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Football Game Program Feature: Enduring Voice

Football Game Program Feature: Enduring Voice

By Sanford RogersIf you close your eyes for a moment, you can still hear the echo of “Buckner Jams!  Buckner Jams!” (ACC Tournament victory over North Carolina in 1996).  How about this one?  “There is a whole lot of orange in South Bend, Indiana, and they are all on their feet” (win at Notre Dame in 1979).

My favorite is “Gardner is there and it is caught, it is caught inside the 10-yard line” (win over South Carolina on a last-minute catch by Rod Gardner and field goal by Aaron Hunt in 2000).

When looking back at the great wins and unforgettable moments in Clemson history, Tiger fans will remember the victories.  They will also remember Jim Phillips.

Today, almost 10 years to the day of his unexpected passing, it is very appropriate that the radio booth at Memorial Stadium is named in his honor.

Phillips was “Voice of the Tigers” for 401 football games and over 1,000 basketball games.  He was on the air for over 2,000 Clemson sporting events in 36 years behind the microphone.  He was a five-time recipient of the South Carolina Broadcaster-of-the-Year Award.  In 1992, he was presented the Master Broadcaster-of-the-Year Award by the South Carolina Broadcasters Association, the highest honor presented by that organization.

A member of the Clemson Athletic Hall Fame (inducted in 1998) and the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame (inducted in 2013), Phillips received the Skeeter Francis Award from the ACC Sportswriters Association for his contributions.  He was the first radio personality to receive the prestigious award.

Just reading a partial list of all the awards that Phillips garnered during an illustrious career at Clemson can be tiring.  How could one man be able to do all of this, in addition to at one time being the sports director at WYFF (Ch. 4) in Greenville, SC and later serving as the “Voice of the Greenville Braves?”

For anyone who had the privilege of listening, watching, or being a friend to Phillips (which I feel blessed to have been), the answer is an easy one.  He was the best at what he did, loved the school he was working with, and enjoyed each and every moment.

Jeff Phillips, the son of Jim and Ruth Phillips, looks back at all the wonderful honors that have been bestowed upon his father and knows he would be most pleased with the naming of the radio booth in his honor.

“My dad would be absolutely floored by this honor,” said Jeff.  “For the radio booth to have his name on it is very special.  This is something that will be there for all future generations to see.  Dad loved Clemson and loved Clemson people.  He spent over half of his life there.  He never sought accolades, but would be so happy to be honored in this way.”

To say that Phillips loved Clemson and Clemson people could not be a truer statement.  Whether it be interviewing a coach or player in any sport, to visiting with a fan in the lobby of the team hotel, Phillips was known by all.

A story from 1977 illustrates how he could persuade folks to take part in any adventure with him.  Phillips cajoled Al Adams, then an assistant sports information director at Clemson and later the founder of The Orange and White, along with a group of about 25 people to join him at a small venue in Myrtle Beach, SC to see a new country music group.  The media were in town for a South Carolina Sportswriters meeting and Phillips loved country music almost as much as he loved sports.

“Jim was quite a salesman,” remembered Adams.  “He even talked Coach (Charley) Pell into going with us.  We went to this small bar in Myrtle Beach called The Bowery.  Jim kept telling everyone he had seen this group in Greenville on White Horse Road and they were going to be good.  When we walked in, they recognized Jim.

“Looking back now, all would know the name of the group…Alabama.  This was about two years before the group was the biggest thing in country music.  Jim was such an enthusiastic person, whether it be on the radio, television, or being with his friends and family.”

Phillips’ love for life, whether it be sports, family, or country music, was easy to see.  He displayed a zest for life that came through loud and clear on the radio in the car or during the six-o’clock sports newscast.

Clemson Assistant Athletic Director Tim Bourret, who served as the football analyst with Phillips from 1982-88 and partnered with him on basketball broadcasts for 23 years, saw first-hand how at ease his fellow broadcaster was in the booth.

“Jim had such a personable approach,” remembered Bourret.  “I think that developed after being in Clemson and around Clemson fans for so many years.  Being on Channel 4 for so long also gave him a strong connection to the fans.  They would see him every night on television and then hear him on the radio whenever Clemson was playing.”

From a technical standpoint, Bourret was reminded recently of the comfortable and professional ease that Phillips had in describing the action to everyone, from Clemson to Chapin or Fort Mill to Fork. When driving home from an August football practice, Bourret was tuned to a local radio show that was replaying a call from the 1981 Clemson-Georgia game.

“He set up the play so well,” added Bourret.  “He kept up with the play and let the listener know exactly what was going on.  When you listen to that call, he was ahead of the crowd noise when Homer Jordan found Perry Tuttle for a touchdown.”

Former Head Coach Tommy Bowden, who was on the sideline for 51 games where Phillips described the action, still recalls how much he meant to Clemson.  The standard of excellence that was set by Phillips was clearly evident to Bowden.

“Jim Phillips was a true professional,” said Bowden.  “When I came to Clemson in 1999, Jim had already been here almost 30 years.  He always made me feel comfortable when I worked with him.  It is very appropriate that the home radio booth is being named in his honor.”

When most people think of Phillips, they will remember football and men’s basketball games.  However, he was the rarest of broadcasters who also served as the voice for a larger number of women’s basketball and baseball games.  All received the same level of importance when Phillips was on the call.

That display of professionalism did not go unnoticed among his peers in the industry.

Bob Harris, who has served as “Voice of Duke Football & Basketball” for 38 years, not only enjoyed this friendship with Phillips, but marveled at his quality of work in many different venues.  Harris, a three-time North Carolina Sportscaster-of-the-Year, still admires the work and dedication of such a dear friend.

“Jim was one of the first play-by-play guys I met when I got into the ACC in 1975,” recalled Harris.  “We gravitated towards each other.  A friendship was destined between the two of us.  We had a lot in common.  We both worked for good schools that had good athletics.

“We had such a great friendship.  I remember when I got the call that he passed away.  It tore me up for awhile.  He was a good man and I enjoyed being around him.  He was a first-class broadcaster and I am glad that the football booth at Clemson is being named in his honor.  It could not have been done for a better man.”

September 9, 2003 was a sad day for Clemson.  Just days after broadcasting a 28-17 win over Furman, Phillips passed away suddenly from an aneurysm of the aorta.  He was just 69 at the time of his death. The remainder of that week was a difficult one.  Following a visitation in the President’s Box at Memorial Stadium, he was laid to rest on Friday, September 12, with family, friends, and broadcasters from around the ACC in attendance.

Clemson had a football game the next day against Middle Tennessee.  Prior to the contest, there was a moment of silence for Phillips.  All Clemson coaches and players wore a “JP” logo on their coaches shirts and helmets for the remainder of the season.  The video screen in Memorial Stadium flashed pictures of him during his Clemson career and some of his best audio calls were played.  At

The most difficult question was who would be behind the microphone for Clemson for the first time since 1968.  At the request of the Phillips’ family, Bourret would handle the play-by-play duties.  In addition to color analyst Will Merritt, there was another familiar voice in the booth.

Most fans would find it hard to believe that Phillips and Bob Fulton, “Voice of the Gamecocks” for 43 years, called a drive that ended in a touchdown again Middle Tennessee.  But for anyone who knew Phillips, the addition of Fulton was an easy one.

“My dad and Bob Fulton loved each other,” remembered Phillips’ son.  “When Bob retired from South Carolina, dad was one of the people who came up with the idea to honor Bob at Clemson before his last Clemson-Carolina game.  For Bob Fulton to be a part of such a difficult day was so special to our family.”

Jeff, now a minister in Columbia, was in the radio booth alongside Bourret, Merritt, and Fulton, as was veteran-spotter Sack Bagley and statistician Harold Vigodsky.  The professional manner in which Bourret handled the play-by-play duties and the special assist from Fulton was one to remember.

“Tim had never done play-by-play for football, but it seemed like he had done it forever,” remembered Phillips.

“I will never forget Bob Fulton.  All the people in the stands below the radio booth turned around with tears in their eyes watching him instead of the field.

“For Bob Fulton to be sitting there wearing a Clemson hat and calling a Clemson touchdown is something that I will never forget.  There were a lot of tears in that radio booth, but so many of those tears were happy ones.  Dad would have been so happy to have Tim Bourret and Bob Fulton, two longtime friends, honoring him in such a way.”

When Bourret looks back on that day, there is one play that sticks out.  Both he and Merritt had a feeling that Phillips was looking down on their efforts that afternoon.

“There was a touchdown from Charlie Whitehurst to Derrick Hamilton over the middle,” recalled Bourret.  “I had seen them run this play in practice based on the formation.  Of course they could have run anything.  Before the play was run, I said, ‘Let’s look out for a pass over the middle to Derrick Hamilton.’  That was exactly what happened.  Will Merritt looked at me and said I must have gotten a message from Jim Phillips in Heaven that that was going to happen!”

This afternoon when Phillips is honored, there will be a younger generation that never had the opportunity to hear his wonderful description of so many Tiger victories.  Perhaps that younger generation will take a minute to find a few of those calls on many sites on the web, which archives such wonderful memories.  You will hear some at halftime as well.

After hearing those descriptions, they will also understand why Phillips is being honored in such a meaningful manner.