July 28, 2017

Cauz: Over 13 seasons, Ryan Phillips has always stood out

Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes

Week 5 is going to be so weird for me and it has nothing to do with the prospects of Bo Levi Mitchell dealing with the threat of a potential two-game losing streak for the first time since Week 2 of the 2016 season (quick props to Mitchell, who before losing 30-23 to Montreal had gone 17-0-2 since Calgary’s 20-18 loss in last year’s season opener to the BC Lions).

For the first time since season 2005, Ryan Phillips will not be in his usual position of defensive back after being released last Sunday by Montreal. This was reported on our site in a quick and efficient 134-word article. For Lions fans, most of what I am going to say will be redundant but for a player of his pedigree I think attention must be paid.

In a league where durability is cherished and elusive, Phillips stands out among a sea of MRIs and torn MCLs. In his dozen years with the BC Lions he only missed four games and at one point played in 181 straight games. Above all his other accomplishments, that one is the most extraordinary. This is such a physical game yet when you look at his profile page under the “games played” category, all you see is year after year of 18 games.

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Ryan Phillips tackles Lions receiver Marco Iannuzzi in a game in 2017 (Peter McCabe/CFL.ca)

Phillips has nearly 500 tackles, 47 interceptions, he holds five Lions defensive records, was a four-time CFL All-Star and won two Grey Cups but his attendance record is what I will remember most about his time in BC. I understand it is unfair to say that being healthy is a skill — injuries can be so random — but your ability to be available is as important as any of the other counting statistics.

Finally, Phillips played 12 seasons for one team! How often do you see a player last that long with one organization in such a transitory league like the CFL?

Phillips’ path to unemployment could not have been more predictable. Most of the time, players don’t get to dictate their final act; happy endings are in the movies, not in professional football. At the age of 33, of course Phillips’ play would start to dip, which led to the inevitable request by management for a pay cut which of course soon led to his release. I don’t blame Phillips for refusing to take a pay cut considering how much of his life he gave to the Lions, nor am I surprised that the team asked for one. There is no such thing as a lifetime supply of uncompromising loyalty in football and when teams need to save money or go on a youth movement, no one is spared.

The real shame is just how quickly it ended for Phillips with his new team, Montreal. But sticking with the same theme from the previous paragraph, you could see this coming. Phillips was dealing with hamstring issues in training camp, suffered a head injury in Week 2 against Edmonton, was a healthy scratch against Calgary and then soon after was released. I can only bet just how frustrating the past couple months have been for the proud veteran.

My hope is that this column will soon be obsolete, that Phillips will be picked up by another team and will be given a chance to thrive again. Ryan’s twitter timeline is filled with pleas from fans across the country for him to join their respective team.

Ryan Phillips spent 12 seasons as a defensive back with the BC Lions (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)

Considering the Tiger-Cats have given up a CFL record Ka-Billion passing yards through three games I wouldn’t be surprised if Phillips finds work soon. I’d love to see a return to the Lions with a chance to break the team’s all-time interception record of 51 held by Larry Crawford but I think that ship has sailed. Phillips’ former teammate (albeit for a brief period of time) Nik Lewis tweeted out: “Whoever gets @ryan_4real21 is getting a great player and great teacher. He will be missed. #Respect”.

Ryan certainly has the mindset to be able to rise above this adversity. In an interview he did during Lions training camp in 2016, Phillips said: “You gotta make your game progress every single year. There is always something you can learn. The game always changes. When you get that new opportunity you have to continue to have your game adapt you can’t be the same all the time” (Full interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGzrsCuvJgM).

Considering where Phillips is today, those words sound so prophetic. Here’s hoping Phillips can adapt his game to a new opportunity.