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Classic Bum

I looked up from my dinner plate last night just in time to see Wade Phillips on TV, descending the steps of an airliner in Atlanta, where his Rams team will be playing the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII (Super Bowl 53).

Wade was decked out in “classic Bum” attire… a big cowboy hat and brushed leather jacket that his Dad, O.A. Phillips (who went by the nickname “Bum”) wore when he coached the Houston Oilers.

Wade, who inherited his Dad’s love of football and sense of humor, goes by the moniker “Son of Bum.” His TV appearance yesterday reminded me of this “Road to the Super Bowl” blog I wrote 3 years ago.

Go Rams!

Road to the Super Bowl

(originally published Monday January 25, 2016)

I became a Steelers fan in 1972, at just the right time, since that decade ended with 4 Steelers’ Super Bowl rings. There were many memorable players and close games during that decade, back when Pittsburgh earned the title “City of Champions.”

There was also one very memorable head coach from the Houston Oilers. O.A. “Bum” Phillips, who coined the expression, “The road to the Super Bowl runs through Pittsburgh.” He knew all about that road since he lost two consecutive playoff games against the Steelers in 1979 and 1980, while the Steelers were on the road to back-to-back Steeler victories in Super Bowl XIII and XIV.

The Steelers-Oilers playoff game at 1:00pm Sunday January 7, 1979 was coined “The Ice Bowl” and was quite memorable for all of us! Since I had morning classes on Penn State’s main campus the following day, I decided to listen to the game on AM radio as I took what was normally a 3-hour afternoon drive back to campus.  Since road conditions were extremely bad, I decided to take the longer interstate route up I-79 north to east on I-80, in the hope of better roads. Hardly!

Interstate 79 north of Pittsburgh only had one of its two lanes open, and travel slowed to a crawl as the freezing rain continued to fall. This is the only time in my 50-years behind the wheel that I saw a 4-inch ‘plane of ice’ build-up on the front of my narrow steel “mast” fender antennae, like cars had before the ‘shark fin’ roof antennae. The plane of ice was only slightly thicker than the antennae but it extended 4-inches toward the front of the car due to the continuous freezing build-up during travel. Amazing! It took about twice as long as usual for me to get back to State College, but I made it safely.

It was equally amazing the way the AFC Championship game unraveled as I listened to the car radio. Game conditions at Three Rivers Stadium were 27-degrees with freezing rain. The Steelers also ‘iced’ the Oilers, pounding them 34–5 and forcing nine Houston turnovers. It was a real bad day for Bum Phillips and his Oilers team, but he was never a sore loser, offering much kinder remarks after those sorts of games than anyone would ever expect.

THREE RIVERS STADIUM

THREE RIVERS STADIUM

Bum’s return to Pittsburgh for the January 6, 1980 game was only slightly better with cloudy skies and 26-degree temperatures. The Steelers held the Oilers’ powerful running back Earl Campbell to 15 yards on 17 carries, and the team to only 24 yards rushing. The game was not without controversy, due to a disallowed Oilers’ touchdown. The Steelers won 27–13. Once again, Bum was very gracious in defeat.

I decided to write Bum a letter after that game, complimenting him on his style and class, even after two crushing defeats, with each being only one game short of the Super Bowl. It was two Sundays later that the Steelers won Super Bowl XIV against the Rams. The next day Bum Phillips wrote back to me on Houston Oilers letterhead...

January 21, 1980
”Dear Bob: Just a note to say thanks for your very nice letter and kind remarks. Know you are very proud of the Steelers and their Super Bowl victory. Sincerely, O.A. “Bum” Phillips, Head Coach / General Manager”

While doing some research for this blog it was interesting to read more about Bum’s coaching history that included this, “As coach of the Oilers, he became the winningest coach in franchise history (59-38 record).” From many of his humorous quotes, this one stood out to me, “There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired.”

It was yesterday’s excellent coaching by Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, as the Broncos stymied the explosive New England Patriots’ offense in the AFC Championship game, that got me thinking about Wade’s dad Bum. Denver ‘s defense held the Patriots to 18 points, sacking Tom Brady 4 times while only allowing him a 48% completion percentage with 2 interceptions.

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