If you have ever been to an Atlanta Falcons practice, you know that team owner Arthur Blank has a strong presence.
He's out there on the sideline, mostly observing, but sometimes chatting with his players. It all looks very casual, but it was out there on the practice field a few years back that the seeds were planted for a very big business deal.
"I used to make little comments to Mr. Blank and [team president and former general manager] Rich McKay about how I wanted to someday be an owner," former Atlanta running back Warrick Dunn said.
What might have seemed like a joke at the time wasn't. Dunn was very serious about his desire to own an NFL team and Blank was listening. Now, it has all happened.
Dunn recently completed a deal to become a limited partner with Blank. He'll join six other limited partners and Blank and help run the Falcons. He'll also serve on the Atlanta Falcons Board of Advisors, which includes heavy hitters like Hank Aaron and Ambassador Andrew Young.
It might sound like a nice token gesture for one of the best players in franchise history and a guy who has been known for his charitable and community work throughout his career. But it's much more than that.
Dunn is taking his new role very seriously. If you know anything about Dunn, that's no surprise. He's very serious about anything he does.
"The deal really just became official, but I've already been studying up," Dunn said. "We've got a meeting of the partners later this month and that will be my first real test and I'm trying to get ready for it. But I really feel like I'm blind in a sense because I don't really know the business end."
That may be true, but it's going to change quickly. Keep in mind, Dunn spent his entire playing career with the Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers constantly followed by the question, "Can he do it every down?" because he was 5-foot-9 and about 185 pounds.
Three Pro Bowls and almost 11,000 rushing yards later, Dunn had emphatically answered that question by the time he stopped playing after the 2008 season. Now comes the next question: Can he succeed as an owner?
Don't be against it. The terms of Dunn's investment in the Falcons haven't been revealed, and Blank controls 90 percent of the team. But Dunn made a lot of money as a player and was known by teammates for being a bit frugal.
The financial wherewithal is there and the knowledge of football from a players' point of view has to be an asset. But this isn't a common step for former players.
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is the only former player to be majority owner of a team. Richardson played for the Colts back in the late 1950s and caught a few passes from Johnny Unitas. Prior to Richardson, Chicago's George Halas was the last former player to own a team.
"I really want to talk to Mr. Richardson about all this," Dunn said. "I know he had some health problems and I was trying to keep this deal really quiet until it was done. But it's done now and it sounds like Mr. Richardson is doing better. I'm going to reach out to him before long because I really respect that man and I want to hear his insights."
If that sounds a little ambitious for a guy who is only a limited partner ... well, it's only because Dunn really is ambitious. This partnership in the Falcons is a big step, but it's only a step in his grand plan. Dunn wants more.
Although he was reserved and extremely private early in his career, Dunn's not concealing where he wants all this to go.
"I like to dream big," Dunn said. "Do I want to someday be the main owner of my own team? Well, like I said, I dream big, and if I do something I believe in doing it all the way. But that's way down the road."
There's a lot of work to be done between now and the ultimate dream and Dunn realizes he has a lot to learn.
"The first thing I have to do is start separating myself from being a player," Dunn said. "Sure, I think that experience can help me bring an in-the-helmet perspective. But there's so much more to this. I can't just go on what I knew from being a player. I've got to be a businessman. Other former players get into coaching, but that's not for me. I want to be a businessman."
Dunn plans to be heavily involved with all aspects of the Falcons. With uncertainty over the collective bargaining agreement, Dunn is already working to bring himself up to speed on the labor issues facing owners. He also is getting involved in Atlanta's efforts to get a new stadium. He wants to get involved with the ticket office and the marketing department, just to get a better understanding of things outside his area of expertise.
"They say a lot of owners really wanted to be players and owning a team is their outlet for that," Dunn said. "It's kind of reverse for me. I was a player, but I want to be an owner. Having been a player is nice, but I really wish I had been the guy that had run Home Depot."
The guy who ran Home Depot used to be Blank. That was his main job before he bought the Falcons. During his playing days, Dunn was particularly close to Blank. Now, that relationship is only going to get stronger.
"I'm starting in an ideal spot," Dunn said. "Some of the other partners run Fortune 500 companies. Then, you have Mr. Blank and Rich McKay and all their experience. We're talking about some of the best business people in the world. I'm just going to listen to them and work with them and soak up everything I can. I want to be a businessman now and I'm going to approach that realizing I'm with some great businessmen and I'm really intrigued about getting into the business side of football."
But Dunn isn't going to completely ignore his playing background. He thinks it will come in handy at times.
"Coach [Mike] Smith and [general manager] Thomas Dimitroff run the football side of things with this team and they're great at it," Dunn said. "The player evaluations and the personnel moves, I'll stay out of that and leave that up to them. But if they want to ask me for my thoughts on a player, I'll certainly be there for them. My opinions will stay to myself, unless I'm asked for my opinions."
It will be the same on the business side. Dunn knows he'll be working with people far more experienced than him who are specialists in their areas.
"The way I look at it is, this is a great opportunity to get in on the bottom floor," Dunn said. "It's an opportunity to learn and take that and try to advance in life. Yes, I have big dreams about where this could go. But it's going to be a long process and it's like I'm starting off as a rookie in all this."