Life Reimagined

From Gridiron to Griddle: a Former NFL Star’s Tasty Reboot

Pro quarterback Dan Pastorini had fortune, fame and Farrah. Then he lost almost everything—until he rediscovered his first love.

The NFL is a game of numbers, and for former star quarterback Dan Pastorini, the post-football stats aren’t pretty. Divorces: five. Bankruptcies: two. Trusted advisors with bad advice or intentions: too many to count.

In his playing days, Pastorini was the archetype of a high-flying ‘70s football God. He dated Farrah Fawcett, married a Playboy centerfold and even posed naked inPlaygirl. He stoked a pissed-off rebel image: After a drunken confrontation in a bar with a reporter, the New York Post splashed his photo with the headline DRINKING DAN IS RAIDERS’ SAD BAD BOY. His toughness became legendary. He was the first to wear a “flak jacket” during games to protect three broken ribs. And he even played a lead role in ushering in the era of instant replay, which the NFL adopted after a terrible call on a Pastorini touchdown pass in a championship game.

But then after a 13-year pro career, things started going south quickly. A study by Sports Illustrated estimated that nearly 80 percent of NFL players struggle financially within two years of leaving the game. The problem is worse among those like Pastorini who played prior to the 1993 players’ union agreement, which brought higher salaries and better pensions.

For Pastorini, post-NFL life quickly became a rutted road of poor decisions and poorer luck. “You are in recovery,” he says. “You are so used to the drama, the adulation, the notoriety. It all fades in the sunset.” To feed his adrenaline addiction and love of the spotlight, he began racing professionally in boat and dragster competitions that reached speeds up to 280 miles per hour. He survived – barely— multiple fiery crashes. Less fiery, but just as devastating, were multiple business and relationship flameouts that drained his finances and his mojo.

Somehow Pastorini beat the odds. Today, he is sober and thriving, with a steadily growing food business that bears his name. He achieved success by falling back on one of his true loves — cooking — that he had nurtured in years of helping out in his parents’ successful Southern California restaurant. The new company began as a lark; he and a friend would hold epic barbeque feasts for friends or charity, and one day they decided to create a special dry rub based on Pastorini’s family recipes. People loved the stuff, and the two pals started bottling and selling it. A company — and a new life for Pastorini—was born. His spices are now sold in thousands of stores nationally.

Pastorini doesn’t waste much time regretting his “lost years,” nor all of the burning cars and twisted relationships left in their wake. It was a >process. He offers a key bit of advice for players leaving the NFL – or anyone in the middle of a big life transition: “Give yourself time. The down time is an opportunity for you to find something you can look forward to doing.”

These days he spends some of his time helping other former NFL players make transitions into reimagined lives. He councils younger players on being more careful sifting through the myriad opportunities presented to them than he was. “Surround yourself with the right people,” he says. ”Be sure of the doors you walk through. If you do due diligence, the rest will take care of itself.”

Decades have passed since his football practice days with teams like the Raiders and the Eagles, but old habits die hard. “May and June, I still get the urge to go back and start training,” says Pastorini. “I still have that habit, at the same time every year, to go work out.” And even with daily physical reminders of a few too many Mean Joe Greene sacks, Pastorini has no interest in a quiet life of golf and leisure: “Me, I have to be doing something. I will work till I am in the grave. I have to create.”

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