When the Denver Broncos play their final game of the season Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, they’ll be without this year’s surprising star, rookie running back Phillip Lindsay. He suffered a wrist injury in a game Monday against the Raiders.
“He’s had a great year, obviously. To go out that way is not good for him, but it doesn’t take away from the year he’s had," Coach Vance Joseph said Wednesday. “He’s had a great year, he’s a great find for this football team, and moving forward he’s going to be a great player for this franchise.”
This isn’t the first setback for Lindsay, a Denver native and product of its public schools, say his father Troy and his uncle Tony. Both men make their livings driving buses for the Regional Transportation District. His dad said he always knew Phillip would be a unique talent.
"Phillip started football at 8 years old, okay. And he played on an older team," of 10-year-olds, Troy remembered. "And at that point I knew Philip was special because he started with them and he ended up being their MVP."
Troy Lindsay recalled the little things that made his son stand out when he was a boy.
"Growing up he was hyper. He was creative. Very creative. Phillip was just competitive and funny - In every kind of way you can think,” Troy said. “If you talked to Phillip you would understand just how funny he is. OK. And he's a — he talks real fast. My son, if there's one bad thing about Phillip is Phillip can let the words roll. But his mom's worked with him. She's worked with him so he, he tries to be self-conscious about letting those words go these days. He's gotten a lot better, let's just put it like that."
To Troy’s point, Lindsay is often playful and loquacious when he takes the mic at press conferences at the Broncos' Dove Valley headquarters.
"They get annoyed at me, because we have this couch and rookies ain’t supposed to be on it,” Lindsay once said with a mischievous grin, talking about some of his older teammates. “But I’m always on it. So they always try to get me off it. They throw we me off. But when they turn their back, I get back on. I get back on."
Don’t let his comedy act fool you, though. Tony Lindsay, Phillip’s uncle, said his nephew was a leader on the football field. Tony coached him at Denver South High School, where he played varsity football as a freshman. That's where people really started to take notice of his leadership skills.
"When he came on, he came on as a ninth grader," Tony said. "He came on as a leader and you know what, it was hard for some of those older kids to grasp that. But after they played with him for a couple games, they understood… and he made us play to a higher level."
Like his dad Troy, Phillip was a running back at South. He even broke Troy’s all-time rushing record for Denver Public Schools. And he won a scholarship to play football at the University of Colorado.
"You know, he got this through his dad and us: We always taught him and the boys that, you know, when you work towards something and you want something, you have to give it all, you know," uncle Troy said. "And all of them were taught that and that's him."
But despite his hard work, Phillip Lindsay has often had to overcome adversity.
Early in his senior year at South, he tore his ACL. His family feared that might cause Phillip to lose his scholarship, but he didn't. In fact, he overcame his high school injury to break offensive records as a Golden Buffalo. He became CU’s all-time leader in All-Purpose yards and Yards From Scrimmage.
He then focused on his next goal of playing in the NFL. But the league's scouts largely ignored him despite being one of the leading running backs in college. And when the NFL draft came along that April, Phillip watched as more than 200 college players got picked by teams, but he wasn't one of them.
Troy says the family was devastated. His dad thinks Phillip was passed over because of his size — or lack thereof. Lindsay is only about 5-feet 8-inches tall, weighing 190 pounds.
"I was looking at my son and you know, all his emotions and you know, he's hurt. I'm hurt, the family's hurt. The draft, you know, in one case it can be great for certain people, but for others it can be awful. And I think for us the draft was awful," he said.
Still, after the draft, Phillip Lindsay got invitations from the Baltimore Ravens and the Broncos to try out for their teams in the preseason. The Ravens offered Phillip $8,000 to try out as an undrafted free agent. The Broncos offered $15,000. Troy Lindsay says his son had only about 10 minutes to pick a team.
"In the end his mom finally just said, 'Philip go to Denver.' And that pretty much did it. It's home and everyone here could support him, you know? He can be home. You know, you're already a free agent going into something that most free agents don't make it in," he said. "Take advantage of what you have (in Denver)."
Uncle Tony said he was confident that once the Broncos saw Phillip’s skills up close he would blow them away.
"Even when they were going through their little two a-days and their camp and all that, I'm like, he's already made the team. [And people said] 'Oh man, he hasn't made the cut yet!' And I said, 'He doesn't have to. He's already made that team. I already know.’ And then when I went out there and I watched them practice out there, out there at Dove Valley, I really knew he made the team because he stuck out like a sore thumb. They wanted to know who -- the guys on the team wanted to know -- who this kid was. And yes, he's going to make the team. I mean, who are we kidding?”
And now, as a Denver Bronco, he's made the Pro Bowl, becoming the first undrafted offensive rookie to do so in NFL history.
"I don't even know what to tell you on that one,” Troy said. “It's just great man. It really is. You look back and you see where he came from and where he is and it all happened like it was supposed to happen."
"It is emotional, you know, and to see him doing what he's doing after everything that he's been through. Yeah, it's pretty cool," Troy said, with tears in his eyes.
Both Troy and Tony Lindsay have been driving RTD buses for decades combined. They don’t come from privileged background, yet their kids went to college, some on sports scholarships.
"You know, we raise our kids the way my mom and dad raised us, and it was love,” Tony said. “We didn't have money then. You know, we never had no money. But we’re here, you know, but it was love. You know, we, we are rich though. We're rich in love and family, you know? That's way more than someone's money to me. And here we are."
When it comes to Lindsay’s season-ending wrist injury, Troy Lindsay is still upbeat about his son’s future. He says he’s confident Philip will recover, because he’s used to overcoming adversity.