Dat Dude! Interview With Former All-Pro Defensive Lineman, Marcellus Wiley
(Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
In this business, every now and again you come across someone with super human people skills. In Vegas this summer for Chris Webber’s Bada Bling, Marcellus Wiley was kicking it with his people in a way you know was sincere. Dat Dude is the type of person who would speak to you in an elevator during the awkward silence or make conversation with a stranger in the streets below. Those who remember him on the field were most likely drawn to his engaging personality even though his play on the field was as vicious as the hit on Joseph Addai in the pic above. Retiring from the NFL this year, Marcellus has his sights set on making a strong impact on the business world with the same intelligence and strength that enabled him to have a standout NFL career.
Michael Tillery: How did you acquire the moniker Dat Dude?
Marcellus Wiley: I got the name my first year in San Diego. Actually it started when Deven the Dude came out. I was bumping the cd and loving it. I was telling people to look out for it and started calling people dat dude on my team. I got tired of saying you fresh or you da man when somebody did something fresh. So when I started to say you dat dude, people used to say I know what you mean, but I’ve never heard anyone say it. My teammates flipped it on me and started calling me dat dude. I used to asked why they called me that and they would reply I’m everywhere. I was big into connections and networking–especially being from L.A.
One way for me to describe it to the fans is to imagine a couple in the stands and the lady saying, “Baby, who is that dude number 75 that keeps making all the plays?” If you listen to people’s vocabulary all they keep saying is dat dude. Like “Ay girl? Who is dat dude on the corner looking at you?” So I’m dat dude.
MT: How did you conceptually brand the moniker?
MW: Well it’s really helped me out. Dat Dude Entertainment. From forming parties to hosting parties and being a DJ, I’ve gotten the chance to work with Outkast.
DJ at parties with Kanye West and record a song with Run DMC on Monday Night Football. I’ve gotten the chance to work with a lot of top acts as a DJ just from hosting parties. Dat Dude has become my alter ego. It just became catchy and easier for people to say instead of Marcellus Wiley.
MT: Could you describe for my readers what it’s like being an athlete and diggin’ the party scene? During the Soiree’ after party at Webb’s Bada Bling. You seemed to enjoy yourself. I didn’t want to approach you. My boy JG and I admired you doing your thing. It’s a different world the average fan can’t relate to.
MW: You know yourself Mike the athletic and entertainment world has similarities. You just have to be privy to the connections so you can thrive in both. As an athlete you are invited to all of the activities and vise versa as an entertainer. It was natural for me to see growing up in L.A. It was easy to see famous people in different capacities. If I saw you on the big screen, most likely I saw you at the local pizza joint. The best part of it all is seeing people in different lights. You get to see people you respect in other fields take off their armor and become a regular person like you are. They have an admiration for you and realize you are just as shy. You don’t even ask a girl to dance. It’s nice to see people in their real element.
MT: We ask this all the time of Black athletes and entertainers, but how important is it to give back similar to Chris Webber’s event?
MW: It’s huge. I always remember we are the spirit and confidence of Black America. When we were brought over here, the first way we were able to show our intelligence was through sports and entertainment. It continues to be so until the playing field is level. A lot of us carry many responsibilities whether we like it or not, because people fought and died so we can have these opportunities to make millions of dollars and leverage our star power to enrich charities. It is very important to give back like Chris Webber has. The media is always going to point out the negative before the positive. The public’s perception is that we aren’t doing enough, but there are a lot of events out there that tackle real issues in the community and spread resources throughout. Those issues need to be highlighted and ultimately supported. That’s why I’ll always be in attendance when those types of events are given.
MT: That was a nice time wasn’t it?
MW: Yes! That was lovely. It was good to see the turnout. The main thing is that not too many people know about Bada Bling. As well as the event was run and as fun as it was, a lot of players did not know that was going on. I look for that even to get greater and greater and also the events of all athletes to become greater and greater.
MT: I want to talk about Compton and also the public perception of Compton. You are a graduate of Columbia University in NYC, how did that happen coming from Compton?
MW: I was born in Compton and moved to South Central at an early age. I was blessed with two parents that were able to filter out everything, especially when Compton received the global image of being a rough place. It was home before N.W.A. It was just home before Eazy-E. It was just home. I didn’t know too much better. I didn’t know the elements in the songs I was listening to. You start to realize that “Hey it ain’t like this everywhere, so why does it have to be like that here?” Luckily, I was had parents who were able to filter out what was everlasting from the short term. I was never excited by gang banging. I had my own family who was playing football. My real family. I didn’t need anyone in a blue or red t-shirt saying they love me when I knew they were out there killing people. They are out there robbing people and just trying to survive. The only reason why they are out there is because they are looking for a family. They have to create one outside the home because there isn’t one in the home. I had that family inside, so there was no reason to go outside and represent another one.
MT: Speak about your experiences at Columbia.
MW: (Marcellus laughs) Man, that was culture shock. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I just went to Columbia. I knew it was a great Ivy League school in New York. I knew that would sound great on the resume. I just wanted to put myself in the best situation and just work out. I never thought I was going to be a NFL football player. It was important I put myself in a good situation and have a safety net. Little did I know there were kids, as soon as they are born, that get their little 3-t toddler size sweaters emblazoned with Columbia, Princeton and Harvard. I didn’t know that. I had no idea. When I got there it was the NFL of academic minds. It was that competitive to get good grades and that competitive to be creative in the classroom. I came from schools that prepared me, but I wasn’t prepared for the social element of a Columbia and how disinterested they were in athletics. It was really different, but it was very much to my advantage to be in that element. I got to rub shoulders with CEO’s and other people who were going to contribute more to society beyond football. That’s where I’m at right now–the beyond football phase. All those experiences really helped me out.
MT: What do you think about Columbia’s present football coach, Norries Wilson, the first black football coach at an Ivy League school?
MW: He’s really rallying troops and the spirit of the campus behind him. He needs a little more ammunition on the field to accomplish what he wants to get done. That’s a process that takes time. He has to have his whole recruiting year on the field so he can have the guys he wanted to represent him. You know this, but in college if you don’t have your full four years in, you really are dealing with somebody else’s kids. I’m looking forward to the program being consistently good. We had a couple of good years when I was there, but Columbia never has had consistency and they need it.
MT: When did you realize you were going to be a professional football player, or did it just all the sudden happen because of your abilities?
MW: I kept getting stronger, bigger and faster. I was 6’0″, one eighty entering college as a running back/kick returner. I left 6’5″, two eighty. I had a late growth spurt. I had to catch up to my mom. My mom was still bigger than me. I knew I had a late growth spurt coming and it kicked in during college.
It didn’t happen untl my senior year. My junior year, I ran a 4.7 at two fifty. My senior year I ran a 4.6 at two eighty. When you compared players coming out of the big schools like Florida State and Notre Dame, that was better than all of them. I had the physical skills to play in the league. What changed is I had a game against an offensive tackle at Dartmouth who was projected to go high in the draft. He was a huge athletic lineman that ultimately chose not to go pro because he had an ivy league education and wanted to become a doctor. He definitely would have been drafted high.
Long story short, we played against each other in a scrimmage that year. The first time I lined up across from him, I went right around him. He was scouted by the Arizona Cardinals. The second time, he did better against me, but I still did good. After the scrimmage, the Cardinals’ scout walked up and told me he came to see the other guy, but since I was beating him, he was going to watch me. He said he had a real big mouth, so he was going to tell all his friends–scouts on other teams.
From that game on man, every team in the NFL came through to watch us play. It was a sweet year.
MT: So your dream is finally realized and you are drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Describe the your initial NFL life.
MW: I could have been drafted by any other team, but the Bills were special because Bruce Smith was there. I was chosen in the second round to succeed him when his playing days were over. I found that it was a privilege to learn the game from Bruce Smith.
Remember, I was a running back my four years at Columbia and didn’t play defensive end until my junior year. I didn’t know anything about the position. It was great to learn from him. Sometimes it was scary and humbling. He knew so much and he was so talented. I never could catch on to what he did.
He wasn’t the guy you wanted to mimic out there because his talent was better than everyone else. He got away with stuff no one else could. He did teach me a lot of stuff that really helped me out. I was a good player when I had the chance and opportunity.
Buffalo had such a rich tradition. They love football up there because it’s all they have. The fan support and pandemonium was really high. It was fun, I got to play under Marv Levy and Wade Phillips–two coaches who really care about the players to help them in life. I had a good time.
MT: Then you get on over to the Chargers. Was this your best time professionally?
MW: My last year in Buffalo was my best year–not my most celebrated year. I had more sacks when I went to San Diego. I played my fourth year in Buffalo and had back surgery in camp in July of that year. I still played and even though I was getting my butt kicked and killed every which way, I ended up with 10 1/2 sacks. Back surgery to 10 1/2 sacks was pretty remarkable. So I go to San Diego, I have this huge contract and was the highest paid defensive end in the league. The contract was a franchise record at the time. I’m pumped. I’m going back home and I got my chips.
I broke my foot the first game against the Redskins. I missed a couple of games. I came back the next year–not practicing ever–on the broken foot. I would just line up to play and got a shot it numb my foot so I could get out there. After a week of this I used to say my foot was on fire. Every day they would ask me if I was practicing and I would say nah, my foot’s on fire. It got to the point that I didn’t practice the whole year.
I had 13 sacks that year. They were like damn! The dude gets hurt and still plays well. The next year I already have three sacks going into the fourth game of the year. We are playing New England and I tear my abdominal muscle. I didn’t know what it was. I was told I had double groin pulls–something I probably should have sat down on. They were injecting me in my stomach and groin so I could go out there and play. That point on–12 games–I only had 3 more sacks. So my production really dropped off. The injuries started taking a toll on me. Despite me trying to fight through it and get in shape. The next year I had shoulder surgery and finished with three sacks. I knew that I had done too much to my body to really get back to the level I wanted to. We weren’t winning in San Diego so heads started to roll. I wish I would have done some things different in San Diego, but I was happy with my situation. There were no regrets. I was able to play with Junior Seau, Rodney Harrisson and some other great guys. We just didn’t win and I took a beating physically in those three years.
Then we go to Dallas and that pretty much took it out of me. Going into that situation and playing under Parcells, there was a big stink there because I was there to play left defensive end and ended up playing right end. I wasn’t a right defensive end. I wish I would have made more of a public outcry because I shouldn’t have been playing out of my position, but I was beat up physically, and I just wanted to get back on the field. I remember getting hurt in camp and being pissed. It took all my focus away. I knew I was injury prone and I just kept getting hurt. It was like hamstring and groin pulls. I used to say to myself I needed to get in better shape. I needed to go do this and try this kind of treatment. I was getting injuries that started to play with my psyche and my ability to play the game. Dallas ended the tank on me. I didn’t do good out there. Because Parcells did whatever he wanted to do, I didn’t even play the pass all year. I was there now just to play the run. The guy that they picked to play the pass didn’t even have a sack. That really frustrated me I lost the opportunity to rush the passer to someone who didn’t get one sack.
It was a lot of mind play, but that’s what Parcells does. It’s been good to him, so I can’t knock his hustle. That situation tapped me of all my resources.
MT: You’ve played for both Wade Phillips and Bill Parcells. People I’ve talked to that played under Wade says he is a helluva coach. Do you think that’s a major reason why the Cowboys are having so much success now?
MW: I would have to say that was the main reason because other than execution, the team seems to be breathing. It’s not just the players. There’s been coaches that went on record, the training staff–everyone, say when Parcells was there he kept it gangsta on purpose. Parcells is a good dude–don’t get me wrong. As a person, you can talk to Parcells. As a person, you can put your trust in Parcells.
As a coach, he knows he’s acting a fool on purpose. He knew it. It’s funny, I caught him one time checking everybody and putting them in their place. I caught him around the corner after he did it and he said, “They love that and I do too.” He was laughing and I was like this dude went in there and caused a tirade and then walks out laughing.
The point of it is he did what he had to do to get the most out of his players.
Wade Phillips? Totally different. He trusts you. He’ll give you the game plan. He knows you are going to prepare. He’s not going to make you sit up there all day proving to him you know how to play the game. He’ll let you go out, be the type of player you are, and do your job. He’ll treat you like a man. I think coming from that situation to this, you see the results. They are excited to go out there and play.
MT: You ever met Wade’s father Bum Phillips?
MW: I met him a couple of times. He seemed cool.
MT: What’s going on with the Chargers?
MW: They played so well last year. They lost their three top coaches. There are going to be some growing pains. More than that, expectations are too high. You are talking about 14-2. The only thing better than that is 15-1 or Miami’s perfect season.
So if there is a missed pass, an interception, LT being off to a slow start–whatever–it’s always going to be based on last year.
You can’t go forward looking backwards. Everyone has this team playing against themselves from last year. That’s more involved and they’re looking in the rear view mirror. They need to rally around what they are doing now.
Perfect example is Green Bay. They won their last couple of games last year, but nobody expected them to be good. So what happens is every game in the NFL there is adversity. There’s going to be some type of problem. You are going to be down and have to rally. When Green Bay was down early in the season, the guys on the sideline just said this is just what is part of what happens. They knew they just had to pick it up. They are not sitting there beating themselves up. They aren’t saying they are 14-2, we’re a great team and we should never be behind or we should never have to fight like this.
They don’t walk in thinking they already scored points. When you are a great team, sometime you get caught in a trap of thinking you already have points on the scoreboard. You have to go earn every point. That’s what San Diego needs to do.
MT: Can you give my readers a sense of the camaraderie in the NFL and the difference between camaraderie in normal life?
MW: Well in the league it’s a lot of tough love. Guys are thicker skinned in the league. They are used to criticism and going through adversity together. They are with each other all day and at night everyday. You pull together over things you necessarily wouldn’t pull together over in the common world. In the common world, you go to work and then you go home. In the common world if the company goes up or down, it doesn’t affect the workers as much. In football, you affect the company. If you have a great game and the team has a great season, the company is great and you reap the rewards. In the common world, win, lose or draw, you are still going home in your car to your kids–your situation.
It’s an entirely different situation you have when you are playing football. Whether you like it or not, these guys become part of your family. That’s how it goes. Guys deal with it in different ways. You form friendships and relationships that last forever just because you work with someone.
It’s just different. The work ethic you learn in football…you have to remember there’s no sick days. You can have pneumonia or the flu. In football, you are gonna practice. You are at least going to be in the training room with an iv in you. Ain’t no sitting at home, calling in sick. Guys learn how to play through broken bones, blood, sickness and illnesses. Death in the family? You still produce, work at it and still practice. It gives you a work ethic. When you get into the real world, you are ready to go at any cost. Football players and other professional athletes should be tremendous businessmen because they learn to stay up day and night and go beyond comfort to get something accomplished.
MT: Being a writer, I’m noticing a trend we talk about on the site about a higher scrutiny with specifically Black athletes. Is that something athletes notice? How cognizant are athletes of the media in the locker room?
MW: I don’t know if it’s a Black/White issue Mike. To be frank, I know Donovan McNabb thought Black quarterbacks felt more scrutiny, but you have to remember they beat Brett Favre down for a couple of years now. They still want to, but they can’t right now.
They beat down Dan Marino at the end of his career. They would say that he can’t move and he’s throwing this way or that way. They beat down John Elway until he won those last two rings.
You can’t say that’s the bottom line theory. I do know that scrutiny is high in the league. You win? It’s all good. That’s what I tell people about the league. A win cures all. Sometimes players get lost in what a win or a loss really is.
I watch a lot of football games and I hear them say how great the offensive line is or how great the team is. The only reason why they are saying this is because they win. If you lose, here comes the media slant. That’s their job. The media isn’t there for the truth, they are there for the slant. You need a media to paraphrase. You need a media to bring excitement to what is already true.
I don’t like it when guys are lifted too high or pushed too low based on the truth. The truth of the matter is guys in the locker room know what the truth is. There’s a whole different media between locker and guys in the locker room. They know a truth that doesn’t get portrayed as much outside that locker room.
That needs to change and that will change. I’m working on something to change that.
MT: That’s whassup! You are a very eloquent speaker and have an engaging personality. Have you been approached about doing any television work?
*Marcellus appeared on ESPN’s First Take yesterday, today and will appear tomorrow as an NFL analyst.
MW: Yeah, I’ve been approached to do television work. I’m listening to those offers. I’m making up my reel right now, but at the same time, I have a few businesses that I’m running right now in L.A. and I need to stay put and handle those businesses. I’ve also been approached to do radio. I do a couple radio spots right now. I’m looking to let those blossom into my own show as I make this transition from playing into the business realm. I don’t want to travel like I’m playing the game again. TV would afford me the opportunity to stay in the limelight and stay in the game, but I basically would be playing the game again without doing it. The travel, the meetings and studying film. Right now, I need a little break from doing that. Radio is something I can still do and contribute to fans understanding more of the game.
I’m also working on a web site called Prolebrity along with a couple of people that I went to Columbia with as well as the president of Paramount Pictures for over twenty years. In that capacity, we’re working on something that tackles all the issues we are discussing in this interview plus some. It’s going to bring the athletic world together in ways that people don’t know about. It’s going to be a true characterization of the athlete because it’s going to come from the athletes themselves. I look for that to come out early next year to help people understand our world. Our world is different. It’s something everyone has a common passion about. Everyone has picked up some kind of ball, rolled it, kicked it, dunked it, scored it–whatever it may be. Everyone has that common athletic spirit. Some are professional, some are not. We all feel that same feeling of going outside with your boys at Thanksgiving and playing in a Turkey Bowl. Shooting around and playing twenty one or pick up game at the park–even if it’s half court. Everyone has an athlete in them. I want the bridge to be more true between the professional athlete and the common athlete–the fan. Once this comes out, you are going to say wow! This is what was needed. We’ve been doing patch work these last couple of years to try to get right. I’m really looking forward to this.
I also opened up a fashion boutique in Santa Monica (Oct. 27) called La’Tik.
Curtis Conway and wife Laila Ali, Dat Dude and sis Tiki Harrell at the La’Tik opening.
It’s a retail store and a VIP shopping loft as well as an e-store. It’s really a passion of my sister and I to just do this. We’ve been doing this for a year or so–doing VIP parties and this is the next phase of our development.
Also I’m a partner in Elevee. It’s a lifestyle brand between car, clothes, jewelry, home interior. We’ve sold to over 3,000 athletes and celebrities. That list includes Shaq, Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson–pretty much whoever you can name.
Those are the three that I’m really putting my energies into as well as my Sirius radio spots on NFL radio.
Lastly, I do a lot of writing. Last year I was doing a lot of writing for NBC Sports. I’m looking to come out with my own type of journals and books. I like to tell it like it is man. It’s all experience to help the younger athletes coming up that much more. I want them to be knowledgeable to not make the mistakes some have made–or even ones I’ve made. I talk with no buffers. I know when I did good and I know when I did bad. I know when I was wrong to others. I just want it to be a life experience. You can see how much media has evolved with athletics. Just think how much of it is really profound. How much of it is a unique experience? Not as much because the athletes are guarded. The media is coming in for their sound bites and their cliche statements. We just sit there wondering what kind of person is Chad Johnson? What kind of guy is Oscar de la Hoya? We sit there and all we get is production. I think it should be a lot more than that. We’re heroes as far as the community is concerned.
MT: What makes you the person you are?
MW: It’s my road traveled. How many cats were born and raised in the ‘hood–Compton–attended an Ivy League school and then played pro ball for ten years? Not to toot my horn, but in those unique experiences, I came across a dynamic collection of people. I know murderers and gang bangers. That’s my homie because I grew up with him. I also know presidents of major corporations, CEO’s, billionaires and celebrities. I can watch Monday Night Football and page half of the team and call the other half. When you get that kind of blessing in life it’s not for you to growl over, it’s for you to do something positive and enjoy yourself while doing it. I know the common spirit in all of us. I know which ones are going to the top and the ones who are falling by the wayside. They have a lot more in common than they think. I would love to be someone who could walk among those circles with comfort and really help people out. That’s why I’m think I’m on this earth. That’s my signature. I told everyone when I was drafted the only reason I’m playing pro ball was to make my voice louder. I wasn’t playing to play ten years or make millions of dollars. I wasn’t playing to make Pro Bowls and Super Bowls. I knew deep down the only reason I came from playing running back my freshman year to being drafted, wasn’t just to go out there to get sacks. I was out there to elevate my and my family’s name. Now I can open up doors and walk through with something.
MT: What kind of mark do you want to make on the business world?
MW: Of course I want my bottom line financially to be great, but I also want my philanthropic line, my social endeavors, uplifting communities to be greater. I want to help people. When I leave here I want to know that I’ve affected spirits, minds and gave opportunities to people that they didn’t think they had. I want to encourage others to go through walls. I experienced forks in the road. I wasn’t always fearless. I didn’t know if I was smart enough to travel from the ‘hood to Columbia. I had fear of going to the league. I had fear of going into the business world. Could I make the transition smoothly and easily?
I did these things though. I used fear and flipped it to fuel. It’s something that can become contagious. I want to build confidence–especially in our neighborhoods man! It’s too many talented cats out there. I can go get a team out the hood and if I could put them in the league, they’ll go 8-8 on talent alone. There’s so many people that didn’t turn professional in football, business, writing….
When I see cats that turned to the other side of things instead of doing something constructive, I see that we need to all go back and encourage them so everybody can get the most out of the experience.
MT: Thank you brotha. Anything else you want to add?
MW: Mike it’s all lovin’ dog…Dat Dude!