SBJ/October 24-30, 2011/People and Pop Culture

He’s the Big Daddy of NFL player insurance

NANCY KNAPP / CITO NORTHEAST
Salgado has more than 500 athlete clients.
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch spied the massive man on the sideline hours before game time at MetLife Stadium. The two approached each other, hugged and slapped hands.

“This is the man right here,” Lynch said, smiling broadly. The ritual is repeated several times, with other players like Osi Umenyiora, the New York Giants defensive end; Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll; and IMG agent Sandy Montag, all of whom greet the mountain of a man effusively.

Meet Rich “Big Daddy” Salgado, who has turned the decidedly humdrum world of disability and life insurance into not just a thriving business — with more than 500 athlete clients — but also an entryway into the world of professional sports and power.

“His people skills are extraordinary,” said agent Tom Reich, who first met Salgado when he was getting started in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s. “He has a following that has only increased exponentially.”

Describing Salgado’s influence is no easy task. Quite obviously he has the ears of hundreds of players who put insuring their careers in his hands. He built that practice through networking for almost two decades, to the point that both the big and small in sports come to him for help and advice — and not just in insurance.

“If I was stuck in some foreign country, if I got arrested or stranded, he probably would be the first guy I would call,” said Jay Glazer, the Fox Sports personality and MMA trainer, who is a client and notes how Salgado is always available for a friend.

NANCY KNAPP / CITO NORTHEAST
Salgado, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, is big in both stature and reputation.
When Glazer needed a location to do his farewell show on MSG Network several years ago, Salgado got him to do it from a Sbarro restaurant, a Salgado client. Reich had a terminally ill friend whose wish was to go to a New York Yankees game. Salgado took her last month.

“Everybody knows Big Daddy,” said Michael Strahan, the former Giants great and now Fox Sports broadcaster.
At Fox News, Salgado has become almost an informal booker on all things sports.

“In the sports world he is very well connected,” said Bill Shine, a Fox News executive vice president. “He helps us out.”

At the Super Bowl in Dallas earlier this year, Salgado appeared on the air as an interviewer for Fox. When Salgado and a team of investors relaunch a shoulder pad company next month, he plans to demo the product on Fox.

Clearly Salgado relishes the attention. His office has a few pictures of athletes and memorabilia but also three framed articles written about him. As he strolls around MetLife Stadium and its parking lot, it’s as if he is at home — shaking hands, exchanging waves.

Salgado, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 340 pounds, earned the moniker Big Daddy while playing football at the University of Maryland from 1986 to 1990. Asked if anyone calls him Rich, or pray tell Richard, Salgado laughs and says Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin is the only one to exclusively use his first name.

Steve Tisch, the Giants co-owner, admits that he too calls him Big Daddy.

“Every time I introduce him and say, ‘This is Big Daddy,’ I smile,” Tisch said. “In lieu of cheerleaders, he is our mascot.”

Because Salgado is based in New York and he counts Strahan as a good friend and client, the Giants are his team. He attends every home and away game, relishing the exposure it brings him. He sends pizzas to the offensive line every Friday night during the season.

The head of security walks by before the Seahawks game and says, jokingly, that he works for Salgado.

Salgado got his professional start when, after graduating from Maryland, he went to visit his college roommate, Neil O’Donnell, in Pittsburgh. A week’s visit turned into a few years as he moved in with the then-Steelers quarterback, becoming almost a type of valet. He got to know the athlete community in Pittsburgh, and a friend suggested the insurance business for him.

Before he could do that, though, O’Donnell asked Salgado to care for his ailing father, Jack. For six months, he provided hospice care, calling it the toughest work he ever had to do and saying it was what motivated him to finally take up his friend’s offer.

He formed Prime Sports One, but he soon became more known for a T-shirt company he created with former New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis called Big Daddy Wear. In fact, once the T-shirt company folded, he said, getting players to realize he was more than just about selling shirts was tough.

Eight years ago, Salgado formed Coastal Advisors, and in the last six years he has signed 35 first-round picks in the NFL. Of his 500 clients, about 375 are in football, with a healthy balance of the remainder in ice hockey. He is breaking into basketball and baseball, and even recently signed a few actors and actresses.

Salgado, who is not married, works with his brother, Lewis, and another partner, Bobby Hotaling. With insurances rates pre-set, what he sells is honesty and that he cares.

“You get guys who get sold policies that are intended to do nothing but make the person who sold them a commission,” he said. “I don’t need another 80 stitches on the other side of my head because I got headaches thinking, ‘Oh, did I take advantage of this guy.’”

Those first 80 stitches are from an aneurysm he suffered in 2008 from which he has made a full recovery. His friends did not know how serious it was, and the night before he went into the hospital, at a dinner with Strahan and Glazer, they were joking about inheriting his assets.

“We wanted to divvy up his cars,” Glazer said. “He never let on how bad it was.”

Salgado’s next big venture is Impact Performance, the shoulder pad company. He and a group of investors are looking to revive the franchise, which has been dormant about a year, and he thinks he has the perfect slogan: The guy who protects you off the field now protects you on the field.

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