By: Passionate Buffalo Bills Fan, Patti Bax
Original Date: 8/9/22
Hello sports fans, and welcome back to the IE Sports Radio Blog. There are certain moments in our lives which, at the time, may not seem extraordinary. Sometimes, however, they become indelible memories, enduring forever to change our future. One such moment happened for me in June of 2018. I saw an advertisement for a charity event at a local bowling center, hosted by then Buffalo Bills star LB Lorenzo Alexander. The ad mentioned several Bills players would be attending, including new draft picks Josh Allen and Harrison Phillips. I didn’t need much convincing to participate, as my husband is a Hall of Fame bowler, I bowl, and of course, I’m a Bills fanatic.
The event was a huge success. My husband and I met several Bills players, including Lorenzo (Zo), who continues to be a supportive friend. Josh Allen even used one of my husband’s bowling balls to roll down a lane! One of the players we had the pleasure of meeting was defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, a recent third round draft pick. Although a towering 6’3’’, Harrison was a gentle giant that day, taking pictures with fans, and readily becoming endeared to all who met him.
Fast forward to the first preseason game in 2018, where my nephew and I were eager to cheer on the Bills. As we settled into our seats, we noticed about eight people in front of us, all wearing #99 jerseys. It didn’t take long to realize that these were not just Bills fans, but the family of Phillips. Any player who has ever worn or currently wears a Bills uniform knows what makes Buffalo a special place to play; the people. I felt it was important for the Phillips’ family to feel welcome and experience our Buffalove, so I introduced my nephew and myself. With excitement, I gave Harrison’s parents, Tammie and Paul, my cell phone number and encouraged them to contact me any time, especially when they were back in town.
Over the next five years, a beautiful friendship emerged, and Tammie, Paul, my husband and I quickly found numerous commonalities, in addition to our love of football. Together, we were blessed to experience wonderful memories and also support each other during difficult times, including the loss of beloved family members. Sadly, Harrison is no longer a Buffalo Bill, but is now a Minnesota Viking. I still cherish my friendship with Tammie and Paul. As we continue to become even closer as friends, I feel like we’re part of an extended family.
I can best describe Tammie and Paul as amazing individuals who embraced Buffalo from day one. They are as giving and genuine as anyone I’ve ever met. Being in their presence, one feels welcomed and appreciated. Without a doubt, Patty Champion (@pattychampion) would also agree. You would never know they are parents of a standout NFL player. Being parents of a pro isn’t something most of us will experience. I asked Tammie and Paul to share their thoughts and emotions to bring insights into this exciting life. They were both more than willing to respond, giving a first-hand look into the ups and downs of professional sports.
What is it like being the parents of an NFL player?
Tammie: Knowing that your son’s dream has come true through hard work, blood, sweat, and tears is very exciting. We are so proud of his accomplishments on and off the field. It is an amazing feeling when he steps on the field. We have had to wipe tears away as we burst with pride.
Paul: This question is difficult for me because the emotions and feelings changed over time. It’s ALL so surreal, but the minute Pancho called out Harrison’s name at the draft was the most dream-like, “other-worldly” period of the whole four years of his career so far. The call from the Bills and then the pride and excitement of those few announcement minutes will always stay with me – seeing Harrison’s face and tears and smiles and his own self-realization that his lifelong dream came true – I get goosebumps just remembering this as I type. As his professional career started making him a little more “famous” I worried about him being taken advantage of. He has such a big heart (just like his mom!) and he has this intrinsic trust in everyone he meets. Call it confidence in his fellow man or call it naivety. I am a bit more skeptical of human nature, so I feel protective in a way. This has also changed over the years as he became more involved in his negotiations with his agent, financial team, endorsement liaisons, lawyers, media personnel, etc., etc., etc…. He now has a better read on people than I do. Now it’s all about pride – just proud as poop of all the goals he has accomplished- all the people’s lives he has changed for the better. And he did all this while remaining humble. I wish I had more of him in me.
When did you first know Harrison was destined to be an NFL player?
Tammie: We knew that he wanted to play football since he knew what it was. But he was such a big boy, we knew that they would not let him experience the full effect of the game because of his size. So, he played soccer, baseball, basketball, wrestled, and did field events for track. When he was in 5th grade, he asked me to print out the letters L, F, N on three 8 ½ x 11 pages in huge black ink. That night when I read with him, I looked up on his ceiling, and he had the letters “N F L” taped on it. Those letters remained there until just two years ago. That is when we knew he had some high hopes and big dreams.
Paul: For me, (and I hope this doesn’t make me appear to be a non-supportive Dad), I really didn’t have the confidence that he would make it until after he recovered from his knee injury at Stanford. The odds of making it to the NFL are like 1.6%. But I saw the dark place he went to at Stanford as he sat out, was basically “ostracized” from the team, alone in his despair and recovery, 1700 miles from his family for support. I watched him over time dig in so deep to tell the world “You think I’m out of this? NOT EVEN CLOSE!” – and he came back, played better than ever and broke national records for his position. It was then that I knew he was destined for the NFL – there was no stopping him!
And just as a quick side story (we may have told you this, Patti): When Harrison was at the combine, there were a bunch of activities they could do while they were there and not being tested. One was a psychic and the participants had to “pick a card” – some cards were blank, and others had the different NFL teams on them – Most of the people he was with picked blank cards, but Harrison picked a card and you guessed it, he picked the Buffalo Bills! He didn’t tell us that story until like his second year with the Bills.
So far, what is the greatest highlight of Harrison’s career for you?
Tammie: We are absolutely astonished at what he does on the field. But the amazing things he does off the field make us the proudest. There are many highlights from his football journey but being nominated twice for the Walter Payton Man of the Year is our favorite so far.
Paul: You might be looking for an answer that has to do with a play or a sack or an interception but it’s The Walter Payton Man of the Year awards that are my highlights. They exemplify exactly who Harrison is – a great player on the field, respected by his peers, who gives back unfailingly to his community – oh, and he has three (and soon to be four) communities (Sacramento, Buffalo, and Omaha). He doesn’t just fly in and walk the events, he is involved in every aspect of planning and implementing. He loves those kids (I say kids, but he allows special needs and developmentally challenged people ages 5-40 to the events) and this brings him so much joy.
I did think It was cool when Harry got his hands on Aaron Rodgers, and Aaron called him by name and school (to paraphrase: “Don’t think you can outsmart me, Phillips, just because you went to Stanford!” LOL)
What are some of your favorite cities you visited to watch Harrison play football?
Tammie: We have enjoyed every stadium and city where he’s played. Sitting in these stadiums, almost every game feels like a dream. It is nice during the winter to be sitting in stadiums in Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston. Of course, Highmark Stadium is our favorite. The memories we have from Buffalo will always be cherished. During Harrison’s preseason his first year as a Bill, we attended a game in Minneapolis against the Vikings. We thought that their pageantry was so energetic and one-of-a-kind. And now, we will be able to experience that this season. We also enjoyed all the stadiums and cities in the PAC-12, but The Stanford University Stadium will always hold a special place in our hearts. And sitting in the Omaha football stadiums was always a tremendous treat. We try to experience the culture, the people, and the food in every city.
Paul: I liked the Vikings stadium due to the fanfare that they provided – the Viking ship and horn (the Gjallarhorn) blowing – plus they have cheerleaders. The thing about favorite cities is the memories we create while we are there. We loved Tampa because we spent time with our two best couple friends who moved to Clearwater. Being able to go to a game with them made us love the stadium and city even more. New Orleans was a lot of fun! (Especially when the Bills took over Bourbon Street). Jacksonville was fun because we got to spend some time with two separate Stanford Teammate parents. And I am not saying this for any other reason than I LOVE BUFFALO – and I don’t care what little town or suburb or township – it’s all about the people! Everyone makes the area so special to out of towners such as us.
Please describe your involvement with Harrison’s Playmakers and how fans can get involved.
Tammie and Paul: Harrison’s Playmakers is a fantastic foundation Harrison has created for children with developmental challenges and special needs to be accepted in the sports community. This is his way of giving back. We are officers of his foundation, and we help organize, plan, and implement his ideas of inclusion at his Omaha Harrison’s Playmakers camp, his Back-to-School, Christmas, and movie events each year. You can get involved by making a monetary donation to any of the cities Harrison has his foundation: Buffalo, Omaha, and Minneapolis or volunteering your time at an event. To learn more, visit https://pledgeit.org/harrison-phillips.
How do you cope with the ups and downs of the season?
Tammie: We encourage and support Harrison through the wins, loses, highlights, low periods, and injuries.This is not an easy sport to play. There will be each of these times experienced throughout his NFL career. We have had huge smiles on our faces and tears streaming down our faces. Before each game, we as parents have our own rituals and lucky socks and underwear we must wear! And then, there is always GDD—game day diarrhea!
Paul: Interesting question – and perhaps an interesting answer – Watching the game can get very nerve-wracking and stressful, but after each game I try to imagine how Harrison feels – I learned this early on as I became better at what I was watching. If we won a game, I would mention to Harry what a good game it was – and often his reaction would be “no it wasn’t. Didn’t you see this … or that…” things that I missed as I was too focused on how my son was playing and not the whole picture – and, although we may have won, I learned to pay more attention to the details that make a good team a great team. So, this gave me a different perspective when we lost a game – it might have been a great game technically and I could be ok with that.
What advice would you have for parents of youth and college players who may have dreams of becoming an NFL player?
Tammie: Support and cheer on your football star and his team! Wear his jersey proudly. Beam with pride every time he steps foot on the field. Remain calm, cool, and collected. Keep feeding him!!
Paul: To the parents – understand the odds are not in your son’s favor, so don’t assume or expect that they will make it – even if they won all the high school/college accolades possible. There are a lot of politics involved that we were not aware of. Plus, timing is everything – meaning maybe the position your son plays isn’t in high demand for that particular draft year.
Get your son exposed – make sure he is the first on the field and the last to leave – get him to become a leader. Leaders are recognized. Media tends to gravitate towards the leaders, and to those that can carry on conversations in interviews, etc. As much exposure as possible may get that recruiter a pause to say, “what is all this fuss about so and so? I better check his film.”
Wow! Tammie and Paul, these are amazing responses! I can’t thank you enough for providing an insider’s view of what it’s like being NFL parents. Your responses are in-depth and vivid in painting a picture with all the range of emotions associated with such an important role. There is no doubt, you have the start of a best seller, and maybe even a movie! If you do make a movie, I’ll be happy to play the part of myself, ha, ha!
Although Harrison is now a Viking, please know I will always cheer for him and support Playmakers. I look forward to continuing our lifelong friendship and meeting up again soon. Go Bills! Go Vikings! Please feel free to tweet me at @BuffaloHudl_IE. For more sports content, please don’t forget to listen to the IE Sports Radio family. Be in the know by listening to all the podcasts and join in the fun. Huddle up with me on Tuesday nights at 7pm EST, for The Buffalo Huddle W/Patti Bax! Thank you all for reading, and we will see you next time on IE Sports Radio; your direct feed for ALL that is sports.