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Mike Marshall: Give the man a cigar

I know a lot of stories about Phillip Marshall. Some of them can actually be printed.

Columnist Mike Marshall

Here are some of my favorites from the 30 years I’ve known him.

My earliest memories of Phillip had nothing to do with his formidable presence. In those days, he was like Carl Stephens over the Jordan-Hare Stadium public-address system - not as melodious, mind you, but a voice that could boom to Loachapoka.

Before I ever heard or saw Phillip, though, I smelled him - or smelled his cigars, to be more precise. I believe Phillip smoked Rigolettos and Garcia and Vegas back then.

I was the sports editor of The Plainsman when I was a student at Auburn, and I covered most of the football games in 1983, my senior year. There were several big games that season, so I had several opportunities to smell Phillip’s cigars.

My introduction to Phillip and his cigars, as I recall, came in the second week of that season, when Auburn played Texas. The game kicked off around 11 a.m., and I was among the last of the writers into the press box, probably the result of a long night of fellowship with my classmates.

As I walked off the press elevator that morning, I inhaled the aroma of something unfamiliar to the patrons of The War Eagle Supper Club, Harry’s and Denaro’s, my most likely destinations the previous night.

It was the smell of those Garcia and Vegas or Rigolettos. Nothing but the finest for the sports editor of The Montgomery Advertiser, now the senior editor for Auburn Undercover.

In another week or so, other than providing two columns per week, Phillip will be leaving this website to work at AuburnTigers.com. He’ll join his old friend, Charles Goldberg, who was probably in the press box on the day I received my first whiff of Phillip’s cigars.

I don’t think I need to tell any of you what a loss Phillip will be to this website. He’s the hardest working sports writer I’ve met, and it’s not even close. I’m certain no one could have built this website as Phillip did.

I worked with Phillip at The Montgomery Advertiser and The Huntsville Times. The only difference between Phillip now and when I worked with him is that he works even harder now, a phenomenal accomplishment for a man heading toward his middle 60s.

It’s an injustice - an absolute injustice - that Phillip is not a member of the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Hall of Fame. Only the pettiness and ignorance of a bloc of writers have prevented him from receiving the honor he has deserved for so long.

Phillip was in his early 30s when I met him. He was built like a lineman, and he had a mustache that looked like something you'd see on an Old West sheriff - thick and bushy.

Later in that 1983 season, I was on the Auburn sideline for the final minutes of the Auburn-Georgia game. In those days, Georgia was the powerhouse of the Southeastern Conference, winners of almost 20 conference games in a row.

Auburn dominated the game. But Auburn’s lead was only 13-7 after a Georgia touchdown with only minutes to play. I stood behind Phillip and John Pruett, the sports editor of The Huntsville Times, as Georgia lined up for the onsides kick.

I don’t think either of them knew me. They certainly didn’t know how much I despised Georgia, mainly because of my strong Georgia roots.

The onsides kick bounced once ... twice...three times.

“Oh, my goodness,’’ I yelled - or words to that effect - after each bounce, my voice rising like Phillip’s during a poker game or one of his good press-box stories.

John and Phillip looked back at me after Georgia recovered the onsides kick.

“Well, there goes any chance I’ll ever have of working for The Montgomery Advertiser or The Huntsville Times,’’ I thought.

Eight months later, Phillip hired me. He gave me my first job, and I spent a lot of time with him. I rode with him to football games and Southeastern Conference basketball tournaments, and he liked to torture his young writers on long trips by refusing to stop the car when one of us needed to go to the bathroom.

We always bought him fish sandwiches and large Coca-Colas with lots of ice from the Hardee’s by St. Margaret's Hospital, and we always went with him to the bowling alley when he told us it was time to leave work around midnight.

There were always the cigars, too, like the time some Florida student saw a few sticking out of Phillip’s shirt pocket during the final minutes of the Auburn-Florida game in 1994.

I was standing next to Phillip as Florida was trying to run out the clock with a 33-29 lead.

“Hey, old man,’’ the Florida student yelled at Phillip, seeing the cigars in his shirt pocket. “Give me one of those cigars.’’

Phillip walked over to the front row of the stands and gave the student a cigar. The Florida student and his buddies thought that was funny.

Then, for some reason, Florida decided to pass. Auburn intercepted and began the game-winning drive.

After Patrick Nix’s touchdown pass to Frank Sanders with only seconds to play, there would be no victory cigar for the Florida student.

“Hey, old man,’’ the Florida student yelled again.

Phillip walked over to the student and took the cigar, the wrapper still unopened.

Mike Marshall (no relation to Phillip), an Auburn graduate, was a journalist for 28 years and won more than 70 state and national awards. He won the Herby Kirby Award for the state’s top sports story three consecutive years. He also won two first-place awards from the Football Writers Association of America, a first-place award from the Associated Press Association for feature writing and the Associated Press Sweepstakes Award for the top newspaper story of any kind in Alabama. He was the Sportswriter of the Year in Alabama in 1994. He covered Auburn for The Montgomery Advertiser and covered Auburn and football recruiting for The Huntsville Times. He shares his thoughts in a column each Thursday.

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