This week, ESPN unveiled its list of the greatest single-season college football performances in the history of the SEC and the sport.
Cam Newton was appropriately ranked No. 1 in the SEC, and foolishly ranked No. 4 overall.
However, the greatest athlete of all time was an Auburn player, but his name was not Cam Newton.
He never threw a pass in Jordan-Hare Stadium, never jumped over the top to beat Bama, never hauled in a pass to beat LSU and never kicked a field goal to win the BCS National Championship.
His sport: rugby.
His name: Allen Wayne Phillips Jr.
Allen was born Jan. 25, 1977, the son of a coal miner and a stay-at-home mom. His father, Wayne, fought in Vietnam while his mother, Yvette, attended Auburn until a car accident left her with a broken back and a broken dream of graduating from the university she loved.
As many couples did in those days, Allen’s parents married a few years after Wayne returned from Vietnam and started a family. Their first child, a girl named Amber, graduated from Auburn in 1995, the first of 11 grandchildren on Wayne’s side of the family. Allen appropriately moved to AU the day after Amber’s graduation, and a stellar career began.
During his time at Auburn, Allen was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, where he met Jonathan “Shamrock” Murray, a member of the AU rugby team. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Allen’s tall and lanky figure was not the prototypical rugby frame. However, Allen’s cat-like speed was something Murray noticed would be an asset to the rugby team. He figured he would give it a try.
At Hueytown High School Allen lettered in basketball and baseball, even finishing in the Top 5 in the state in stolen bases his senior year. But rugby was a different game.
Allen struggled to learn the ins-and-outs of the game, but he quickly learned his speed on the edge was something that could help the Tigers.
He scored his first try in a match in Gainesville, Fla., against conference foe Florida. As customary, Allen was initiated as a rugby Zulu Warrior for scoring his first try and the initiation took place in the middle of an intersection in front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium prior to the Tigers and Gators annual showdown on the football field. I will leave out the details of that initiation ritual, as it’s probably not appropriate to tell here, or anywhere else.
Throughout the next few years, Allen scored many other tries and helped lead the Tigers to the 1999 SEC Championship, the last time an AU rugby team has captured the conference title.
Allen graduated from Auburn on June 10, 2000, finishing with a bachelor’s in mass communications. Tragically, on June 3, 2001, Allen was involved in a car accident that took his life four days later.
Allen was laid to rest in Oneonta next to his maternal grandparents on June 10, 2001, exactly one year to the day when he walked across the stage in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum to receive his diploma.
The legacy he left behind is one that is larger than any statue that could be erected.
During the last 11 years, The Allen Phillips Memorial Scholarship Fund at Hueytown High School has given away more than $12,000 to 14 student-athletes, several of which have gone on to graduate from AU. I know this because Allen was my brother.
Every year, the week of June 3-10 is an especially difficult one on my family. This year has been no different.
Although Allen’s memory and legacy live on through the Hueytown student-athletes, the members of the AU rugby team and all the friends and family who loved him the most, he is still missed more than I could ever explain.
While statues of Auburn’s greatest athletes stand in front of Jordan-Hare, perhaps a statue of the greatest AU athlete of them all is missing.
Of course, I may be a tad biased.
Although I know I won’t see him in a statue of bronze, I know I will see him once again.
Allen, I love you, miss you and can’t wait until that glorious day when I will see you again.
Austin Phillips is an adjunct journalism professor at Auburn University. He can be reached at [email protected].
* Rare video of Shug saying football got him through D-Day
* Sandra Dee poses with The Plainsman
* Elvis says “War Eagle”
* Alabama in Auburn gear
* Diagram of a 1983 Auburn student
* That OTHER time they burned the Glom
Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Want to advertise?
Michael Pickens says
Great article about a great man. Well done Austin. Keeping your family in my thoughts and prayers this week.
Anna Claire says
Austin, what a tribute. Your brother sounds like an amazing and wonderful man. Praying for you and your family this week and especially today.
Ed Williams says
From the heart
Tab Blair says
Very nice. He is missed. But as you said he and my dad were in Phoenix with us that day and you can be they were celebrating.
Geoff Cannon says
Well done Austin. I remember those rugby days of Shamrock and Allen. Those were some good times.
Rugby is an animal’s game played by gentlemen.
Football is a gentlemen’s game played by animals.
The home team hosts a party after a rugyby match, AU never lost a party
when I played back in the day.
That tradition was as good as the game, you have not lived till you have
attended a rugby party after a good win.
Sounds like the latter day AU ruggers carried on that tradition.
War Damn Eagle Austin, well done !
Hello Austin! I was a Rugger Hugger during 1996-2000 though our membership is not defined by how long we were this or that.When I arrived at AU..I didnt know anyone. The rugby team and Rugger Huggers became like my home away from home. They became a part of my family that I still hold very close and dear to my heart. I knew your brothwr. He was a great guy and by your accounts a great brother. Dont let his death be what reminds you of him but instead let your experiences with him..carry the memories with you and tell people how great he was because he was a great person. Allen is alive in our memories and always in our hearts. You will see him again He is an angel.smonst us and although we cantT see him we know he libed in each of us that were given the opportumity to know him. Your tribute to your late brother should be recognized by all of us that knew Allen and lets us say
to you..Thank You. And yes we should try to organize something in his memory. We will always carry him in our hearts and were giving a blessing to ever have known him. War Eagle, friend and God Bless the Allen Phillips family!
FREIDA MURPHY says
This is what it is all about. What a great story.
Lynn Speegle says
Austin—-I love you man!
Jacob Chancery says
vicki mitchell says
Austin,A beautiful article.Thoughts for you and family and many memories for Hueytown families.Grateful Matt and Allen made memories for me!
Such a great column from an amazing mentor and individual. I find myself reading it from time to time whenever I feel down or lack inspiration.
It is one of the standards by which I judge other columns.
I only expect to read more great things from Austin in the future.
Tisbeth Martinez says
What a great article, I don’t know why I did not see it before. God bless your family and keep them together in all their projects.
What a great article! I never knew about is Rugby career how awesome!