When Jimmy married Mickey Kennedy, Auburn's head drum majorette, in his junior year, he moved out of his dormitory to a small four-room house situated between Auburn and Opelika, about five miles from the campus. Mickey gave up college and took a job at the university, and with her modest income and Jimmy's $79 a month (plus laundry money) the newlyweds lived comfortably, if not extravagantly.
"If you do as well in football as they think you will when they sign you," he explains, "you don't have much to worry about.
"I felt kind of sorry for a couple of guys I played with in high school who came up here on scholarships. They didn't turn out to be as good as the coaches expected, and they just sort of dropped out of school after a while. Not that their scholarships were taken away from them or anything like that. The coaches just rode them pretty hard. When a guy is doing the best he can and someone is telling him it isn't good enough, it gets to him after a while. I felt sorry for those guys. They were my friends in high school. But they weren't good enough for college. At least this college. They took the riding as long as they could, I guess, and then they just dropped out. Technically, a football scholarship should entitle you to four years of college whether you make the team or not. But like I said, there are ways to get a guy to quit.
"One of the big differences I noticed between high school and college was in the coaching. In high school I was pretty close to my coach, Hamp Lyons. He taught me a lot of football, and he was my friend off the field, too. When I was having all that trouble with the recruiters, I could go to him and ask his advice and know that it would be sound, honest and for my own good. He'll probably be a friend of mine all my life. At Auburn, I don't think I talked to Coach [Ralph] Jordan more than three times in the four years I was there. It was like he was the director of a big company and I was just one of the boys in the office. If I had a football problem, I talked to the end coach. If I had a problem that wasn't football, well, that was my problem. Football is such a big business in the SEC—and I'm sure it's the same in the Big Ten, the Southwest Conference and the old PCC—there just isn't time or room for Knute Rocknes any more. The coach is there to win ball games. You're there to help him keep his job."
SOME THINGS TO EXPECT
"You know, it's funny. I started playing football because it was a game I thought was fun. I still like to play it, but I think I look upon it more as a job now. When we were on probation last year and were ineligible for a bowl, I don't think one guy on the team was disappointed. A bowl would just have meant another month of hard work, and we were all pretty sick of football by then. You begin to wish it was all over when you hit the eighth game in a 10-game schedule. When it is over, you've had enough. A bowl is sort of like working for free."
Four years of football at Auburn have not changed Jimmy Phillips very much either in appearance or personality. He has a horizontal scar under his right eye, caused by an elbow in a game two years ago. He gave up four front teeth, and Auburn saw that he got four to replace them. He figures you have to expect these things if you play football.
"Auburn didn't change what I am," he said, "it helped prevent what I might have been. Without a scholarship I'd probably have gone to work in one of the mills in Alexander City, just like my dad. Not that that would have been bad. But now that I have the opportunity, I'd much rather play pro football. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like being in the limelight. I have six scrap-books full of newspaper clippings, and I get a kick out of reading them all. My home town dedicated a day for me last January—Jimmy Phillips Day. They gave me a new car and a bank account and paraded me through town. I enjoyed it, and I'll always count it among the biggest thrills of my life. They did that for me because I played football for Auburn. There wouldn't have been any Jimmy Phillips Day if I had been a good mill worker for four years. The first money I made as a pro I got from the Hula Bowl, and I felt good about it. I played against an all-star pro team in Honolulu—guys like Elroy Hirsch and Bob St. Clair—and when the game was over I felt like I earned the $500 they paid me. It was in cash, so maybe it wasn't legal. I never bothered to ask. I got $400 for playing in the Senior Bowl in Mobile a week later. We lost, and I never felt so bad about losing a ball game in my life. The winners got $500."
While playing for Auburn, Jimmy never received any payment in excess of the Southeastern Conference rules governing scholarships, but he was never fully able to shake the feeling that he was not quite as amateur as the rules intended.
"Every year, two or three 'students'—fellows without a football scholarship—would turn out for spring practice, but they didn't stand a chance. No one would ever tell them they couldn't turn out, but none of the coaches would ever even look at them. I have a feeling that if I had been paying my own way through Auburn, I wouldn't have stood a chance of making the team either. It made me feel kind of different, sort of like I was somebody's property.