The tourist with the camera around his neck wanted to know what
all that yellow stuff on the ground was. "Mustard growing wild,"
said the 6'5", 312-pound tour guide at Robert Mondavi Winery in
the Napa Valley. "Also a little cover crop of vetch. It sucks the
moisture out of the top part of the soil and gives the vines a
better chance to grow."
More tourists drift over in twos and threes as the group fills
out. Glenn Parker, the left guard for the NFC champion New York
Giants, is leading a tour today, and he actually knows what he's
talking about. Amazing. "This is your destemmer-crusher," Parker
says, as he leads his group up to a stainless steel machine.
"Barely pushes the grapes...just enough to crush them. You don't
want the pips crushed; that's what gives the mouth-puckering
"This is the first-year barrel room. All new French oak. It's
used one time for the reserve program....
"Now we're in the second-year room. The barrels go into the Napa
June 3, 2001
The tourists are no longer awed by him. Gone is the freak-show
appeal, the effect of the looming presence topped off by the
shaved head and goatee, like some gigantic biker. He's merely
someone who's teaching the uninitiated how grapes get from the
vineyard to the table. "I love this second-year room," Parker
says, almost to himself. "Lots of wine, cool temperature. I could
hang out here."
He has been doing this for three straight off-seasons, taking a
break from the tedium of NFL weight rooms to work at Mondavi. "He
requested a few days off," Giants coach Jim Fassel says, "and
when I asked him why, he said he had to go to Napa Valley to do
his wine internship. I've never heard that one before."
"Last year he worked with me for a week," says Mike Meneghelli,
a senior wine educator at Mondavi. "We did the trade tours
together, and then he took over the public tours. He has a
better palate than I do, and I've been at it for 23 years. We
were all blown away by how he could learn so much so quickly."
"If you have a passion," Parker says, "you learn in a hurry."
Passion, curiosity and a love of learning are all part of his
makeup. He loves the barrels in which the wine is aged for the
same reason he loves cooking with spices, saying, "It's the idea
of what you can add to the mix." At home, according to his wife,
Casey, Glenn does 80% of the cooking in the off-season and 50%
during the season, but he doesn't go strictly by the cookbook. "A
recipe teaches you what to do, but not why you do it," Glenn
says. He loves wine because, well, it tastes good, as he found
out a decade ago, but there's also an intellectual challenge to
It's as a football player, however, that Parker, 35, makes his
living. A third-round draft pick out of Arizona in 1990, he was a
starter on three of the Buffalo Bills' four Super Bowl teams. In
'97 he signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs and
moved on to the Giants in 2000.
For 11 years football has been his livelihood, because he was
given remarkable athletic ability to go with his size, plus an
even quicker brain to sort out the complexities of shifting
defenses. It's that mind that sets him a bit apart from the
average NFL player. He enjoys nothing more than skewering the
pretensions of the game, the inanities and cliches stretching
from the locker room to the TV booth, even some of its hallowed
and what he believes are hollow traditions, such as group prayer.
"Do you need to pray with a group to be considered a spiritual
person?" says Parker. "I don't think so. When I was with Kansas
City, Marty Schottenheimer called us together for a prayer after
a win. He said, 'Parker, you lead us.' I said, 'Coach, I don't
believe in group prayer.' You could have heard a pin drop. Marty
said, 'O.K.,' and got someone else. Later I apologized. I said,
'I should have told you.' He said, 'No problem, I shouldn't have
"It didn't sit well with everyone," Parker adds. "Some elements
in Kansas City feel that if you don't believe in God, you believe
in the devil. People asked me, 'Are you an atheist?' I said, 'No,
an agnostic,' because the question of God is so powerful, so
great, that there's no way we can know the answer. Do I believe
in God? Yes. Do I believe in prayer? Yes. In public prayer and
group prayer? No. I don't need a group around me to prove my own
spirituality. But everyone seems to be trying to convert you.
Bible-thumpers on the team say, 'C'mon, let's pray together.' I
say, 'Sure, if I can slaughter a goat at halftime.'"
And what about the field of battle? Can it be a place for whimsy,
for lighthearted banter, instead of the loony and slightly
murderous nonsense that passes for trash talk? Why not? "We were
playing the Vikings, and John Randle was really wound up, the way
he gets," Parker says of the former Minnesota defensive tackle
who signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the off-season. "He was
screaming pure gibberish. I mean, no one could understand him. So
I leaned out of our huddle and said, 'It might help if you spoke
English.' The guys in our huddle were laughing, the Vikings were
laughing, even the officials were laughing. Randle didn't think
it was funny.
"When we played the Eagles in the playoffs, [cornerback] Troy
Vincent got upset after one play. I kind of held him off. He
yelled, 'Don't you ever touch me!' So I touched him on the arm a
few times. 'Touching you, touching you,' I said, like little kids
do in the playground. 'See, I'm touching you.' He didn't laugh."
Come on, there must be some defensive players who enjoy a laugh
or two, or a little chitchat on the field, right? "Most defensive
linemen are meatheads," Parker says. "The best conversation I had
with one was with Chris Doleman when I was at left tackle for the
Chiefs and we played Minnesota. After a couple of plays he said,
'So I hear you're into wine.' I said yeah, and he said,
'California or Bordeaux?' Wham, wham--another couple of plays go
by. 'Tell you what,' I said, 'how about if I send you a copy of
my cellar book?' He said, 'Would you?' For the next 15 or 20
plays we were laughing about it and having a fine time. Finally
Dave Szott, the guard next to me, said, 'Will you guys shut up?
I'm trying to play football!' Very serious guy, Dave."
A common misconception about football is that the ferocity of
the game must be apparent in one's personality, so a player like
Parker must lack dedication, even toughness. From the coaching
staff to the front office, the Giants are quick to dispel that
idea. "When we were bringing in guys and trying to restructure
our offensive line, we had him penciled in as Lomas Brown's
backup at left tackle," Fassel says. "After a few practices, Jim
McNally, our line coach, said, 'This guy is no backup.'"
Adds McNally, "Comparing him to what we had seen on films, this
might have been his best season. A terrific blocker on the move,
pulling and leading, and very smart. With players like that, the
biggest mistake you can make is to overcoach them. He knows what
he's doing, plus in his own way he's a fine leader on the field."
"Never underrate his toughness," says Giants general manager
Ernie Accorsi, who signed Parker to a seven-year deal with a $1
million bonus in March 2000. "He put himself back in our game
against the Steelers twice after his knee locked up. Then after
the knee was scoped on the following Wednesday, he wanted to get
back on the field that next weekend. We were barely able to hold
Fassel says by bringing in Parker and Brown, a 16-year veteran
who gave the Giants a terrific season, he was searching for
leadership, plus what he calls "personalities." "Then one of my
coaches would see Glenn joking around in the locker room," Fassel
says, "and he'd say, 'You wanted personalities. You sure got one
It's late March, and Casey and Glenn, along with their children,
Madeleine, 5, and Emily, 4, are entertaining a couple for lunch.
The Parkers' house is high in the hills of Green Brook, N.J., a
way station until a permanent home can be found in Tucson or the
Napa Valley, where Glenn would like to open a boutique winery.
Books abound--Hemingway, Thomas McGuane, lots of history,
including MHQ; The Quarterly Journal of Military History and
Douglas Coupland's Generation X, one of Parker's favorites.
Belowground is a wine cellar, built to hold 300 cases. It
features rarities like a vertical run of Jayson Pahlmeyer's
exclusive Napa Valley red that goes back to 1992, a double magnum
of the '95 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, a '95
Brunello di Montalcino from the legendary house of Biondi-Santi
and a 28-year old Mondavi zinfandel. Laid out on the kitchen
table are the ingredients for a salad dressed with balsamic
vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, honey and fresh thyme. Going
into a gigantic pan on the gas stove ("Anyone who owns an
electric stove should not be allowed to buy groceries," Parker
says) are the ingredients for his version of the sauce for pasta
amatrice, a blend of bacon, onion, white wine, crushed tomato and
Oops, there's a crisis. The cilantro doesn't pass muster. It's
limp. Into the garbage can it goes. "One thing about supermarkets
here is that you can't find really fresh produce," Parker says of
living in the East. "I'm from California, and I'm spoiled by the
produce there. In Kansas City you could get great steaks, but no
What about Buffalo? It's not exactly a gastronomic paradise, but
a place Parker holds dear because that's where he learned to
cook. Buffalo also means going to his favorite restaurant,
Daniel's in suburban Hamburg. "I interned there in the
off-season," he says. "I learned stocks. They would let me do
the prep work. Say they were making a horseradish-encrusted
salmon. I would do the flouring. I watched, and I learned."
The pasta and the salad are delicious. So is the wine. The
guests have brought a couple of bottles, a single-vineyard
Nuits-St. Georges from Burgundy and a late-harvest Riesling from
Mendocino's Anderson Valley. Coals to Newcastle. The wines are
whisked away for future use, and in their stead appears a 1996
Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay from Napa, which at
four-plus years is showing the creamy tones of a fine
Montrachet, a serious statement to those who think that given
the proper acidity and backbone, California whites can age
beautifully. That's followed by a '90 Solaia, a complex Tuscan
blend of cabernet and sangiovese. For dessert a rarity is
enjoyed--Mendelsohn's Napa Valley late harvest '97 pinot gris,
fortified up to 16% alcohol and bearing an unusual flavor of
In his excitement, a guest spills a bit of the dessert wine on
the massive, French country wooden table. "Don't worry about it,"
Parker says. "Let it soak in. This is the wine that will be in
the family forever. It'll tell stories."
So will those who have met Parker, a vintage blend of Renaissance
"A terrific blocker on the move, pulling and leading," says
McNally, "and very smart."
"We were all blown away by how he could learn so much so
quickly," says Meneghelli.