What do you say when a close friend passes away? He had seemingly been there forever. You just never thought one day he wouldn't be there.
This is where Tiger fans are today -- we, along with all those who love college athletics, mourning the passing of legendary Clemson radio announcer, Jim Phillips. Jim had been the Voice of the Tigers since 1968. His career had started harmlessly enough when he answered a blind ad in a media publication for a school that was looking for a new announcer. It turned out to be Clemson, and this Ohio native jumped at the chance. We are all glad this Buckeye came south. He certainly brightened our lives.
You know the facts of Jim's career. He was 69 years old. He was a five-time recipient of the South Carolina Broadcaster of the Year. He had just done his 400th Clemson football broadcast. He had announced over 2,000 Clemson sporting events -- football, basketball, baseball and women's basketball. He only missed one home men's basketball game since the opening of Littlejohn Coliseum in 1969.
Do you get the picture? You would be hard pressed to find folks who could remember who was the Voice of the Tigers before Jim.
But why is this loss so hard? Why does it hurt so much today losing Jim?
He loved his job -- he had enthusiasm -- he loved the Tigers and it showed. When you heard Jim Phillips broadcast a Tiger event, no matter what it was, you knew he was glad to be there and you left that broadcast with a good feeling about having heard him. Jim would throw himself into everything he did and it showed. You knew he loved it.
Someone posted today on Clemson's internet site a story about seeing Jim at the ACC basketball tournament in Greensboro in 1995 and asking him when he was going to hang it up. His response was simple. He said he had the best job in the world and why would he want to give it up. He planned to work right up to the point when he couldn't. That was a classic Phillips response. I can see him saying that and further, knowing he believed it. When he came to Clemson in 1968, he came to stay and he loved the Tigers. He made his way through a number of coaches, athletes and administrators. He showed them all the same thing -- his infectious love for Clemson University.
He also loved the folks in his profession. All Clemson folks are supposed to see South Carolina as the enemy. However, one of Jim's closest friends was Bob Fulton, the Voice of the South Carolina Gamecocks. Bob and Jim just plain liked each other and said it freely. It was Jim who headed up the effort to honor Bob Fulton on the occasion of Mr. Fulton's last broadcast of a South Carolina game at Clemson. They admired each other's work and were great friends.
Jim loved the Cleveland Indians. He loved baseball. Did you ever talk with him about the game today or his trip to Iowa to see the site where "Field of Dreams" was filmed? He also loved the college game. He loved his time as the Voice of the Greenville Braves. He was just in love with baseball. My last conversation with him -- last Saturday in the press box at Clemson -- was a discussion about baseball and in particular the horrible treatment of Ted Williams since the Splinter's passing. Jim could not believe the way things have come down for Ted Williams since his death. He also told me about a book he had just read called "Teammates". It was a rich accumulation of stories about Williams from several of his former Red Sox teammates including Dom DiMaggio. Jim just loved the book. His enthusiasm just beamed through.
Jim loved country music. In 1977 when I was Bob Bradley's assistant in the sports information office at Clemson, I drove Jim to the South Carolina Sportswriter's Convention in Myrtle Beach. It was sometime in April and Charley Pell had just been named the new head football coach of the Tigers. We played golf the first afternoon and during that round, Jim told me he was going to take me to a small place that night to hear a group of young guys that he really liked. He had heard them in Greenville several times and he said their music was really great. He told several others including Luther Gaillard of the Spartanburg Herald and Rudy Jones of the Greenville News. By the time we were leaving, we had a group of about 15 heading out to see this young group. As we were leaving the hotel, up walks Charley Pell and Jim told him to come on and go with us. To our surprise, Coach Pell jumped right in. Jim was a great salesman -- he had enthusiasm! We spent the night listening to this group of young artists. There were only about five other folks there that night and so our group of 15 really stuck out. When we walked in, the group playing recognized Charley Pell right off since the members of the band had gone to Jacksonville State when Coach Pell was the football coach there. They would sing four or five songs and then take a break and come over to our table and sit.
Jim was just beaming -- he was loving the night and the music and he must have given those guys $100 that night and told them to play this song or that. He was having a real blast. He told me on several occasions that this group was going to be good. They asked Coach Pell about a certain incoming freshman named Willie Underwood. Coach Pell responded by saying Willie was going to be a great player for the Tigers.
You see, Willie was from Ft. Payne, Alabama and so were these young, struggling artists. They were the country group, Alabama, and about four years later, they were the hottest things going on the country circuit. As a matter of fact, they are having a farewell tour as we speak and have done quite well. Jim Phillips told me back in 1977 they were going to be good.
By the way, Coach Pell was right about Willie Underwood as well. He only had two interceptions during his Clemson career, but they were both in the 1980 game against George Rogers and the Gamecocks. One led to a Clemson touchdown and the other one he returned all the way for a touchdown.
Jim Phillips loved Clemson. He told me many times how proud he was that he was there when Coach Howard finished his run as the head Tiger. He was so honored to have been there for the last two seasons. Jim loved the Tiger football teams that Charley Pell put on the field in 1977 and 1978 and how they turned the program back in the right direction. He loved those bowl games and the fun around those big road games. One of his biggest disappointments was his not being allowed to broadcast the 1982 Orange Bowl when the Tigers won the national championship. It was a matter of national contracts in those days, and the Tiger Radio Network was not allowed to broadcast. Where do you think Jim was that night? Right there in Miami, of course and that took some effort. The men's basketball team had played in a holiday tournament at Texas Tech, and Jim had done both games there with Bill Foster's cagers and then flew to Miami to watch the football team. He wouldn't have missed it for the world!!
Jim loved the Tigers’ big win at Kentucky in the NIT in 1979. He loved Greg Buckner's dunk to beat North Carolina in the 1996 ACC Tournament in Greensboro. He loved the fight that Rick Barnes brought to the basketball team. He loved Jim Davis' Lady Tigers and their ACC Championships wins. Who was that who got in the team photo with Coach Davis and the ladies as they clutched the ACC championship trophy in the old Charlotte Coliseum? The one with the biggest smile was Jim Phillips.
Ask him about Bill Wilhelm and Jack Leggett and be ready to sit a while! Jim loved doing Tiger baseball. Bob Mahony was his sidekick and they made a great tandem. He loved the trips to the regionals and the College World Series. Baseball might have been his first love and he sure did enjoy broadcasting those Tiger games.
Do you get the picture? This was a man who loved many things in life including his family. To be around him you could feel his enthusiasm. He just loved what he was doing. He loved coming to work and the people around him loved him.
The reason the loss of Jim Phillips is so hard is you never knew anyone else. You see, most folks have never heard anyone but Jim Phillips broadcast a Clemson game. You grew up listening to Jim. You came to know Jeff Davis, Larry Nance, Steve Fuller and Perry Tuttle from listening to Jim. There have been a number of folks working with Jim. There have been different radio stations and different formats with the coaches’ shows. There have been a number of variables, but the one constant for the past 36 seasons has been Jim. Through the good times and the bad, he was always there.... always positive about Clemson and always spreading the gospel of the Tigers with that signature enthusiasm.
When you haven't known anyone else, it is really hard to say good-bye. Losing Jim in such an instant makes it even tougher. He was there last Saturday and now he's gone. But, thanks to memories, we will hold on to him forever.
Jim closed all of his broadcasts with the same line -- this is Jim Phillips, so long everybody. This time it's our turn. Jim, so long good buddy. You were the best and we are going to miss you. But thanks for coming our way!