Evan Mathis
Former NFL players Evan Mathis in action at PSPC (photo credit: Carlos Monti, PokerStars)

Evan Mathis is no stranger to big money and impressive accolades. The former offensive lineman spent 12 years in the NFL, earning millions, making the Pro Bowl twice, and winning a Super Bowl title with the Denver Broncos from the 2015-16 season. Mathis was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, the team that the Broncos beat when Mathis won his Super Bowl ring, and he also played for the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, and Arizona Cardinals.

Now, Mathis lives a life of cards, and less than a year ago, in April 2018, Mathis he landed a $2.88 million score. The multi-million dollar payday didn’t come from poker, though. It came from another form of cards. Trading cards.

“Ever since I was like six years old, I’ve been drawn to trading cards, collecting, and things like that,” Mathis told PocketFives.com. “I’ve always been a gambler, and I love the fact that there’s so much skill involved in poker. You’re able to gamble and you’re able to apply your skill and discipline to the game. It’s always been a lot of fun, as is the [trading] card industry. I do things that are fun, obviously. I choose to play football for a living. That was fun. Now I do trading cards for a living and that’s fun. Doing this kind of thing (poker) as a hobby, that’s fun. I’ve always been drawn to things like that. Whatever makes my dopamine receptors fire, I go to.”

The card Mathis auctioned off was a 1952 Topps rookie card of Mickey Mantle. He sold it at auction after trading away an enormous chunk of his collection to acquire the rare item, then flipped it for nearly $3 million through Heritage Auctions.

“What was exciting about that one was having the most expensive item I own, which was [the Mickey Mantle baseball card], and I sent it to auction without a reserve,” Mathis said. “So whatever it sold for, it sold for. It was ultimately one of the biggest gambles I’ve ever taken, so it was exciting in that aspect.”

The result of the auction made it the second most expensive price tag for a baseball card ever, with a 1909 Honus Wagner card that sold for $3.12 million being the first. In the Bahamas, Mathis was chasing more millions, only on the poker felt at the PokerStars Players NL Hold’em Championship.

“I got into poker in college playing with friends,” Mathis said. “Then, I started playing a little bit online – partypoker, Full Tilt, a few years later PokerStars and Ultimate Bet. I got most of my experience playing online cash games and online tournaments. Then, throughout the years when I’ve had some free time I’ve just done it as a hobby.”

Mathis shares the professional football connection with another player partaking in the poker action at Atlantis. That’s Richard Seymour, a three-time Super Bowl winner whose career overlapped with a good portion of Mathis’. Seymour played from 2001 to 2012 and Mathis played from 2005 to 2016. Now, they’re sharing another competitive overlap with poker.

“I think what’s really cool about it is that Richard was such a high-caliber player in football and you hear people talking about him at these events, how much respect they have for him as a poker player,” Mathis said of seeing an NFL peer of his, Seymour, compete in poker. “So he’s not just some dumb, dead money coming here, or some rich guy blowing his money. He’s actually a really good tournament poker player. It’s fun to see someone who’s able to go from taking that on-the-field discipline to the poker room. These events, it takes a lot of discipline over the course of time, and I think playing football might definitely help to have some of that discipline. Having to weather things like training camp and things like that.”

Mathis made the money in the PSPC on Day 3 and advanced to Day 4 with just 38 players remaining from the record-setting field of 1,039. For many, it’d be a career poker highlight to simply get this far in this event, outlast more than 1,000 players, and earn no less than $86,000 in prize money, but Mathis wants more. Much more.

“I didn’t come here just to have fun,” Mathis said. “I came here with the intention to win. I’m not celebrating anything yet. I want to go pretty deep into this thing. Surviving each day has been great and all, but the most rewarding thing would be finishing the entire thing.

“I think I might be more excited about just getting first place and getting the trophy amongst this very competitive field. The money obviously would be incredibly exciting, but it would be really cool to win an event of this caliber against such a good field.”

As it turned out, Mathis’ run would go no further than Day 4, as he busted in 35th place for $86,400. On his final hand, Mathis was all in with the AdJh against the Qs8s for opponent Yiannis Liperis. Liperis went on to best Mathis with two pair and send Mathis to the payout desk.

Mathis does still have a sweat left, that being his friend that he traveled to the Bahamas with, Jason Koonce, who was still in as the prize payouts hit six figures.