JERSEY CITY, N.J.––It’s appropriate that just days before Super Bowl XLVIII, Denver Broncos defensive end Shaun Phillips paid homage to his hometown hero Reggie White.
A native of Philadelphia where White began his career with the Eagles, Phillips grew up watching ‘The Minister of Defense,’ in awe of his ability to get to the quarterback.
“Seeing that ‘Hump’ move throughout his career was unbelievable,” said Phillips. “I think it just made me want to be a pass rusher and want to get sacks. He was obviously a dynamic player, to me the best pass rusher ever.”
The part that’s particularly apropos is White’s famous “Hump” technique is what catapulted him to Super Bowl stardom as a member of the Green Bay Packers, sacking New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI.
White’s signature sack was one of three that day when he absolutely abused Patriots right tackle Max Lane. The Packers defensive end set up Lane by using a bull rush earlier in the game and then getting him off balance, batting him with his forearm and beating lane to the inside.
Phillips described White’s “Hump” move as, “When you get the guy upfield and you club him past. He’s beat a few players around the league with it.”
A few is putting it mildly. White was the NFL’s all-time sack leader before being passed by Bruce Smith.
And now it’s Phillips who’s aiming for Super Bowl success of his own. In his 10th year in the league, the Broncos defensive end is making his first appearance in the NFL’s title game after signing as a free agent with the Broncos in the offseason.
Phillips spent the first nine years of his career with the Chargers in San Diego, gaining a reputation as one of the league’s better pass rushers. He knows he’s not Reggie White, certainly not possessing the same size as the late Packers legend, but Phillips still is effective in his own right.
Broncos head coach John Fox talked on Wednesday about the process of bringing Phillips to Denver and the job he’s done as a starter on the AFC championship squad.
“Shaun was a guy that we knew pretty well from competing against,” said Fox. “He was with the Chargers. He kind of had been a thorn in our side for some time. So he came over, and I think when you see people in a jersey and you don’t really know them, you know how they play football, and you watch plenty of video on that, but he’s been a great addition as a leader.
“He’s been really good for our defensive line room. He’s a fun guy to be around. He brings energy to the building every day, so I’ve been nothing but impressed with him and pleased for him because he’s had a heck of a season.”
Phillips has played an integral role for the Broncos in 2013, racking up 10 sacks in the regular season and two more in the divisional-round win over his former team, the Chargers.
Next up is the Seattle Seahawks, who Phillips will face on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where he’ll look to channel his inner White.
It was Philadelphia where Phillips was raised when he first began to idolize White, but playing on the same stage as his hero wasn’t easy coming from the City of Brotherly Love.
Calling it a “concrete jungle,” Phillips said there weren’t many grassy areas in his childhood neighborhood and instead focused on basketball during his formative years, the same sport both his mother and father played.
Phillips never picked up football until he was in the ninth grade, but his raw talent was undeniable. One moment that stands out in Phillips’ mind was a high school game in which he recalls having either eight or nine sacks and fans of the opposing team throwing bricks at his team’s bus after the contest.
Throughout high school, Phillips still considered basketball his primary sport, but it was his football coach that got him to change his mind, telling him, ‘You could be a Division II basketball player or you could be a Division I football player, so what do you want to do?’”
Choosing football, Phillips eventually landed at Purdue. But even then, he still didn’t know how much potential he really possessed.
“I still didn’t know I was good yet because I was still learning the game,” said Phillips. “I didn’t know I was good until my sophomore year and (my coaches) were like ‘Hey, you could be one of the best here if you put your mind to it.’ From that point on, that’s when I put my mind to it.”
Phillips has been on the upswing ever since, being named to his first Pro Bowl in 2010 and now has the opportunity to earn his first Super Bowl ring, just like White, even though they’re different types of players.
“You emulate his work ethic, but his moves and my moves are two different,” said Phillips.
If the Broncos win, it won’t matter much that Phillips and White are different. Whatever works.
See Reggie White’s Super Bowl “Hump” Move about 19 seconds into the video.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.