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Cigar Culture

Top Football Players Who Smoke Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

Ditka. I mean, you have to say it the way the late Chris Farley used to when he played one of the Da Bearssss! cigar-puffing superfans describing how Ditka would beat anyone at anything with one hand tied behind his back. Mike Ditka, is the first top cigar-smoking football player who comes to mind. But he’s not the only one. Do you go with Ray Lewis? Or Terry Bradshaw? Maybe Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson? Steve McNair? Dick Butkus? Certainly the recently deceased Don Shula deserves mention. They’re all worthy. Here are my top six.

MIKE DITKA

Yes, Mike Ditka played football before he became a coach. Ditka, born Michael Dyczko, is a member of both the college and pro halls of fame, 1961 rookie of the year, a five-time Pro Bowl pick, and five-time All-Pro tight end with the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys. In 1963, Ditka was on the NFL champion Bears and won the Super Bowl three times as a player, and once as an assistant coach, with the Cowboys. Ditka became beloved in Chicago, however, for leading the Bears as their coach to victory in Super Bowl XX over the New England Patriots in 1986. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Buddy Ryan.)

Ditka loves cigars and has his own line made by Davidoff in Honduras. The Camacho Ditka Signature comes in a reddish-brown Honduran Criollo wrapper leaf that holds a blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan long-filler tobaccos that create a medium-strength cigar. There’s a lot of black pepper, raisins, and hints of wheat evident before transitioning into an earthy, zesty finish. Before Davidoff, Ditka had partnered with Graycliff to produce a cigar bearing the coach’s name. A restaurant in Chicago is also named for Ditka and it used to have a cigar lounge on the second floor, before the laws about smoking in the city got tougher.

RAY LEWIS

The cigar bearing two-time Super Bowl champ Ray Lewis’s name is a Toro made by Rocky Patel and is also a medium-bodied smoke made in Honduras, but with an Ecuador Habano wrapper. Lewis was selected to the Pro Bowl 10 times and the NFL Hall of Fame as a very intimidating linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. 2000 tackles! ­­­­­­­­­­Upon retiring, Lewis told Cigar Aficionado, “I want to go fishing with a cigar now and just sit back." No doubt you’ll recall that Lewis was once accused of a double homicide in Atlanta. That charge was dropped and the lead detective in the case said Lewis should never have been accused.

Lewis’s story is a classic rags-to-riches tale, but one involving fierce determination and hard work. Lewis was born to a fifteen-year-old mom. His father left the family and the two didn’t meet until Lewis was thirty-three.

Lewis is often seen in different cities visiting cigar lounges. He is friendly, but prizes privacy, so don’t ask to have a picture taken with him.

RON JAWORSKI

For a while there, you couldn’t go to a cigar event and NOT see Ron Jaworski. “Jaws,” as the NFL quarterback who took the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl (in 1981) is known, runs an annual cigar party with his pal Mike Ditka and Camacho Cigars. The 2021 charity event is to be held in Tampa, Florida.

Jaworski was known as the “Polish Rifle” and had a reputation as a durable and intense player. He held the record for most consecutive starts by a QB, until that record was broken by Brett Favre. Jaworski threw for 170 touchdowns as an Eagle and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1980.

Jaworski likes to smoke Camachos, but is fairly ecumenical in what he puffs and counts as friends many cigar makers, some of whom sponsor his charity events.

MICHAEL STRAHAN

If you don’t know football, you probably still know who Michael Strahan is. After 15 years with the New York Giants as a defensive end, Strahan retired in 2008, winning the Super Bowl in his final season. You remember that one. The Giants beat the then-undefeated Patriots. After hanging up the cleats, Strahan became nearly impossible to avoid on TV. He’s a football analyst for Fox Sports, was Kelly Ripa’s co-host, and now gets up early to be on ABC’s Good Morning America. Strahan is as entertaining now as he was menacing on the gridiron.

Strahan, considered to be an undersized player at 6’5” and 255 pounds, was a studious football athlete. After all, he was going up against offensive linemen that outweighed him sometimes by more than 100 pounds. Strahan is in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Strahan, saying he like cigars “light and sweet,” chooses to smoke Cuban Partagas and Cohibas and credits his affinity for cigars to having been given one by a corporate CEO with whom Strahan was playing golf in Long Island after a couple of years in the NFL.

“[A]s I was leaving, he gave me a cigar and said, ‘Try this during your drive back to the city,’ ” Strahan recalls. “I drove back and smoked it—and it was pure happiness. I’d never had a cigar that good.”

In 2014, Strahan was on the cover of Cigar Aficionado. Strahan has mentioned that he likes smoking on the rooftop bar at New York City’s Peninsula Hotel.

“[Cigars] solicit conversation,” Strahan told Cigar Aficionado. “You see someone smoking a cigar and you feel instantly closer to them.”

DICK BUTKUS

Dick Butkus, of the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1973, defined the position of middle linebacker in the NFL. At 6’3”, 245 pounds, Butkus was considered a bad-ass. If you listened to the late Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, not a small man himself, Butkus "was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital."

Butkus never won the Super Bowl, but was an eight-time Pro Bowler, six-time first team All-Pro, two-time defensive player of the year, and was selected to numerous “all-time” teams.

Butkus became a cigar smoker around 2000. Butkus’s son and Tim Ozgener, then-CAO VP, were frat brothers at University of Southern California. Butkus was in Nashville and visited the CAO offices and developed a taste for the company’s Brazilia Amazons. Butkus took to smoking three or four a day.

CHARLES EDWARD GREENE

Who? Oh, sorry. That’s the real name of “Mean Joe” Greene. You know? The former Pittsburgh Steeler who, as he walks, injured, down the tunnel, gives the kid his jersey after the kid gives Mean Joe a Coke? Come on!

Greene was part of four Super Bowl wins with the Steelers, and also a 10-time Pro Bowl selection. The awards and accolades are too numerous to list. Greene credits longtime, late Steelers owner Art Rooney with introducing him and teammate Terry Bradshaw to cigars.

“Mr. Rooney was constantly smoking.” Greene told Cigar Aficionado. “He was always passing them out. He gave me this big, big cigar when I signed my first contract. I still have it – it's one of those huge El Presidentes in a box. Now it sits on a shelf, one of my prized possessions."

Greene would smoke two or three cigars a day in the off-season.

"My favorite cigars are the La Gloria Cubana (non-Cuban) and the Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur. I've been smoking them on and off for a long time. I like maduros a lot," Greene recalled in the mid-1990s. "I smoke all kinds of cigars; I like variety. I really enjoy creating an environment around my smoking, one where I won't be bothered. I love smoking in the car – the quiet, the aloneness. I also like to begin my day with a cigar. It's unbelievable how relaxing this is, how it gets me ready for the day.

"Yet I've still found that I get tired of smoking one type of cigar. It loses its taste after a while. So I go back and forth between a maduro and an English claro. But you name it, I'm not fancy. I like most robust cigars."

I left a few players off of this list, but they could easily have made yours. Let us know who’s your NFL Cigar All-Star.

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