By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
Everybody's very happy
'Cause the sun is shining all the time
Looks like another perfect day
I love L.A.
Drafted out of UCLA by the Los Angeles Rams in 1991, those song lyrics could have easily been written for the Bruins’ All-America linebacker Roman Phifer.
“It was awesome,” Phifer said. “Going to UCLA, my best friend at the time, Ed Turner, was drafted by Cleveland and he’s a southern California kid. So, him having to go to Cleveland and I got to go right down the road to Orange County, I just thought that was unbelievable.”
With the average length of a player’s NFL career being three years, unbelievable may be a fitting way to describe Phifer’s 15-year career with the Rams, New York Jets, New England Patriots, and New York Giants.
“I was blessed. I didn’t have a whole lot of major injuries. I did break my ankle my rookie year, but after that I was pretty solid,” Phifer said. “I had a great coach early in my career, Dick Selcer, he was the linebackers coach that came in with (Rams head coach) Chuck Knox, and he really taught me a lot of great fundamentals for the game that kind of carried me over through the years and helped me become a solid linebacker.
“I worked hard and had some great head coaches along the way, obviously (New England’s Bill) Belichick, and I had some great coordinators. It was really a combination of those things and great teammates.”
Those reasons along with having a supportive family contributed to what makes Phifer most proud of his NFL career.
“I was part of three world championships with the Patriots,” Phifer said. “Obviously, those are high on the list, but I’d probably have to say what it did for my family. My parents (James and Betty Phifer) getting to enjoy seeing me play for so long and getting to experience the highs and the lows of my career. They were there the whole time, since I started playing when I was eight years old.
“My dad, even in my 15th year, came to see me play. I was with the Giants (in 2005) and didn’t really play, but I was active. I was on my way out the door, but he came to watch me. It was unbelievable, what it did for my family and all the blessings that go along with playing in the NFL. My father passed away in 2010 and those are some of the fondest memories I have of him.”
In 2016, the silver anniversary of when Phifer left UCLA for a career in professional football, he returned to the campus and is now the Director of Football Player Personnel and High School Relations. Phifer counsels the young men on their academic responsibilities and life skills as he prepares them for life as a student-athlete and beyond.
“I felt it was a great opportunity to give something back to the game. It gave so much to me,” Phifer said. “What I try to do is focus on how I can use my experiences to help with whatever their goal is. It’s about how I can help them. If it is something that I had in my past or if it is some successes that I had, I’ll share that with them. If it’s some failures, I’ll share the failures, as well.
“Each kid, they have a different outlook, a different background, a different perspective. I try to gauge each kid individually and approach it on that level.”
Phifer oversees UCLA’s Player Enrichment Program, which is very similar to the NFL’s Player Engagement Program.
“The original program was basically to encourage guys to think about other avenues outside of football,” Phifer said. “I understand the transition is tough. I understand a lot of these guys want to play in the NFL. But there’s no guarantee and the career is short-lived. There’s no guarantee you’re going to play 15 years. It may be three years. It may be two. It may be 10.
“So, I encourage them to plant seeds. I try to connect them with alumni that are in different industries and are doing well and are willing to actually help or hire student-athletes. I try to bridge those connections and encourage the kids along with the thought of going into the NFL to just consider what else they’d like to do.
“In the NFL, you could be with one team one year and establish yourself in the community, and then the next season, you’re in a different city. The thing about college, you go to school at a place that will always be your home, you’ll be an alum. These relationships will always be connected whether you go on to play in the NFL or not. It just kind of gives a little more sense of stability as far as those relationships go and the connections go here in college. I want to get kids to recognize those opportunities and take advantage of them.”