For the first time since Shug Jordan coached the Auburn Tigers, Phil Snow was not in the press box last November during the Iron Bowl.
When the Tide and Tigers played in Tuscaloosa last fall, Phil and his wife Carolyn were birdwatching in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
But old habits die hard. By kickoff time, Phil was ready to trade his binoculars for the remote control.
"I turned to CBS and the game wasn't there," Phil tells the Journal. "They had Wyoming and New Mexico. And I said, 'Oh, No! I'm not going to be able to see the game!' But then we started punching around the dials and the WB network had the game, on so I was saved."
Phil served as WSFA's Sports Director from 1975 to 2002, more than half of the station's 50 years.
After graduating from Southern Miss, Phil landed his first television job at WKRG in Mobile in 1960.
Four years later, he was on his way to WSFA 12.
"I didn't know that I'd stay 38 years, but I think it was the right move," Phil says.
Anyone who's watched WSFA 12 over the past 40 years would agree.
Phil did just about everything in his first decade at WSFA 12: booth announcer, weather, weekend sports, a children's show.
During Carl Stephens' tenure as Sports Director, Phil covered Coach Bryant and the Crimson Tide.
"Since we had the Auburn show here and Carl was involved with it heavily, and a lot of video came our way, we felt the need to go out and cover Alabama," Phil remembers. "So I would go to all the bowl games, and even after I became Sports Director and was doing the Auburn show, I still went to the Alabama bowl games because they were the only ones going to bowls at that time."
Phil recalls having a great relationship with the Alabama coaches, including the Bear.
"Coach Bryant and I were talking and he said, 'You know I watch you all.' In the early days of cable, cable was in Tuscaloosa and he watched our 10 o'clock news each night. And he said, 'Before I take my sleeping pill I watch you,'" Phil recalls with a laugh. "I thought about that. I don't know if that was a compliment or not."
After Carl Stephens moved into management and Coach Jordan retired, Phil became Sports Director, hosting the Auburn Football Review for the next 28 years, working with Doug Barfield, Pat Dye, Terry Bowden, and Tommy Tuberville.
"Doug and I were in school together at Southern Miss. Same age, very close because we had a lot in common," Phil says. "While he had a couple of good years, the last year was really bad. We knew the change was coming, and we became really close friends and I still cherish his friendship."
"Dye was a totally different person. He was a strong character. Kind of had the Bear Bryant aura when he came. And it took me really a couple of years to get to know Pat Dye, but once he decided that I was on his side, then we had a great relationship and do to this day."
"Terry came in and that was totally different. He was young and I was a good deal older. We worked well together. We had no problem there. Just a difference. And then 'Tubby' came in, still there was this difference in age and background and so forth. But I've always been able to work well with the coaches, always enjoyed them all and am so happy that 'Tubs' has had his great year and now has established himself as one of the country's top coaches. That's a great thing."
Ironically, while Coach Tuberville was having that great year, Phil Snow was no longer part of the Auburn Football Review.
Incredibly, he found out he'd been replaced as host only when I called him last summer after seeing no mention of Phil in Auburn's media guide.
"You may be telling some news I'm not aware of," Phil said back then in his ever graceful way. When I read him the part about Rod Bramblett hosting the Auburn Football Review, Phil said, "That sounds pretty definitive to me."
Six months later, Phil is too busy to be bitter. "It was painful when I got that call from you that day," Phil says. "Made me mad of course. But you know it was just a misunderstanding. By the way, Auburn University had nothing to do with it. That was a situation where a new company owned the Auburn Football Review program, the Auburn network. They had no ties to the past. It was an economic thing. I've gotten over it. We've all kissed and made up. I have no problems with it."
"I would've liked to have been there. It must have been very exciting," Phil says.
But Phil did not look back for long. Not with all of those birds out there waiting to be recorded in his journal.
After four decades of football Saturdays, Phil and Carolyn were finally able to enjoy Autumn together.
"We did some things in the fall that we'd not been able to do in 40 years. And it was great," Phil says.
"I missed it at times, but it was a wonderful thing for Carolyn and me to be able to go places we wanted to go to in the fall and see some birds and do some things that we've never been able to do in those fall months."
I remember meeting Phil on my job interview (April, 1991) like it was last week. When I realized he started at WSFA 12 the year before I was born, I was in awe.
My first week on the job, Phil and former WSFA chief photographer Vic Irving took me to Auburn's A-Day game.
It was just a few minutes before Phil was scheduled to report live from Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the engineer back at the station told Vic he was not seeing his microwave signal.
I panicked. By contrast, Phil and Vic were calm, cool and collected. Just seconds before Phil's cue, Vic miraculously got the signal straightened out, and the shot went off without a hitch. No sweat.
They had worked together every day for 20 years. So when Vic died unexpectedly five years later, no one took it harder than Phil.
But somehow, Phil was able to gather himself that night on the air, and pay tribute to Vic with a eulogy that was so heartfelt and beautifully written, it should be used in college classes to teach students the proper way to write for broadcast. I don't think Phil would mind me sharing it here:
July 23, 1996: ALL OF US HERE AT CHANNEL TWELVE HAVE LOST A DEAR FRIEND, AND SO MANY OF YOU OUT THERE, BECAUSE VIC KNEW LOTS OF FOLKS...
HE LOVED PEOPLE...AND WE LOVED HIM.
VIC WAS OUR CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER..HE CAME TO WORK AT WSFA 24-YEARS AGO...PICKED UP A NEWS CAMERA IN 1975 AND NEVER PUT IT DOWN.
HE WAS GOOD....HE WAS QUICK.. MOST OF THE VIDEO YOU HAVE SEEN OF AUBURN FOOTBALL IN THE LAST 18-YEARS WAS SHOT BY VIC. HE LOVED THE PLAYERS...AND THEY LOVED HIM....EVERYTIME I WENT TO AUBURN WITHOUT VIC....EVERY PLAYER AND MEMBER OF THE AUBURN STAFF WOULD SAY...WHERE'S VIC?
VIC HAD A WARMTH ABOUT HIM EVEN STRANGERS COULD SENSE......WE WERE IN THE CITY OF MANOUS, BRAZIL, ON THE AMAZON RIVER, IN A GHETTO, BUILDING A CHURCH...AND ALL THE LITTLE KIDS GATHERED AROUND VIC...HE HAD A BALL.
IF I MAY ADD JUST ONE PERSONAL NOTE...I'VE LOST AS GOOD A FRIEND AS I HAVE ON THIS EARTH.
When Rhonda and I became parents a decade ago, Phil again displayed his wonderful gift for turning a phrase that night on the air. "I would say little Sara is a very lucky young lady. She has two parents who will love her and care for her, and as we say in the South, give her good raising."
You don't forget words like that.
Taking the torch from Phil two years ago has been a wonderful opportunity and an awesome responsibility.
Every day I come to work, I'm mindful that Phil , along with Leroy Paul, Earl Hutto, and Carl Stephens , have built a 50-year foundation that is rock solid.
Next week, we'll visit with many of the other members of the WSFA 12 Sports team from the past 30 years from A to Z (Albers to Zurik).
See you then!