I'm a former NFL pro who started a winery with two of my teammates — here's how we carried lessons from football into our business strategy

  • Tony Moll is a former Green Bay Packers player who opened a winery in Sonoma, California with his former teammates, Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitzs. They named it Three Fat Guys.
  • Lessons from football — like coordination, quick thinking, and rolling with the punches — have helped the cofounders tackle challenges.
  • This is his story, as told to freelance writer Molly O'Brien.
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I grew up in Sonoma, California and played sports year-round as a kid. The wine industry was always a fascination growing up here, and part of my family history. My great-grandparents on my mom's side moved to Sonoma County from the Lucca province of Italy in the early 1900s, and on their ranch, they grew zinfandel to sell to the local wineries — along with making a little for themselves. 

I graduated from Sonoma High and went to the University of Nevada Reno, where I played football on a full scholarship. I was drafted in 2006 to the Green Bay Packers, which was an eye-opening experience — being a rookie, I was a player that could easily get cut from the team.

Joining the Packers motivated me to work hard and make the best of what was put in front of me. I ended up starting my rookie year and blocking for Brett Favre.

I made great friendships that year, especially with two other "fat guys" on the team.

Green Bay Packers' players Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll, and Jason Spitzs.Courtesy of Tony Moll

The nickname "fat guys" comes from our positions on the football team as big guys — the linemen. Sometimes in the locker room our older teammates would tell us that it's easy to make friendships while you're on the team together, but guys come and go and afterwards it's easy to lose touch. Still, I became such good friends with two other "fat guys," Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitzs, that I didn't want to lose touch. 

In 2007, we started making wine together, first as just a hobby and then as a business. 

We decided to call our business the Three Fat Guys. It's humorous, but it's a solid (and fitting) name. We were able to work on building a brand for ourselves while playing professional football because we had supportive people at home in Sonoma to take care of the details while we were away in Green Bay. 

Pretty soon, I started coming home to Sonoma every off-season and doing more with the winery because our brand was quickly growing and sales were taking off. We built successful relationships with local restaurants and businesses, and we went from making just 100 cases of Cabernet to becoming a full-fledged winery now with a team of 10 people. We're a small but mighty team here at the winery, so we can do things on the fly; it's almost like playing football.

Read more: I'm a 29-year-old Instagram influencer who made $17,000 in one month. Here's how I turned my love of fruit into a lucrative business.

As former pro athletes, we run our business model to roll with the punches.

Moll, Spitzs, and Colledge.Courtesy of Tony Moll

We're "making audibles" left and right, just like we did in football, which allows us to stay ahead and change our game plan as necessary. The idea that it takes a village  is completely true. I look back and appreciate everyone that's helped me get to where I am today. 

We especially wanted to create a winery that was luxurious but didn't feel exclusive. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from: If you walk into our tasting room, you're going to have an amazing experience. 

The company wasn't originally meant to make money, but after I retired from the NFL and started growing the brand, it became important for me to break even. 

Once the wine club was launched and our focus shifted to direct consumer sales, we started growing. As we grew, we also set goals to make a positive impact and create better opportunities for the people in our community. We support and are active members of charities and organizations like the USO, the Boys & Girls Club of America, and the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation, keeping a connection to our football roots.

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When I retired from football and moved back to Sonoma full-time, I decided to join the fire department as a volunteer.

Moll on duty as a volunteer firefighter.Courtesy of Tony Moll

The assistant chief of the fire station used to be the varsity head defensive football coach at my high school, and I always wanted to do what I could to help out my community. I became involved with the fire department in 2018. It's been an eye-opening experience ever since, and I've loved every second. Those intimate moments and the feeling of working together as firemen is inspiring to me. At the station, there are people who fit into every role, similar to a football team, and the station's ability to build groups that work well together is vital for getting the job done. 

Our fire station has between 15 to 20 active volunteers who are available to respond with the on-duty crew when a call goes out. This last fire season I went to Napa to help fight the Glass Fire. Being part of the coordination between teams of command on the ground, planes, and helicopters was a moving experience, to be even just a tiny help in the big fight to put those fires out. 

The sense of comradery out on the field as a firefighter is similar to being on the field with a football team — you're in the trenches, working together. 

Moll playing for the Packers.Tony Moll

A lot of the team coordination and quick thinking I learned in football goes hand in hand with firefighting, with running our wine business, and just with leading a successful life. 

Profitability matters, but I also evaluate TFG's bottom line by means of "brand value." 

Every year since 2017, we've seen consistent sales growth, even during the pandemic, that has allowed us to continue to grow and support our amazing team. Still, we want to be more than just another winery, and we work hard to make a difference in our community every way we can.

By reaching our business goals financially and our mission with the charities we partner with, I'm proud that we've built a company that does more than just make a profit.

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