Then-New England Patriots linebacker Roman Phifer celebrated as they defeated his former team, the St.Louis Rams to capture his first title.
The journey to that win began in North Carolina. As an 8-year-old boy, Phifer saw most of his neighborhood play and wanted his own helmet to put on his head.
“Everyone played,” Phifer said. “So when I saw most of my friends that had their pop warner uniforms and got their helmets and stuff and I wanted to have my own helmet.”
Phifer pleaded with his dad to play but he was too late to sign up.
“I had to wait a whole year,” Phifer said. “So that kept me on the edge but I always loved the game and camaraderie.”
Phifer grew up a middle child with two sisters. It was his older sister in particular that pushed his competitiveness.
“My older sister was really tough, she was a good athlete too and she was super fast,” Phifer said. “I couldn’t outrun her until I got into junior high school, she really kept me competitive, she challenged me all the time, anytime I made her mad, I couldn’t outrun her, [she was always] competitive.”
From football to basketball to track, Phifer played whatever sport he could at South Mecklenberg High School. He was a three-year letterman. In his senior season, he was a two-time All-Conference selection and earned All-County and Charlotte Post Athlete of the Year honors.
All of those sports helped Phifer hone his skills on the football field.
“Basketball really helped with the athleticism,” Phifer said. “Really just having the body control and being able to move your field, track obviously with running, speed, endurance, being in shape, they all kind of fit where they helped me in football in some kind of way.”
Phifer was always a fan of UCLA and loved the team colors. When the Bruins started to recruit him, he knew they were the perfect fit.
“When I found out they were recruiting me it was just like ‘Wow this is awesome,'” Phifer said. “I thought it was one of those meant to be type deals, I had an incredible visit and I knew at that point I wasn’t going anywhere else, this is where I wanted to go.”
Early in his stint at UCLA, he landed in some trouble. He was suspended for the 1989 season due to a physical altercation and while upset with himself, he looks back at it as something that made him more mature.
“I learned a good lesson from it,” Phifer said. “It just made me think more of my choices, the decisions I was making so it turned out to really help me focus more once I got back on the team on my career and doing the right things.”
Phifer made the best of his chances and he was picked in the second round by the Los Angeles Rams.
“I would’ve been happy being picked in the seventh round,” Phifer said. “I just wanted an opportunity, I would’ve been happy anywhere, but I was glad to have an opportunity and the Rams were the first team to give me that opportunity to live my dream.”
In 1999, Phifer signed with the New York Jets on a three-year, $8.9 million contract. After the 2000 season, the Jets released him before he was due to receive $2.5 million.
The now 33-year-old Phifer was looking for a new home. The Patriots came knocking. The former Ram and Jet was being actively recruited by then Patriots linebacker and close friend Willie McGinest to come to Foxboro. The pair worked out in the same gym and McGinest was persistent.
“He used to say ‘Hey man we need another linebacker,” Phifer said. “[And] ‘Why don’t you think about coming to the Patriots it’s a good deal’ and Bill [Belichick] had given me a call a couple times so they just sparked my interest.”
The pairing was a match made in heaven as both he and his new coach Bill Belichick wanted badly to beat the Jets whenever they could.
“It always felt good to be in the same division,” Phifer said. “Belichick had some bad blood, I had some too and so being a part of playing the Jets was always great.”
Phifer’s move to New England paid dividends. During his time in Foxboro, the journeyman recorded 233 solo tackles, and four sacks.
The moment he got there in 2001, Phifer knew he made the right decision because of how the group all held a common goal.
“There were a lot of guys [there] kinda like me just happy to be there and happy to have the opportunity,” Phifer said. “[Guys] willing to work hard, we were in a humble state so to speak, I was just released by the Jets, there were some other guys that were coming from other teams that were released and just looking for an opportunity.”
Although long retired, Phifer is still remembered by fans for his hard work and is always shocked at the hero’s welcome he gets.
“I’m an old-timer when it comes to New England and [the Dynasty] and the legacy is still going,” Phifer said. “It feels good to come here and have people appreciate you being a part of that legacy and what we did back in the early days before they were the team they are today, it always feels good to be up here, it’s just a good atmosphere and brings back good memories.”
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