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Fans treated like friends at Bum Phillips book signing

By KBell
Aug. 31, 2010 at 3:31 a.m.
Updated Sept. 1, 2010 at 4:01 a.m.

Former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips signs copies of his biography at the Welder Center on Tuesday evening. In conversation is Gerry Reyna and her daughter, Marla, of Goliad.

Wearing his signature cowboy hat, football legend Bum Phillips sat with his wife, Debbie, inside the Welder Center Tuesday night, autographing books and treating fans more like friends.

"We're in the phonebook," the Goliad resident told many locals after handing back his wet-inked autobiography, "Bum Phillips: Coach, Cowboy, Christian," which he wrote with Advocate Public Services Editor Gabe Semenza.

Phillips was the charismatic head coach of the Houston Oilers from 1975 to 1980, during the team's "Luv Ya Blue" period.

But many of those who stood in line to see Phillips on Tuesday night, see him every day and know about the down-to-earth man behind the fame.

"In Houston, when he was coach, he seemed like a regular guy," Dan Garza said. "When he moved to Goliad, we knew he was a regular guy."

Garza said he was fortunate to have Phillips as a dental patient in Goliad.

"He's as good a guy as you'll ever meet," Garza said.

Gerry Reyna, also a Goliad resident, expressed the same sentiment.

"He's a legend and something we've known about for years," she said. "But he's approachable to everyone."

Reyna was there with her 12-year-old daughter Marla, who said she goes to school with Phillips' grandchildren.

"To them, he's just kind of a nice guy in our community," Reyna said of the younger generations. "The kids go, 'Oh, he's famous?'"

When told of his community's adoration, Phillips grabbed the brim of his hat and shook his head. "I've always been as happy to see people as they are happy to see me," he said. "I've never looked at myself as anything but an average guy."

At the very front of the line that stretched the block outside the Welder Center stood Roy and Karen Zengerle, who arrived an hour before doors opened.

"We were eager to get tickets because there's nothing like Bum Phillips," Roy said. "He's a great character and a great football coach."

But, as the title of Phillips' book suggests, the 86-year-old is more than just a coach.

"We also read in the paper one of his testimonies," Karen said. "It was overwhelming."

After retiring from coaching, Phillips began working with prison ministries, during which time he said he dedicated his life to Jesus Christ.

In the midst of all of his accomplishments, Phillips said believing in Christ is the one for which he's most proud.

"That's bigger than any first down I ever got," he said, sitting in the theater's green room while the film "NFL Lost Treasures: Bum Phillips," played for an audience of about 300.

With him was his wife. The couple was celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary that same night.

Phillips said she was the one who put him up to writing the book, which she said would serve as a gift to his 23 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

The crowd waiting outside the Welder Center after Tuesday's downpour surely appreciated the gift as well.



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