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How one family gave a Cardinals linebacker a ride from the gas station to the stadium

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It wasn't the first time that NFL player Jesse Luketa had issues with his front left tire, but on Sunday, the Cardinals linebacker found himself at a Phoenix gas station with a flat and just 45 minutes left till he had to be at the stadium for Sunday's game. He noticed a family dressed all in Cardinals gear filling up their tank next to him, so he asked for a ride. The Phillips family got him to the stadium with a few minutes to spare. J.W. Phillips was that helpful driver, and he is with us now. Hi there.

J W PHILLIPS: Hi. How are you today?

SUMMERS: I am well. J.W., tell us about last Sunday. What happened?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, it still feels like a whirlwind. Pumping gas to get to the game, Jesse was behind us and said, hey, I got a flat. Are you going to the stadium? Could I catch a ride with you? He hopped in, and the rest was history.

SUMMERS: OK, but did you believe him at first? I mean, if a guy showed up in an NFL jersey next to me, I might question this a little bit, not let him in my car.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, yeah, for sure a bit because I didn't know him, I'll be very honest. And when I went back to the car and my wife said, are you sure he plays? And I was like, hey, either way, we're going to give him a ride. And that was it.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) What was the ride to the stadium like? I mean, I'm trying to imagine what one would talk to a linebacker about just minutes before he's heading into a game.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, actually, it was funny. It was probably the most friendly family of five and a new friend conversation you could imagine, from - what'd you do for Thanksgiving, where are you from? Yes, football came up. But for the most part, he's just one of the nicest human beings you've ever met.

SUMMERS: Family of five, I heard you say. This has got to have been the coolest experience for your kids. What did they think?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, it was really cool. My son, Brody, was actually playing at halftime, funny enough, for the local flag league, so that put the cherry on top of it all.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) How long have you been a Cardinals fan?

PHILLIPS: A long time, a long time. Yeah. We - funny enough, we went to the same game last year and my wife, funny enough - just to kind of spread the awareness of it - it's Epilepsy Awareness Month. And my wife wasn't able to go. She actually had two brain surgeries at Mayo, so this was kind of an anniversary of a few things.

SUMMERS: Oh, wow.

PHILLIPS: So it was really cool.

SUMMERS: That has to have been incredible. I understand, according to the Associated Press, that the Cardinals gave you a gift of tickets to their game against the San Francisco 49ers. Do y'all have any special plans for that game?

PHILLIPS: No, just going to go cheer the team on, hopefully get to see Jesse again and say thank you. But other than that, just there to cheer the team on.

SUMMERS: Are you still in touch with Luketa and do you know if he was ever able to get that pesky tire fixed?

PHILLIPS: I haven't talked to him since. I do know through some back channels that he did get roadside assistance that night, and the car did get fixed. So he's back in action and on the road.

SUMMERS: I'm curious, what stands out to you - I know you said this was a very warm and friendly conversation with Luketa and your family. Is there anything about that conversation that stands out to you?

PHILLIPS: I think the biggest thing, and I've been telling people this - everyone I've talked to about this - he is just one of the nicest human beings you will ever meet. He is a 6'5, you know, 280-pound linebacker in the NFL. After you talk to him for 10 or 15 seconds, he's the most just unintimidating, nicest person you've ever met.

SUMMERS: I mean, what an incredible story. Most people do not get an encounter like that out of just stopping to get some gas on their way to a football game. Pretty lucky, huh?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, it's definitely one for the books and a story I'll for sure pass down through the generations.

SUMMERS: That is J.W. Phillips in Scottsdale, Ariz., who helped out an NFL player when he had issues with his left front tire. J.W., thank you so much, and I hope you have fun at that game.

PHILLIPS: Thank you. Have a good rest of your day.

SUMMERS: You, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emma Klein
Tinbete Ermyas
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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