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She's Not There
John ED Bradley
October 25, 1999
Over almost two decades as an assistant coach, Kansas State's Phil Bennett would scan the crowd before the opening kickoff to find his wife, Nancy. Now, because of a freak act of nature, he never will again
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October 25, 1999

She's Not There

Over almost two decades as an assistant coach, Kansas State's Phil Bennett would scan the crowd before the opening kickoff to find his wife, Nancy. Now, because of a freak act of nature, he never will again

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The first time they met, not five seconds after laying eyes on each other, the young football coach with the strong, handsome face said, "Hi, I'm Phil Bennett, and I'm never getting married." That's how Nancy would remember their 1981 introduction, anyway, years after she'd snagged him and made him her own. Phil's memory of the occasion, though vivid, owes less to what he said than to what he saw. He saw a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde with a Coppertone tan and the best smile in all of College Station, Texas. She was wearing green khaki shorts, a flowery shirt and sandals. Phil's brother Jim had helped set them up, and though this qualified as a blind date, Phil knew that for as long as he lived he would not forget the image of Nancy Harris as she pulled open the door to her apartment and invited him in.

"What is it you remember about the first time you saw me?" Phil used to ask her.

"Your hair was too short, but you had on shorts, and I liked your legs," she would reply. "You had great-looking legs."

"What about my face?"

"You have a nice appearance. You're what I would call a rugged handsome."

"That's because I've got so many wrinkles in my forehead. You know how you get those? From coaching."

Nancy loved to talk, and you wouldn't be wrong to rank her as one of the world's alltime great talkers. Their two children notwithstanding, Phil was easily her favorite subject, and often when he came up in conversation she abandoned use of the pronoun he and replaced it with we. As in, "We're coaching at Kansas State now." And, "We've got a great group of kids this year."

At Phil's games Nancy spent most of the time on her feet, hollering down at the field, singling out players and offering encouragement. "Sometimes it seemed that Mrs. Bennett knew as much football as Coach Bennett did, and he knew just about everything," says Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dat Nguyen, whom Phil coached at Texas A&M in 1995 and '96.

Even when the crowd numbered 80,000, most of them making noise, Phil could pick out Nancy's voice from where he stood on the field. It was easy, because they were so tuned in to each other. "Telepathy," he calls it. "Like those times in my office when I'd be sitting at my desk and thinking about something, and suddenly the phone rang, and it was Nancy calling to talk about whatever it was I was thinking about."

At games, when somebody sitting close to her was critical of Phil's team or one of his players, Nancy had a way of putting the spectator in his place. "Hey, by the way," she'd say, flashing a smile, "these are all coaches' wives you're sitting with. Now let me explain to you why things happen the way they do." Then she'd launch into an analysis of a blitz package or explain the difference between a 3-4 and a 4-3 front.

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