The Corner

Bum Phillips, Winston Churchill, and Other Great Men

At the end of Impromptus today — where we traditionally let our hair down — I have a little remembrance of Bum Phillips. One can see from the mail that this old football coach was loved and admired nationwide. You didn’t have to be a fan of the team he happened to be coaching.

There’s a wealth of Bum-isms — a golden treasury of the coach’s sayings — and I recollect a couple in my column. A reader from Chicago adds another: Asked how he was spending his retirement, Bum said, “I don’t do a damn thing, and I don’t start till noon.” (Our reader says, “I try to work that in, when people ask me how my weekend was.”)

Bum’s words remind me of an exchange I had with Paul Johnson, actually. This must be Paul Johnson Day, in addition to Bum Phillips Day: I relate something about Johnson, too, in Impromptus. Anyway, Johnson writes in his brief (and wonderful) life of Churchill that the great man liked to work in bed till noon.

I said to Johnson, “That’s the only thing I have in common with Churchill: I myself work in bed till noon.” (My patterns have changed since, but be that as it may.) He said, “He really did work, though.” I protested, “Well, I do, too!” (I think I then quoted Paul’s own words back to him: “Books and articles don’t write themselves. You write them.”)

One more line from Bum Phillips, before I go: “The harder we played, the behinder we got.”

And one more — he said this about the best coaches, such as Don Shula: “He can take his’n and beat your’n, and take your’n and beat his’n.” I once knew a man from Cullman, Ala., who talked like this. He was on a golf-course maintenance staff, up north, where I lived. Makes me kind of nostalgic.

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