DSC professor recalls climb from NFL player to filmmaker

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Phil Tuckett thought he had his lucky break when he was signed to play for the San Diego Chargers, but it wasn’t until a chance encounter with a filmmaker that he realized what his true potential was.

One extensive filmmaking career and multiple Emmys later, Tuckett is now passing on his knowledge to the students at Dixie State College.

Tuckett, an assistant communication professor at DSC, grew up in Salt Lake City. He had been living on the football field since he was a child and aspired to play professionally.

Even now, working as an assistant professor in communication, football is still on his mind.

Back in 1964, instead of going to University of Utah where his friends were, he decided he would go down to Dixie, which was a junior college at the time. He came to Dixie to continue his athletic career playing football as a wide receiver.

Tuckett studied and played football at Dixie for two years. And 40 years later, he received the opportunity to come back to teach.

After his two years at Dixie, he transferred to Weber State University, which was also a junior college at the time. There he played more football and graduated as an English major. Tuckett had a good enough football career at Weber, even though he didn’t get drafted to the NFL, to be signed as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers.

“I played with the 1968 San Diego Chargers,” Tuckett said. “And I would say I was on the very bottom tier of the team.”

He said there is a lot of competition to get a place on the team as a free agent.

Tuckett said he was on the reserve squad for most of his NFL career. The reserve squad practices with the team but does not play in the games.

“Finally the last game of the season against the Oakland Raiders, I was activated and played in the game,” Tuckett said. “Because I was a rookie, and I was playing behind one of the greatest receivers of all time, Lance Alworth, I didn’t get in the game to catch any passes.”

Tuckett said he played on special teams and had quite a good game.

“I had two or three tackles on coverage teams,” Tuckett said. “And I almost scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery.”

Because of that one game Tuckett was active, it gave him a good position to go into his second year.

He said he was trying to take that first game and have it parlay him a solid place on the team.

The next season, Tuckett was about a month into the training camp and had already played in one exhibition game and done well.

He said it was still tenuous because they had 12 wide receivers, and only four were going to be on the team.

“Every day when you are in that situation your practices are like games,” Tuckett said. “If you don’t practice well, you could be gone that day.”

But just before his summer camp began that year, he used his degree in English and decided to write an article about his experience as a rookie free agent in the NFL.

His article, titled “How I Won My Lightning Bolt,” was published in Sport magazine, which was a national publication at the time.

“There was a nice photo of me in there,” Tuckett said. “But unfortunately I was sitting on the bench. That was mostly what my first year had been.”

But during practice in his second year of the NFL, his head coach, Sid Gillman, called out to a man across the field by the name of Ed Sabol.

“I looked over and saw this guy with a really loud and flashy sport coat,” Tuckett said. “And I recognized that name from credits I’ve seen on TV.”

Tuckett wasn’t sure who exactly Sabol was at the time, but decided to press his luck and find out if he had anything to offer.

So Tuckett took his opportunity and introduced himself to Sabol during lunch. 

From there he got out his magazine and showed Sabol his article.

“He took the article and read the first day’s entry,” Tuckett said. “He told me, ‘Why are you wasting your time playing the game when you can write about it? Come and work for my company.’”

Sabol told him the company was called NFL Films, and they made movies about professional football. He told Tuckett he would teach him to make movies, and he would be able to do it the rest of his life.

But Tuckett had been playing football since he was 8 years old. Though he considered the offer, he was finally a professional football player, and he couldn’t just walk away from the Chargers.

“I turned down that job about four times during that lunch,” Tuckett said. “His personality was just as loud as his sport coat.”

But two weeks later the Chargers cut Tuckett.

Tuckett made two phone calls that day.

“I called my wife because I needed a ride home, and I called Ed Sabol,” Tuckett said.

Sabol then hired him over the phone, and Tuckett stayed with the company for 38 years.

During his time working for NFL Films, Tuckett helped build the company and received 30 Emmy awards for his work.

He has worked with Snoop Dogg and was able to interview him about his love of the NFL.

“I heard from a source that [Snoop] actually got into the music business because he loved the music that we put behind our football films,” Tuckett said.

He captured one of the greatest football moments, The Immaculate Reception, on camera and the celebration shots of the fans that have been used more than 10 thousand times. He was also the only person in the history of NFL Films to actually play in the NFL.

Now, teaching at DSC, he is trying to help prepare the students for their future.

“Students can learn an awful lot from him just by observing his process,” CMI employee Benjamin Braten said. “He’s been telling people’s stories for a long, long time, so taking a concept from inception to fruition is second nature.”

Tuckett has pushed for additional classes where students have the tools and time to do their own story-telling, Braten said.

Today Tuckett is using his knowledge to help students at Dixie create a successful career for themselves.