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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.

Tinbete Ermyas
Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, alongside Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro and Mary Louise Kelly. She joined All Things Considered in June 2022.
Emma Klein