If Texas is known for anything beyond cowboys, barbecue, state pride and a uniquely bland variation of Mexican food, it’s the state’s love of sports. The Lone Star State has produced countless athletes and coaches over its history and every year Waco enjoys the honor of hosting the most elite among them.
On Tuesday night, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame inducted its 2017 class. The inductees were former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro safety Darren Woodson, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin, former University of Texas and NFL star Eric Metcalf, former Texas A&M and NFL defensive back Dave Elmendorf, Texas A&M track & field coach Pat Henry and former Houston Cougars women’s volleyball players Rita Buck-Crockett and Flo Hyman (deceased).
Wade Phillips has now been an NFL coach for 40 years and has worked for 10 NFL franchises. Phillips’ father, the late “Bum” Phillips, was an iconic coach of the Houston Oilers and was inducted to the TSHOF in 1999 and 2004. Wade Phillips said this honor is particularly special because he shares it with his father.
“It’s special for me, not only for just going in and being a Texan,” Phillips said. “I’ve loved football my whole life and sports my while life and Texas is the ultimate place for it in my opinion. But even more special is my dad is in it too, and he was my hero. I’ve got a lot of heroes in it so it means a lot.”
Phillips took a job this offseason as the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator under new head coach Sean McVay. The 30-year-old McVay is the youngest head coach in NFL history, so Phillips joked that the Rams are now the only team to have a defensive coordinator on Medicare and a head coach in daycare.
Phillips’ son, Wes Phillips, followed in his father’s footsteps. He played quarterback for the University of Texas El Paso and was a QBs coach for West Texas A&M and Baylor before joining the Dallas Cowboys’ coaching staff. He is now the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins and part of only two families to ever have three generations of NFL coaches.
“Us and the Shulas are the only two third-generation NFL coaches,” Phillips said. “My son is a third generation and I hope he gets to be a head coach in the league. He’s a great coach, he’s better than I am, and he can beat me in Madden so I know he’s good.”
Liukin was born in Russia but her parents, who were both Olympic champion gymnasts, moved to Texas when she was 3 years old and lived in Texas for about 20 years. Liukin said Texas has always been home for her and the way the state has embraced her and honored her is surreal.
“So to grow up in Texas and now being able to be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame is a huge honor,” Liukin said. “And obviously among so many amazing and talented athletes and coaches. It’s a little surreal, to be honest. But it’s really special to be able to be here and know something that I had so much love and passion for has brought me here today.”
Liukin is now a sports commentator for NBC. She graduated from New York University with a degree in sports management last year and is getting married in June. She also performs speaking engagements around the nation.
Just so nobody could mistake her for lazy, Liukin and her fiancé started their own business, Grander, to help inspire young female gymnasts to pursue their dreams and improve their abilities. Liukin hopes that her accomplishments, and induction into the TSHOF, will help to show young female athletes that they can pursue athletics professionally and achieve great heights just like the men.
“That’s always kind of been my goal, and maybe somewhat of a mission, to inspire the next generation of athletes,” Liukin said.
Like Henry and Liukin, Darren Woodson was not born in Texas and he considers Arizona his home state. But Woodson said he became very emotional when he was told he would be inducted into the TSHOF.
“I was working at ESPN about to walk down the set of 'SportsCenter' and I got emotional,” Woodson said. “I’m about to do a set and it just felt surreal. After all these years living in Texas and playing for the Dallas Cowboys, but I was thinking, ‘I’m an Arizona kid. How am I going to be inducted into as great a hall like the Texas Sports Hall of Fame?’ But at the same time I knew the importance of it and I knew guys like Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Larry Allen before me had been inducted and had a great experience. So it was an emotional call for me.”
Part of that emotion was because Woodson knows this honor isn’t just about him. He said that being inducted honors anyone who ever helped him get to where he is today and that makes the moment even more special.
“It’s not just about me,” Woodson said. “I played the game but I had so many great people around me to help reach this success. And that starts with my mother, all my family, the teammates I had and all the great coaches I had. That’s the emotion I had when they told me. I started to think about all those great relationships and all those great people who helped get me to this point.”