SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In the late 1970s, Wade Phillips was in his early 30s and serving as the defensive line coach for his father, Bum, on Houston Oilers teams that lost back-to-back AFC title games to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He remembered his father coming home after the second of those losses and offering hope to stunned Oilers fans with these famous words: "Last year we knocked on the door. This year we banged on it. Next year, we're going to kick down the door."
A great sentiment, no doubt, but in reality the Oilers were beaten in the wild-card round the following season and owner Bud Adams showed the door to both Wade and Bum, firing them.
Following the Denver Broncos' 24-10 domination of the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, Wade Phillips got reflective when talking about what the defense did and what he personally accomplished. The emotional Phillips was asked how his late father would have reacted to the decisive victory, which was powered by a relentless defensive performance. "He'd be glad we kicked the door in," Phillips said.
Kick it in they did.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, aka Superman, found his Kryptonite. Phillips unleashed Von Miller and the fastest defensive team he has ever had, holding Newton to 201 net passing yards (including negative 64 yards on six sacks) and forcing four Panthers turnovers. Not only did the Broncos sack Newton six times, they hit him 13 more times.
"Coach Phillips did an amazing job," said Miller, who was named Super Bowl 50 MVP after totaling 2.5 sacks, six tackles, two forced fumbles and two hurries. "He always likes to say that mistakes are on him, but the Super Bowl is on him, too. I really appreciate everything he's done for the whole team, not just the defense."
As Broncos defenders gathered to grab the Gatorade tub, you wondered if they were going to dump the celebratory tonic on Denver coach Gary Kubiak or on Phillips. They doused Kubiak.
"I was ready to avoid them if they tried to get me," Phillips joked. Defensive end Malik Jackson offered that Phillips might still get hit with a small bucket when they get back to Denver.
The Broncos' defenders love their 68-year-old mentor. He turned an upper-echelon defense into arguably one of the top seven defenses in the history of the game. By winning the Super Bowl, they've earned the right to a great nickname, such as The Orange Rush or the No-Fly Zone.
In the playoffs, the Broncos mirrored what the 2000 Baltimore Ravens did down the stretch and in the playoffs. Denver dominated three outstanding QBs, stopping Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, beating up New England's Tom Brady, and ultimately ripping the cape off Superman.
Phillips' game plan, as always, was simple. First, he had Miller spy Newton to make sure he wouldn't beat Denver with the run (Newton finished with just six carries for 45 yards, leading the Panthers in rushing). The Broncos' pass defenders played man coverage most of the game, and little change was made with the defensive line because that group has been exceptional stopping the run.
"As far as stopping the run, we were just going to play base defense," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "We just have to do what we do best, you know, just play our assignments. They do a lot of backfield sets, so we knew that we had to be disciplined in that. As far as stopping Cam, we knew we had to put Von on him. It worked out pretty well."
The amazing part of Phillips' story? He was the second choice to be Kubiak's defensive coordinator. The first choice was Vance Joseph, then the backfield coach of the Bengals (who recently left Cincinnati to become the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator). In fact, according to a source, there is a clause in Phillips' current contract that could have made him a consultant if Joseph would have joined the team as coordinator in 2016.
Phillips might go down as one of the greatest defensive coordinators ever to coach in the NFL, though it hasn't been easy in recent years. Phillips and Kubiak were both fired by the Texans after the 2013 season, and Phillips didn't coach at all in 2014. Kubiak spent one season as the Ravens' offensive coordinator, then replaced John Fox as the Broncos' coach before the 2015 season.
"I went from unemployed to [coach in the] Super Bowl," Phillips joked. "Now, I went from unemployed to winning the Super Bowl."
Kubiak, who reunited with Phillips before the 2015 season, had so much faith in the defense in the Super Bowl that he was calling running plays on third-and-9 with a lead of only six points late in the fourth quarter. He knew the defense would protect the lead.
Earlier this season, Phillips did something he never had done as a coach. He started talking Super Bowl early in the season.
"We've said all along we started talking about winning the Super Bowl early in the year," Phillips said. "I usually don't do that, but I felt we were special. I said our goal was to be the best on defense and we made almost every one of those goals. You normally don't expect those things to happen."
Phillips joked about the Broncos' underdog status, saying, "No we don't try to use any motivation at all." In fact, he told his defense to go out and prove wrong those critics who said the Broncos couldn't stop Newton. The players responded.
"He came in and figured out how to utilize the talents," linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "With Von Miller, you can see how well he played. You can see how he utilized Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams, and those guys are more than just run-stoppers. He changed everything up to where we could be more aggressive and get to the player, but also create a lot of havoc."
Phillips prides himself on key stats. The Broncos held Roethlisberger to 16 points in the playoffs; they held Brady to 18; they limited Newton to 10. In fact, this was the only game all season in which the Panthers never led, and their 10 points were the fewest they've scored in a game all season.
The Panthers had minus-33 yards on 16 plays during which both Miller and Ware rushed Newton, including four sacks and two fumbles. And the Broncos officially tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks overall (including one of Ted Ginn Jr. on a failed receiver-pass play). So for Wade Phillips? Yes, the day was special. He finally kicked down the door.