HOUSTON -- Thousands turned out for Bum Phillips' memorial Tuesday night at Lakewood Church. It was a celebration of his life.
Loyalty and love were not just convenient catchphrases for this coach. The crowd heard stories about when Bum was sick, when he had heart surgery years ago, or was dying this time, and when his old players would go to the ranch in Goliad and stay for days to give support. That's love.
The service began with film clips from the Houston Oilers’ glory days with their song playing full throttle.
Former tight end Mike Barber officiated the service.
“It almost makes you want to put your hand over your heart,” Barber said.
If the Oilers song was this city’s anthem, the Oilers coach was its team leader in the early 80s. By now, the Bayou City knows Bum was the Oilers winning coach, but there was talk Tuesday night about what many in this generation may not know.
Radio Sports talk show host Barry Warner explained how Bum recruited black players from segregated schools.
“In the midst of the civil rights movement that polarized our nation, Bum Philips opened the door for African Americans to go to college,” Warner said.
Bum didn’t just coach NFL players, he also coached prison inmates as part of a ministry run by Barber.
“He was so at ease it made me wonder if that was not an environment he had been in before,” said Angola Prison Warden Burl Cain.
Among those paying their respects was Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.
“He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Texans,” McNair said. “He came to the practices, he came to the games, sat in my suite with me.”
Former players were everywhere. It was a reunion of sorts. Many were like family, including running back Earl Campbell. The Tyler Rose lost his own father when he was 11, so Bum filled that spot.
“We talked about some of the things that a father and son would talk about,” Campbell said. “ You know, I just borrowed him a little while from Wade.”
Wade “Son of Bum” Phillips, now the Texans defensive coach, shared his dad’s secret.
“He knew how to motivate people, how to treat people, how to work with people, not just coach them,” Wade said.
Bum’s wife Debbie shared the secret to the “luv of luvya Bum.”
“There’s Bible verse that says we love because he first loved us, and people loved Bum cause he loved them first, and it’s wonderful,” Debbie said.
Bum’s youngest daughter formally addressed the crowd. She told fans, after retirement her father traded in his identity as a coach for his faith and was not baptized until this year at age 89.
She said her dad would say “it's never too late.’”
Bum Phillips passed at 90.