Bills defensive lineman Harrison Phillips tackles some playoff Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Author: Steve Serby
Published: 2022-01-23 02:34 am
Bills’ Harrison Phillips opens up on why there is crying in football
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Bills defensive lineman Harrison Phillips tackles some playoff Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: How painful was losing the AFC Championship game last season in Kansas City?

A: It was devastating. I cried for a significant amount of time in that locker room.

Q: When you think about that game, what comes to mind?

A: I think it happened so fast, in the sense that with our offense and how amazing that they are, and how well our defense clicks and can make big splash plays, you never thought you were out of the game. So the whole way through the game, regardless of what the score was, it was, “We’re gonna come back, we’re gonna make a big stop, we’re gonna get the ball back, offense is gonna score.” Every person in this building full-heartedly believed that we were gonna win that game all the way through that last second.

So for us to have the mindset that hey, we’re going to a Super Bowl, and then it just being ripped so fast, that was really tough. And then just in the locker room realizing that you don’t get this again … we couldn’t have promised that we were gonna be in a position to potentially go back to the AFC Championship again this year, it’s just not how football works. Most teams that make that game do not make it the following year. So for my brothers that I battled with for multiple years that aren’t here this year, knowing that that was the last time I’m gonna take the field with them, it’s just a lot of emotions involved.

Q: Does that memory of that loss fuel you and your team?

A: Yeah, I think the closer we get to it, right? When we fly in, when we’re at the hotel, pregame warm-ups, that whole atmosphere’s coming back — I think that there’s gonna be a lot of that, reminders of what that was.

Q: Is making history with a franchise that has been to four Super Bowls but never won one, is that part of your thinking, part of your goals?

A: Yeah, without question. As a player, your whole life, you say, “I want to win a Super Bowl.” You don’t say, “I want to win a Super Bowl with this team.” But if you look at all 32 NFL teams, even maybe not on this team, retired players, future players, I think a lot of ’em would say it would be really, really cool to win one with the Buffalo Bills. Who’d never been there, and had the ’90, the ’91, the ’92, the ’93 [teams lose] … I think that would make it even more special.

Q: What did you learn about Patrick Mahomes?

A: His ability to make plays and be very elusive in the pocket. I remember winning some rushes clean and him being able to scramble outside of that. That’s tough to have that mindset every single time as a rusher that even if you win, you might not get home. You guys have seen over his career the player he is.

Q: Give me an example of Josh Allen’s leadership.

A: He’s the most respected in our locker room, I would say. Not only his performance, but the leader that he is. It’s very natural, it’s very when-he-speaks-the-world-listens type thing. Really, we go as he goes, he knows that, we all know that. And we have full trust in that guy. He’s the best player in the NFL, and we love him for the person he is off the field so much — having guys over the house, and we get wings and pizza, all the great stuff that he does. … He’s just an all-around helluva guy.

(image)
Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) celebrates a touchdown during the team’s 47-17 playoff thrashing of the Patriots on Jan. 15, 2022.
AP

Q: Describe your on-field mentality.

A: I think my wrestling background kind of helps me with that, but my head’s always wrapped around winning my one-on-one battle, or obviously if I’m double-teamed, split double teams. But just the approach every snap that it’s my job to beat the man in front of me. I don’t want to lose or tie.

Q: What is intellectual mentality?

A: Obviously that was a big thing for Stanford, and I think that that’s a great slogan that we had. One of the things that helped my play jump in the NFL was anticipation, understanding offenses, knowing the play before the play, knowing the guy that you’re going against in protection and his favorite moves, and then obviously doing everything with a physical mindset and that bully attitude.

Q: What is the on-field personality of the Bills defense?

A: Chip on our shoulders.

Q: What gives you guys a chip on your shoulders?

A: We have such a high standard for ourselves and the fact that some of the things that are out of our control, which might be respect nationally or outside of the building — Pro Bowl selections, things like that. Forever in history, the 2021 season, the No. 1 defense is the Buffalo Bills, and we have a chip on our shoulder to prove that every time that we line up, every snap and every play, and try to demand that respect for our players who’ve warranted it.

Q: How much have the doubters motivated you?

A: Not something that’s really on my radar. A lot of people, if they doubt or have negative comments, they really don’t understand what they’re talking about a large majority of the time. Let’s just say somebody’s really mad at a receiver for missing a ball. There could be so many other elements of why that ball was missed — the route was different, the coverage was this. So a lot of times you just block out that noise. So I would say more than the doubters, I see more of the people who believe in me, and the people who praise me is what’s a motivator for me or something that puts a chip on my shoulders. I said when I first got drafted here, I don’t want to prove 31 other teams wrong for passing me on the draft, I want to prove one team right for why they did pick me. I’d rather make my parents and my family and my girlfriend and my friends [proud]. I’d rather go play well for them than some dude in his basement saying that I’m not a good player, that stuff doesn’t bother me.

Q: If you could pick the brain of any defensive lineman in NFL history, who would it be?

A: I’d take another couple of conversations with Kyle Williams, I guess. He’s definitely one of the smartest players at the position, and someone I always refer back to with any questions or things that come up.

Q: How about someone you’ve never met?

A: Maybe John Randle. The way that he kind of changed the game early on for [nose tackles]. Prior to him, it was more of those huge 350-pound noses, two-gapping, reading and he kind of brought that attack mindset to the noseguard position, which is what we have in our defense.

Q: If you could face any running back in NFL history, who would it be?

A: Growing up I was a huge fan of LT, LaDainian Tomlinson, so I think that would be cool to say that I tackled him. Barry Sanders would be pretty cool as well, since I was teammates with his son in college.

(image)
LaDainian Tomlinson in action with the Chargers in 2009.
AP

Q: Speaking of teammates at Stanford, give me your favorite story about Giants linebacker Blake Martinez.

A: “Horse Legs” Blake, he’s the strongest dude in the weight room. There’s not very many people I would say that would take football as serious as I do, and he is one of those people where his life is football — training, eating, sleeping, every decision he makes is about his performance in football. And that was a really good mentor for me to have. He’s three years older than me, so he was going into his junior All-American season my freshman year. He took me under his wing and really built a lot of the identity that I had as a football player. … We would break into our college training room together by brute force. We would rip a door open that was locked from the inside, to get in and do extra cold tub and recovery at midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning. They changed the locks on there, and sure enough if you pull it hard enough you could rip the door open.

Q: You never got in trouble for that did you?

A: We got some wrist slaps, especially when they had to replace the lock. But they didn’t put a camera by that door, so our shenanigans continued.

Q: Describe your first NFL sack, against the Giants in 2019.

A: The third-down plan wasn’t going exactly how we wanted to, and so they put me out there for a third down, which wasn’t something that I had done really in my rookie year too much, I was more a first- and second-down player. That was the very first play that I was out there on third down, I ended up getting in on a [half]-sack of Eli Manning. That’s something that I’ll always remember, I was so hyped and so pumped.

Q: Did Eli say anything to you?

A: No, I think he was more concerned ’cause there was a fumble on the play as well, and I didn’t even know there was a fumble. I got the sack and got up and I didn’t even know how to react and control my emotions, so I didn’t even realize the ball was on the ground. So I got some coaching points from my vets in the room to make sure I finish the play (chuckle).

Q: If you could sack any quarterback in NFL history, who would it be?

A: Tom Brady.

Q: What do you remember about Stanford playing against Sam Darnold when he was at USC?

A: I was always very impressed with Sam. I thought that when he went No. 3 overall that was a very respectable place for him to go. Situations are tough that you get drafted into sometimes, coaching styles, whatever it is, but I still believe in Sam Darnold, I still believe that he’s a good football player. He has great mobility, he makes unbelievable throws. I think with the right weapons, he’s a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Q: Whatever comes to mind: Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

A: When I think of Dabes, I think of him on the golf course in the offseason when I’m here. But Dabes is an unbelievable offensive-minded guru. He’s changing the landscape of offense in the NFL, and will be an amazing head football coach.

Q: New Giants GM, and former assistant Bills GM Joe Schoen.

A: Joe’s been very consistent in my time here, always obviously done a fantastic job scouting talent when you look up and down our roster, the development they’ve had of players here.

Q: Defensive end Jerry Hughes.

A: Generous. I’ve probably gone out to eat with Jerry or gone over to his house at least 100 times in my four years here, and he’s never ever let me pay for a bill. No matter how hard I try. If somebody’s got a foundation, he’s the first person to write a check to it.

Q: Defensive tackle Ed Oliver.

A: Ed Oliver is a kid in a grown man’s body, has a ton of energy, and is a freak football player.

Q: Coach Sean McDermott.

A: Very consistent head football coach, good leader and great person.

(image)
Bills coach Sean McDermott
AP

Q: Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

A: Fantastic person and coach. Super-, super-excited for the opportunities that are in front of him, and I let him know that I’m proud of him.

Q: You once went 330 days without football after suffering a torn ACL in 2019.

A: I hate saying it because it makes it seem like I’m privileged, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through — not that I haven’t had more adversity in my life, but when you care about something that much and it’s taken away from you, it’s hard to describe. I remember that in the middle of plays, those milliseconds going on in between a play when the ball’s too far away but if I do go a little bit further, a little bit harder, maybe I could make the play. … Those times passed in my brain when I remember saying, “I would do anything to go out on a field right now.” That was a very low part in my life, and I struggled with the mental aspect of things.

Q: When did your NFL dream begin?

A: The earliest memories I have as a person was playing football in the front yard by myself imagining myself as an NFL football player … 3 years old, 4 years old. It has been something that I’ve actually struggled with it because it’s so much of my identity. My whole life I was a football player, “I’m gonna be a football player.” I know the day that football’s taken from me, it is gonna be very hard. It consumes me.

Q: The Bills Mafia. How many do you expect to see at Arrowhead Stadium?

A: Well, I hope that there were some tickets for sale. I know Chiefs fans are pretty notorious for swooping those tickets up early. Their charitable efforts always surprise me with such a smaller market that we have here. The awareness that they bring to other foundations and charities is truly remarkable.

Q: How would you describe them as a fandom?

A: Best fans in the world.

Q: Boyhood idol?

A: Growing up I really enjoyed Danny Woodhead because he was from Nebraska, he played for Chadron State and then ended up playing in the NFL for about 10 years.

Q: Describe your parents, Paul and Tammie.

A: I can see both of my parents in the person I am today. Attention to detail, the ability to multitask, people are always especially when I was in college, “How are you running a foundation, how are you preparing for the NFL, how are you double majoring?” All at the same time. That’s definitely from my dad, his work ethic and the way that he can compartmentalize his tasks and stuff. And then all the stuff I do off the field with the caring and my heart and wanting to help everybody I can, that’s totally my mother.

(image)
Harrison Phillips sacks Mac Jones during the Bills’ 47-17 playoff victory on Jan. 15, 2022.
Getty Images

Q: You had hard times as a kid financially?

A: Yeah, we were definitely lower middle class, and at one point during the recession, my dad lost his job for almost two years and it was a very hard time in our family, a lot of tears, a lot of crying … all the stress and struggles that people financially unstable have to go through. We had to sell the house that we were in, I slept in a concrete basement, like a storage room-type thing. But they never let that affect my sister and I. And even though we couldn’t go out to eat, I would have the new baseball glove if I needed a new baseball glove, and for football season I had new cleats every year even though we didn’t have that $90 to just buy me a new pair of cleats, but they did it anyway. And so I’m forever grateful for that.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Jesus Christ, Malcolm X, and if I didn’t invite my girlfriend [Shae], she’d probably be really mad, I guess.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Friday Night Lights.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Denzel [Washington] or Will Smith.

Q: Favorite actress?

A: Sarah Roemer.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?

A: Drake.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Porterhouse, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and cookies.

Q: How many chicken wings could you eat in one sitting?

A: At least 35.

Q: Have you done that in Buffalo?

A: I’ve definitely done 30 before at Bar-Bill [Tavern], and then decided that I don’t want to push myself to the limit.

Q: You’re still a big chocolate milk guy?

A: Oh, absolutely.

Q: How did that start?

A: Well first, I don’t know who doesn’t like chocolate milk (laugh). Chocolate milk is delicious! But I think middle school when I was trying to gain weight, I just started really really, really, really picking up on it. And then in high school, it was my like go-to drink. I still order it to this day at restaurants.

Q: How did your “Horrible Harry” nickname originate?

A: There’s a children’s book called “Horrible Harry,” and so my parents used to read to me that when I was a kid, and I had done some of the things that Horrible Harry had done in those picture books, so it just kind of stuck.

Q: What is the Playmakers.org?

A: The most popular for Buffalo is Harrison’s Playmakers of Buffalo on Facebook, and actually [Thursday night], I’m bringing 100 children and young adults with special needs to Walmart to have a shopping spree on me.

Q: Why is that such an important cause for you?

A: It’s the area where I found a lot of inspiration, I found a lot of great friends. … I’ve learned a lot from this population, I had some friends who fell under this category growing up through middle school and high school, whether it was Down syndrome or autism or somewhere on the spectrum. And it’s just where my heart’s called me to serve and give these guys the best platform and opportunities that I can while I’m in the position I am.

Q: What would you have done if you didn’t play football?

A: First off I would have gone to Olympic wrestling. I genuinely believe I had a solid chance through my youth career, national champion. I rolled around with some heavyweights in college who were All-Americans, and I beat them pretty handily. … If that didn’t work out, while I was at Stanford I had some really cool unique opportunities to meet with some private equity firms and venture capitalists.

Q: Your two majors at Stanford?

A: The science of technology and sociology, and then I minored and honored in education. In 3 ¹/₂ years.

Q: Sum up why the Bills believe.

A: Trust. And the capital that we’ve built up in one another.

Q: How would you sum up what it’s like being Harrison Phillips today?

A: Blessed and grateful and still hungry. I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened in my life, I’m so blessed to think about where I’ve come from or the small chance that this white kid from Omaha, Nebraska, mom grew up on a farm, would make it to the NFL and do what I’m doing. But still hungry because complacency is not a word ever in my vocabulary and I never want somebody to describe me as. I’m very hungry and I have so many goals and pinnacles that I haven’t even smelled or touched yet, that we have an opportunity to win three more games and cross a lot of those off my lists. But still as a person, even outside of football, there’s more that I want to do with my life.

Q: What is your message to Bills fans?

A: Everyone here is fully bought in on winning this football game and what that then puts us in position to do the next week, and then what that puts us in position to do two weeks later. We all grasp that, we’re fully locked in on this football game. … It’s a very weird-shaped football, and it bounces in very weird directions. We’re doing everything on our end to control the things that we can control, and we hope that Bills Mafia is there rallying with us and to give us that extra juice come Sunday night.

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