He’s scored points with his powerful right leg in the Rose Bowl as a University of Michigan Wolverine and wears a Super Bowl ring from the Washington Redskins, but now Ali Haji-Sheikh gets his kicks as executive vice president of Fred Lavery Co., a group of automotive dealerships based in Birmingham.
Born of Iranian parents in Ann Arbor and raised in Texas, Haji-Sheikh played for legendary coach Bo Schembechler between 1979 and 1982. He says “winning Bo’s first Rose Bowl” was his greatest achievement in football. “The Super Bowl was cool, a close second,” he adds.
While wearing the maize and blue, Haji-Sheikh set a Big Ten Conference record, converting 76 consecutive extra points. He also set school records for career extra points (117) and field goals (31).
He was selected by the New York Giants in the ninth round of the 1983 NFL draft and spent three seasons in the Big Apple. As a rookie he made 35 field goals, which broke the NFL record for field goals in a season — a mark that stood until 1996. Haji-Sheikh appeared in the 1984 Pro Bowl, but a recurring hamstring injury hampered the rest of his career.
After leaving the Giants, he kicked for the Atlanta Falcons and Washington, winning Super Bowl XXII in 1988, before hanging up his cleats.
His automotive career started years earlier, while he was still with the Giants. The Lavery organization had a dealership in New Jersey, and Haji-Sheikh worked there selling cars in the offseason and while on the injured reserve list.
“The transition wasn’t that hard,” Haji-Sheikh says from his office in the Audi of Birmingham store, which contains a few items from his gridiron career. “I was moderately successful just working six months out of the year for two years. In 1989, I just went full time into it.”
He moved back to Michigan in 1993. In his current role, he interfaces with vehicle manufacturers and manages people, more like a coach than a player.
“I enjoy sales because of the competition,” he says. “Somebody’s always keeping score, either internally, against people selling other brands, and even the guys down the street selling the same brand.”
The competition, however, is vastly different than what he experienced on football Saturdays and Sundays. “There aren’t 100,000 people screaming at you while you try to sell a car or manage a dealership,” he says. “And if you make a mistake, it’s not in the paper the next day.”