It's Friday night. You've got your crew and rolls of cash.
Need a ride to the new club on the west side of town?
Just call the 1-800 number on the back of your NFL player I.D. card. The NFL Players Association will provide a chauffeured car to take you wherever and whenever -- that's 24/7/365 -- you need to go.
"It's a great service," said Shaun Smith, a defensive lineman who has played for seven teams, including the Bengals, Browns, Chiefs and Titans. "Guys just need to take advantage of it."
The Player Transportation Link (PTL), which has been around since 2011, provides this car service to any current or former NFL player. The latter group has called 131 times (not including April or May totals) and accounts for about 8 percent of all rides.
The confidential NFLPA program -- provided in cooperation with its vendor, Corporate Security Solutions, Inc. -- offers a ride anywhere in the United States or Canada.
"We haven't had to use Alaska yet," said John Glavin, president/CEO of Corporate Security Solutions, Inc. (CSSI). "But we have had to use Hawaii."
The PTL has two offerings. Though the NFLPA assumes the administrative fees, the prearranged ride costs players $90 (including gratuity) per hour for a black limo sedan. The cost rises if a player chooses other vehicle options, including Escalades (the most popular choice), Hummers, stretch limos or a party bus. Players can pay with a credit card.
While on a trip in New York, Smith had a driver make several stops with the chauffeur dropping him right in front of each club.
Smith said he likes the car service because -- even if he drinks in moderation -- he risks a cop pulling him over for driving a fancy car late at night. With the PTL he can relax after leaving a bar or party.
"That's a win-win for me," Smith said. "That way I can go to sleep in the car on the way home."
The other offering is the "emergency" response or a non-scheduled pickup. If a player needs a ride or has drunk too much, he can call the number. An operator/security representative at CSSI's command center in Orlando, Fla. will answer, take their information and dispatch a sedan, costing $90 per hour, to pick up the player.
The non-scheduled pickup arrives within 30 minutes, though a secluded, rural area might take longer. During emergency responses, drivers cannot take the player to more than one stop.
The car service has worked so well for the NFLPA that both the NBA and NHL adopted it for their players. This is the second year of the NHL's program, and the NBA instituted it this year. Because of the larger NFL rosters, more football players call for rides.
"Percentage-wise they all use it kind of equally," Glavin said. "The (NFL) Players Association were the pioneers."
The NFLPA's PTL featured 51 calls (38 were prearranged, and 13 were non-scheduled/emergency) in August 2012; 53 (38 and 15, respectively) in September 2012; 55 (39 and 16) in October 2012; 58 (46 and 12) in November 2012; 96 (71 and 25) in December 2012; 103 (74 and 29) in January 2013; 116 (83 and 33) in February 2013 and 68 (54 and 14) in March 2013.
The winter totals spiked for a reason that went beyond the holiday party season.
After 11 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent and some of his teammates were at Eddie V's, a swank seafood restaurant in the Oak Lawn section of Dallas that has a blues and jazz lounge. By 1 a.m. he moved on to Beamers Nightclub, an upscale hip hop and R&B club.
At 2:19 a.m. Brent took off in his white Mercedes S600 with his best friend and Cowboys practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown Jr. as his passenger. The sedan headed west on State Highway 114.
Brent was traveling more than 110 miles per hour and with a blood-alcohol level of 0.189 -- more than 0.1 over Texas' legal limit of 0.08.
Brent steered the car to the left and then back to the right. He overcorrected, causing the Mercedes to slide out of control for more than 870 feet into the right curb, the right ditch and then flip over before resting upside down in the center lane.
The Mercedes caught fire, and Brent tried to drag Brown from the vehicle.
As a result of head and neck trauma, Brown was pronounced dead by 3 a.m.
"There's no doubt it's had an effect on our members," said Tim Christine, director of security for the NFLPA. "There's a heightened sense of awareness."
Further attention may be drawn to the incident when Brent faces a Sept. 23 trial on an intoxication manslaughter charge. According to USA Today, Brent's arrest represented the 18th time an NFL player was arrested for a DUI in 2012.
Brown's death was also the third time since 1998 that an NFL player killed another person because of an alleged DUI.
"One phone call could have prevented this tragedy," Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons tweeted. "It's never the one driving that loses there (sic) life literally. Condolences to Jerry family."
Information about the PTL is displayed on flyers in the locker room, and the NFLPA promotes this program aggressively through team meetings, the scouting combine, the rookie symposium and its player representatives on each team.
"It's pretty well known," said offensive lineman Ryan Lilja, who played eight seasons for the Chiefs and Colts. "I don't know why you wouldn't use it."
But there are two issues -- cost and confidentiality.
No one, including wealthy athletes, likes to throw around $90 or more. Smith, though, wisely put the cost in perspective.
"A couple of $100 is worth your safety and your livelihood," he said. "If you go out partying and drinking, why (can't) you pay for your safety?"
The precursor to the PTL, a 2010 venture between the NFL and NFLPA called Safe Ride Solutions, was free. But the NFLPA's extensive talks with players and player representatives brought about changes that resulted in the PTL. Christine said that players wanted to pay a fee. The reason? To ensure that NFL management could not.
"It's really not about paying the $90 for the ride," Christine said. "It's a matter of the confidentiality that's associated with who is paying the bill."
CSSI and the NFLPA swear by the PTL's total secrecy. CSSI is a licensed private investigation firm, which provides security and background checks for Fortune 500 companies. Once the players' ride has been completed and paid for, CSSI shreds the paperwork. Only the number of calls is provided to the NFLPA.
"This service is confidential between our members and Corporate Security Solutions," Christine said. "The names of the players are not divulged -- even to us."
Despite those assurances some players remain dubious and fear their team's coaches, executives or owners will find out.
"Guys are kind of worried about the confidentiality of it and have not used it," said Seahawks quarterback Brady Quinn. "I've heard that before."
For that reason players have expressed further reservation about using a car service, which some NFL clubs, including the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers, offer to their own players.
Which begs the question: Even if team higher-ups did know which players used their car service or the PTL, wouldn't they respect the players' decision making in avoiding driving under the influence?
"I don't understand the perception that people will judge you on that," Lilja said. "At the end of the day, I think they'd look at that as a responsible guy. Nobody's under the illusion that a bunch of 25-year-old guys aren't going to go out and drink and party."
Although Lilja no longer drinks, he used to keep the phone number of an Indianapolis driver.
Whether it's using a cab driver they trust, a car service offered by some NFL teams or the NFLPA's PTL, players have myriad options for safe driving.
But as the toughest guys around, some NFL players don't think they could become the next Josh Brent. They see themselves as invincible, impervious to harm. They don't need to call for help.
It's a message the NFLPA is trying to dispel.
"In the NFL we always think … that we can overcome anything, we're strong enough to deal with it," Quinn said. "In wake of recent happenings, hopefully players will understand that it's just not (the case)."
-- Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.
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