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The Season After
Austin Murphy
December 20, 2010
His death was the fine print in an August plane crash that killed a former U.S. senator, but Bill Phillips left behind a legacy as massive as the man himself, including three Division I-A football-playing sons—brothers who banded together to honor a life lived in full
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December 20, 2010

The Season After

His death was the fine print in an August plane crash that killed a former U.S. senator, but Bill Phillips left behind a legacy as massive as the man himself, including three Division I-A football-playing sons—brothers who banded together to honor a life lived in full

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In 1981 Bill went to work for Stevens and moved to Washington, running his growing fishing business from a distance. Weary of paying so much money in lawyer fees, Phillips enrolled at Georgetown's law school, taking classes at night. On Jan. 21, 1985, the day of Ronald Reagan's second inauguration, Phillips attended a party at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. There, he was thunderstruck by a stunning, statuesque woman in a skintight, one-shoulder dress. A Senate staffer who did some modeling on the side, Janet Kelly had come to the party from a fashion show. "I am going to marry that woman," Bill told a friend.

"Marry her? I'll bet you a thousand bucks you can't get her phone number," came the reply. Twenty-three months later, that friend made a great show of counting out 10 $100 bills during his toast at their wedding.

Much was made, in the wake of his passing, of Senator Stevens's contributions to the state of Alaska. But Bill Phillips left an impressive legacy of his own, in his professional sphere, yes, but also on the current landscape of college football. Andrew, a three-year starter on one of the nation's best and nastiest offensive lines, is one of three Phillips brothers playing in Division I-A. Colter, who turned down a scholarship from Stanford to attend Virginia, is a third-year sophomore tight end whose 18 catches this season included three for touchdowns. Paul, also a tight end, is a freshman at Indiana who redshirted this season.

This explains the highly unorthodox back page on the program from Bill's memorial service, which drew some 1,400 friends and family on Aug. 20 at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac, Md. It is a table with three columns—one for each of the 2010 football schedules of Stanford, Virginia and Indiana.

"Bill had made travel plans for the entire season," says the accompanying text, "and loved it when he could get friends to join him. As Bill would say, 'Pick out a game and come with us!' The offer still stands...—Janet."

Andrew Phillips had missed nearly 2½ weeks of fall camp when he returned to the Cardinal in late August. It was near the end of a practice, with the players arrayed in two long stretch lines. Ever the offensive lineman, he hoped to slip back in with minimal fanfare. "I didn't want this big, Rudy-type moment," he recalls.

Too bad. As soon as they saw him, his teammates mobbed him. For Andrew it was a clarifying moment. Poleaxed by their loss, he, Colter and Paul had debated taking the season off, spending the fall at home to take care of their mother and Willy. In the end, with a firm nudge from Janet, they agreed that their father would've wanted them to get back to camp, strap it on and keep going.

"I knew the right thing to do was to carry on, to continue with my life and keep things as normal as possible," says Andrew, "but it wasn't clear to me how that was going to happen. But seeing everyone my first day back, getting all those hugs—that's when it made sense."

For all three brothers the grief has been shared, the path to healing illuminated, by a sublime collection of teammates, coaches and random well-wishers. Andrew received so many texts and calls in the days after his father died that the buzzer in his phone—"the thing that makes it vibrate"—gave up the ghost, forcing him to replace his cell.

Paul was "basically adopted," says Janet, by the family of his close friend Jake Zupancic, a freshman safety at Indiana whose father, Tom, is the senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Indianapolis Colts. "When something like this happens," says Paul, "you realize your teammates aren't just your friends. They're your brothers. Even the seniors were coming up to me, saying stuff like, 'If you need anything, I got your back.'"

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