can't seem to do
"I've asked him about my dog [Vincent owned a kennel when he was
with the Dolphins], about what bricks to use on my house, about
everything," says defensive end Hugh Douglas. When Douglas called
Vincent in early May to say he was about to drive a $300,000
Bentley off the lot, the ever-prudent Vincent said he thought
it'd be a foolish purchase. "See, that's why I called!" Douglas
exclaimed. "You always keep it real with me, Troy!" Douglas
passed on the Bentley.
"It's the little things we do that separate us," says Vincent.
"Everyone goes to the mandatory meetings, so what are you going
to do above and beyond that? When I'm watching film of a guy I'm
covering that week early in the morning, I feel good because I
know he's home sleeping."
"Troy sets an example without being showy," says coach Andy Reid.
"He's a great listener, and he's helpful with the young guys.
He's like a grandfather in the locker room. I feel lucky to have
Vincent probably feels lucky to be there as well, considering the
myriad pitfalls of a childhood in east Trenton's squalid Wilbur
section. He grew up dreaming of the NBA and played
basketball--occasionally for free shoes in games sponsored by
rival drug dealers, he says--in the Garden, a fenced-in, blacktop
court in the drug-infested park directly behind the home he and
Alma shared with her parents. (Vincent declines to talk about his
father, saying, "I was raised in a single-parent home.")
Concerned about Troy's lackluster performance in school and the
neighborhood influences, Alma moved Troy to Bucks County, Pa.,
before the seventh grade. He attended school there for three
years, the last at Pennsbury High.
However, living expenses soon overwhelmed Alma, who was working
as a corrections officer at a youth detention center, and they
returned to Trenton for Troy's sophomore year. "When he had to go
back, we all started crying," says Jacqueline Leonard, his
guidance counselor at Pennsbury. "We knew if he went back to
Trenton, he was going to be lost." The following summer Linda and
James Bodley, the parents of Troy's good friend at Pennsbury,
James Bodley Jr., invited Troy to live with them during the next
two school years.
At the start of his senior year the Bodleys told Vincent that he
had to find something productive to do after school. So, for the
first time, he tried tackle football. One standout season later
he was off to Wisconsin. "Going to Pennsbury and then living in
Madison, with all their diversity and different ways of thinking,
meant everything to me," says Vincent, who also lettered in
basketball and track at Pennsbury. "Most of all, it helped me
appreciate where I'm from."
He returns weekly to his old neighborhood, visiting with longtime
friends and hounding teens to finish school, to get those job
applications out. He sits on the benches that a few years back he
paid to have installed outside the Garden. (His donations, along
with the money he has contributed for the park's upkeep, explain
why the city wanted to rename the park after him; instead it
bears the name of Jefferson Vincent, in memory of Troy's
grandfather.) When looking for a home for Eltekon, Vincent
eschewed Philly office space for a corner building just blocks
from Wilbur. He also works out regularly in the gleaming weight
room at Trenton High, which he refurbished at a cost of $50,000.
(He made an identical donation to Pennsbury High.) "It's good for
the kids to see someone who made it and then came back, gave
back," Vincent says. "They see what hard work at their age can
mean over the long term."
Such has been the thrust of several talks he's given to NFL
rookies in recent years. "I learned early [with the Dolphins],
from guys like Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar, that preparing for
life after football begins the day you arrive," he says. "It has
to, because the average NFL career is about two years. Two years?
That's not a career, that's a job at Burger King during the
Still, Vincent is acutely aware that, spartan work ethic
notwithstanding, everyone needs a little divine providence, as
the goodwill of the Bodleys was for him. It's why he and Tommi
distribute gift certificates outside Trenton-area supermarkets at
Thanksgiving and donate new clothing and blankets to homeless
shelters at Christmas. It's also why they take their three
children--daughter Desire, 14 (Tommi's child from a previous
relationship), and sons Troy Jr., 5, and Taron, 18 months--with
them on their charitable outings. "Kids don't do what we tell
them to do, they do what they see us do," Vincent says. "So I
have to live the lifestyle I'm preaching."
As he speaks, he turns and looks at the house he and Tommi
purchased in Yardley six years ago, on a tip from Linda Bodley.
He shakes his head as if in disbelief, then goes silent. "My kids
need to see what hard work is," he finally says. "They need to
see how fortunate they are to have all that they have." With
that, he begins the leisurely walk through his wrought-iron gate
and up the winding driveway, past the wooded grove to his right.
The front door of the brick manor swings wide, and Troy Jr.
bounds across the lawn to give his father a hug.
Across the road Lang's asparagus fields are long gone, replaced
by a housing development, but you can be sure little Troy will be
hearing about them soon enough.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS NETWORKING The outgoing Vincent, who watches endless game tape, likes to learn everything he can about an opponent.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO THE BUC STOPS HERE Pittman was buried by the Philadelphia defense, which limited Tampa Bay to 81 rushing yards.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE TACKLING PAPERWORK Vincent spends part of his week dealing with his business interests.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS CORNERED Vincent pulled down Pittman for one of his three tackles on Sunday and helped keep Keyshawn Johnson in check.
"I learned early, from guys like Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar,
that preparing for life after football begins the day you