NASHVILLE, Tenn. —It started as a tribute, but "happened to be kind of cool."
Shaun Phillips, who signed a multi-year contract with Tennessee Thursday, honors his late grandmother Jacky Phillips and simultaneously celebrates sacks of quarterbacks by acting like he's rolling a bowling ball and holding the follow-through.
Just as Jacky knocked down pins when she would take him to the bowling alley on Saturday mornings during his youth in Philadelphia, Shaun has become quite accustomed to knocking down QBs.
"The bowling celebration comes from my grandmother. It's a big tribute to her. She was real inspirational in my life and in helping raise me," Phillips said. "She was a really big bowler and she passed away, so it's kind of one of my things I do to commemorate her, but it happened to be kind of cool, too, so it works out. I'm looking forward to getting my first strike in a Titans uniform."
Phillips quickly tweeted about his new home:
Yes it's true I'm taking my bowling game to Cashville. — Shaun Phillips (@ShaunPhillips95) March 27, 2014
Phillips brings 10 years of NFL experience that includes 79.5 career sacks, 526 total tackles, seven interceptions, 46 passes defensed, 22 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries. He played nine seasons in San Diego after the Chargers drafted him in the fourth round (98th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft, and spent last season in Denver.
"Shaun is an athletic pass rusher, who has been a productive player his entire career," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said in a statement. "His flexibility is an asset as well – being raised as a 3-4 linebacker and having success as a 4-3 end last year. He will add to our mix of pass rushers and improves that group from a production and experience standpoint."
In spite of his successes on the field that include four seasons with at least 9.5 sacks, a league-leading seven forced fumbles in 2009 and selection to the Pro Bowl after the 2010 regular season, the bowling lanes are still a central part of Phillips' memory lane.
"I used to go to the bowling alley and watch her, and she taught me how to bowl. It was one of the things that was near and dear to her heart, so it's near and dear to my heart," Phillips said. "That was an every weekend thing, waking up, first thing in the morning on Saturday, going bowling. It was her thing to do, her pastime."
Would Jacky ever let her grandson win?
"Uh, never," he said. "One thing about my grandmother is she won at everything she did: a raffle drawing, she always won. She was such a good person that she was born to win and I kind of feel like that about myself."
Although he's more comfortable as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, Phillips helped the Broncos make it to Super Bowl XLVIII last month as a defensive end in Denver's 4-3 system. He said he texted former Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who signed a multi-year contract with Tennessee earlier this month, about his excitement to play more outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's hybrid system.
Phillips said he likes the talent on Tennessee's roster and he thinks he and Woodyard can add experience to a position group that includes four players who have been drafted by the Titans in the fourth round or higher since 2011 (Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy in 2011, Zach Brown in 2012 and Zaviar Gooden in 2013).
"You just need a good mix of guys. You need the old, wise, veteran professionals that know how to be pros and you need the young, speedy, athletic guys that run around with their hair on fire and you've just got to point them in the right direction," Phillips said. "It's good to have a good nucleus, and I think that's what we need. The younger guys usually feed off the older guys, and act how the older guys act or how their coach acts, so we really want to bring that positive, 'Let's go get it,' winning edge here."
As Phillips walked into the Titans' conference room to sign his contract he noticed a picture of Jevon "The Freak" Kearse sacking Tim Couch. Phillips said he was familiar with Kearse's success and wants to replicate it.
"They brought me in to get after the quarterback, and one thing I'm good at is getting after the quarterback, so I'm looking forward to that," Phillips said. "A guy like Freak in the Tennessee Titans jersey is one of the guys I looked up to when I was coming out. He was a tremendous player and I want my picture up on the wall in the same way."