Business As Usual For Phillips
The Tampa Tribune, published 27 October 2003

Late Sunday afternoon, safety Jermaine Phillips headed for the locker-room door. Another workday was done. As always, he left without incident. Few people recognized him. Like that really mattered. Phillips was off to celebrate his first career NFL interception, a pivotal play that jump-started Tampa Bay's 16-0 win against the Dallas Cowboys. He had a plan. He was going straight home. Again. ``A night out for Jermaine is Subway takeout, a Disney DVD and in bed by 9,'' Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin said. ``But I love that about him. He's a football player. Maturity ... doesn't begin to describe him.''

Maybe that's why Phillips wasn't concerned about finding his prized football. Somebody had it, probably one of the equipment guys. They'd get it to him, for display. No hurry. No big deal. Maybe that's why he wasn't going to watch the NFL national highlight programs, to witness the grace of his big play, to hear effusive praise from commentators. That's just not his style. One other factor. ``I don't have cable,'' he said.

Phillips is wired for the NFL life. But it's hardly the life we imagine. He gets drafted in the fifth round. He makes the roster. He hustles on special teams. He impresses the coaches. He earns a Super Bowl ring. He returns to training camp, competing for a starting job. He keeps hustling. He plugs a gap. Then he makes a play, one the Bucs really need. ``It's like anything else,'' Phillips said. ``Preparation meets opportunity. You've got to be ready.''

It was early in the second quarter of a scoreless game. The Bucs' secondary already was without injured cornerback Brian Kelly, gone for the season; and safety John Lynch, the on-field leader. Phillips was making his third start. This time, though, the bullets were flying faster. Quincy Carter, Phillips' old teammate at Georgia, was mixing the running game with short, safe patterns. But you knew it was coming. He was going deep. On third-and-11, Cowboys wide receiver Joey Galloway headed down the sideline. Phillips was responsible, but he noticed Carter's eyes, focused on the middle. Phillips didn't bite on the route. When Galloway cut toward the post, that's when Phillips made his move, picked it clean and sped down the sideline for a 41-yard return. ``That was a helluva play, a veteran play,'' cornerback Tim Wansley said. ``Jermaine can cover some ground. He didn't let the quarterback dictate to him.''

The Bucs noticed a difference after that. The Cowboys didn't look deep. Phillips was on patrol. As Galloway ran his corner-post route, Phillips instantly remembered defending a similar play against Keyshawn Johnson in training camp. He intercepted that one, too. ``You dream of making plays, not sitting on the bench,'' Phillips said. ``That was my first [NFL] interception. But I've been preparing for that moment all along.''

At the 2002 Senior Bowl, Tomlin couldn't keep his eyes off Phillips. The way he moved. The way he practiced. The way he responded to coaching. The way he kept to himself and took things to heart. ``Jermaine has a desire to be great,'' Tomlin said. ``You say that about a lot of guys. But do their actions match that desire? Jermaine's actions do.''

Phillips didn't suspect Tampa Bay's interest. He was not intimidated by the franchise's plethora of stars. He simply put his head down and went to work. ``You respect that from a guy,'' safety Dwight Smith said. ``We're all NFL players. Some guys, you just haven't seen them play yet. Now you saw Flip.''

Flip? That's one of Phillips' nicknames, inherited from his days at Georgia. Teammates also call him ``The Kenyan'' for his ability to run endlessly without showing signs of fatigue. ``I train pretty hard,'' said Phillips, who began as a wide receiver at Georgia, catching his first touchdown pass from Carter. ``Getting tired is all mental, anyway. It's how you handle it.''

You've got to be ready. You've also got to pick your spots. Phillips went home Sunday night to visit with his father, sister and 3-year-old son, Jordan, who were in from Georgia. Another quiet evening was planned. Phillips didn't want much fuss. ``I'm just a child of God who has been blessed to play this game,'' Phillips said. ``This is all so temporary. But while I'm here, I'm going to do my best.'' Sunday, he was ready.