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Rams history: The rise and fall of Lawrence Phillips

Every NFL team can think of at least one player that belongs in the proverbial “Hall of Shame.” With the St. Louis Rams, one player that immediately comes to mind is running back Lawrence Phillips. He is the ultimate example of an athlete who squandered his talents. He refused to stay out of trouble and it followed him from Nebraska University to the present day. Here’s a look back at Phillip’s troubled career:

Nebraska University: Phillips joined the Cornhuskers in 1993 and made an immediate impact as a freshman. He wasn’t the team’s starting running back, but still managed to rush for 508 yards and five touchdowns. To give an idea how good the Cornhuskers were in 1993, they went undefeated and suffered their only loss to top ranked Florida State University in the Orange Bowl.

Phillips’s sophomore season was undoubtedly his best. Not only did he tie a school record with most consecutive 100-yard games with 11, but he led Nebraska back to the Orange Bowl and helped defeat Miami for a perfect season. Phillips ran for a total of 1,722 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The beginning of Phillip’s troubles took place during his junior season in 1995. He was initially thought to be a Heisman candidate, but his promising legacy at Nebraska immediately deteriorated after being arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen. The nation was in an uproar after head coach Tom Osborne suspended Phillips instead of kicking him off the team. Osborne stood by his decision and proclaimed that “the easy thing would have been to dismiss him.”

Phillips was reinstated for the last three games of the season, including the Fiesta Bowl. Ahman Green remained the starter when Phillips returned, but Phillips did start in the Fiesta Bowl. He ran for 165 yards and had two touchdowns to secure the Huskers’ second-straight National Championship. He decided to forego his senior year and entered the NFL Draft.

St. Louis Rams (1996-1997): Many experts regarded Phillips as the best player in the 1996 NFL Draft. They may have been correct, but the Rams still ended up being burned. The Rams selected Phillips sixth overall in the 1996 NFL Draft. The Rams invested so much in Phillips that they felt confident in trading their then starting running back Jerome Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a second round pick in 1996 and a fourth round pick in 1997. On paper, it made sense, because Phillips fit more into the Rams’ offensive scheme. He was a speedier back, whereas Bettis was more of a power back. That was easily one of the most regrettable decisions in franchise history.

Phillips’s rookie season wasn’t impressive. He started 11 games, but he rushed for only 632 yards and four touchdowns, while averaging only 3.3 yards per attempt. He didn’t have much success the following season, earning 677 yards in 10 games. Head coach Dick Vermeil decided to bench Phillips after playing inconsistently and also for his off-the-field issues. Phillips became upset and left the practice facility and was absent from a team meeting and another practice. The Rams later cut him and he was signed by the Miami Dolphins that same season.

Miami Dolphins, NFL Europe and San Francisco 49ers (1997-1999): The Dolphins didn’t see a whole of Phillips. In fact, he only played in two games and ran for a total of 44 yards on 18 attempts. He was later cut from the Dolphins after allegedly assaulting a woman in a Florida nightclub.

Phillips attempted to resurrect his career by participating in NFL Europe. He did just that after showcasing his ability with the Barcelona Dragons in 1998. This sudden burst of success did interest some NFL teams and he would later sign with the San Francisco 49ers for the 1999 season.

Phillips didn’t achieve much while playing in San Francisco. The 49ers had a younger talent that beat him out for the starting job in Charlie Garner. Phillips did earn the role of primary kick returner.

The biggest issue the 49ers had with Phillips wasn’t his off-the-field issues; it was his blocking. Phillips was so terrible at blocking that head coach Steve Mariucci attempted to keep him out of most pass plays since he was so ineffective. The last straw came when he missed a blocking assignment against the Arizona Cardinals’ cornerback, Aeneas Williams. That blown block ended Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young’s career. Phillips was later cut after only earning 144 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Phillips did have a short stint in the AFL and had some moderate success in the CFL from 2001-2003.

Life after football: In 2005, Phillips was arrested for assault after running over three teenagers in a dispute that he had with them over a football game in Los Angeles. He was later convicted and sentenced to 10 years in a California state prison. Twenty five more years were added after being convicted of a domestic abuse case that included assault with great bodily harm to his ex-girlfriend.

In April of this year, Phillips was named a suspect for the murder of his cellmate, Damion Soward. The investigation is still ongoing.

Source: BTSC.com, LATimes.com, Pro-sports-reference.com, Sports-reference.com

You can follow Johnny Gomez on Twitter @Johnny5not6. Be sure to follow Rams Talk on Twitter @TalkRams.

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