Oail Andrew Phillips passed away on October 18, 2013. His younger sister, trying to say “brother”, began to call him “bumble.” Eventually, the nickname became simply “Bum,” a name Houston Oilers fans and older NFL fans will remember forever thanks to some very deep Texas roots.
Bum Phillips was born on a Texas ranch in 1923. He died on a Texas ranch at 90. He was a cowboy through and through. In between, Bum served in World War II, played college football after the war and worked his way up the coaching ranks to become the Oilers’ head coach and general manager from 1975 through 1990. “Luv Ya Blue” became Houston’s rally cry as the Oilers battled their way into the AFC Championship games against Pittsburgh in 1978 and 1979, each year losing to the mighty Steelers.
Surprisingly, the Oilers fired Phillips after the 1980 season. The Oilers never came close to the success the team achieved with Phillips and eventually moved to Nashville to become the Tennessee Titans. Phillips coached the New Orleans Saints for four years before working his way back to the ranch.
Phillips was in his first season as the Oilers’ head coach when I photographed him during the National Anthem before Houston defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 17-13, on November 2, 1975. His homespun quotes, delivered with a rich Texas twang, and often with a dip of Skoal between his cheek and gum, became classics.
However, it was his Stetson cowboy hat worn on the sidelines that quickly made him a legend. Excuse me, I meant the hat worn only on the sidelines of outdoor stadiums. In the Oilers’ Astrodome home, Phillips never wore his Stetson, saying that, “my mother thought it impolite to wear a hat indoors.”
The sight of Phillips with his Stetson resting over his heart during the Anthem, while Boy Scouts held American flags in the outdoors of Arrowhead Stadium, helped make this photograph a favorite for me. When I answered the phone two days later, I discovered the photograph had become an immediate favorite of the caller.
“Jeff Jacobsen? This is Bum Phillips, the head coach of the Houston Oilers,” he said with that Texas drawl. “I saw a photograph you made of me last Sunday and would love to have a print made for my office.”
It was a great honor, but even more impressive was that the call came directly from Phillips. Told to stop by to say hello and see the print in his office should I ever be near the Oilers’ complex, I did three years later. It was not football season. Unfortunately, Phillips was out, though an assistant happily took me to the coach’s office. There was the large framed print hanging in the office of Bum Phillips.