From her office inside the Springfield Opera House, Stephanie McMillin not infrequently listens to one side of the same conversation.
The executive director of the Springfield Tourism Commission will hear a raised voice speaking into a cell phone: “You won’t believe it, but there’s a Phil Simms museum here.”
“No, really, I’m standing in it right now.”
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Over the course of Simms’ careers as a New York Giants quarterback (1979-93) and an NFL analyst for CBS Sports (since 1998), Louisville has been referred to as his hometown.
That is not wrong.
On this Super Bowl weekend, it seems a fine time to explain why there is a museum honoring Phil Simms in Springfield.
‘I remember a lot’
For sports fans in Kentucky, Simms first came to attention in the early 1970s as a quarterback at Southern High School in Louisville.
However, Simms was born on Nov. 3, 1955, on a farm near Springfield. He lived the first seven years of his life there before his parents, seeking greater economic opportunity, moved to southern Jefferson County.
Of his years in Washington County, “I remember a lot,” Simms said in a recent phone interview. “On the farm, my dad raised tobacco, cattle, sheep, chickens, pigs. We had everything.”
Phil was the fifth child of what eventually became eight children — five boys and three girls — born to Bill and Barbara Simms.
In those early days, “We wore farm clothes. We didn’t have many toys. We shared a bicycle,” said Jeanne Powell, Simms’ oldest sister. “But we had so much fun. We climbed trees, we’d play in the barn. Probably we had our most fun, there was a giant bannister down a stairway in our house. We loved sliding down that bannister.”
Phil Simms attended his first two years of school at St. Dominic Elementary in Springfield. Some days, Simms recalls, his dad told his mom not to send Phil and his three older brothers to school because he needed their help working the farm.
Before Phil entered the third grade, the farm was put up for sale. His parents took jobs in a factory in Louisville and moved their family to the big city.
“My mom loved Springfield, loved living there,” Simms said. “If it had been solely up to her, I don’t think we’d have ever left.”
Super Bowl MVP
At every level of football, Simms was the guy who had to prove the doubters wrong.
Lightly recruited out of high school, he wound up playing in college at Morehead State.
At MSU, Simms played on weak teams (9-28 in his career), but NFL scouts recognized the raw talent of a QB who threw for 5,545 yards and 32 touchdowns in college.
The Giants chose the 6-foot-3, 216-pound quarterback No. 7 in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft.
New York fans lustily booed the pick.
In the Big Apple, Simms battled injuries, won and then lost the Giants’ starting job, but persevered to achieve long-running success.
During the playoffs after the 1986 season, Simms and New York (14-2) blasted San Francisco 49-3, then beat Washington 17-0 to earn a berth in Super Bowl XXI.
The foe was Denver. It meant Simms was matched against Elway, the most physically gifted QB of that era.
Yet, on Jan. 26, 1987, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., it was Simms who seized football’s grandest stage. The Kentuckian completed 22 of 25 passes, threw for three touchdowns and led the Giants to a 39-20 victory.
Shining so brightly in America’s foremost sporting event was life-altering. “That one game,” Simms said, “is responsible for the career I’ve had since in television.”
After Super Bowl XXI, Simms even made pop-culture history. He was the first Super Bowl MVP to say “I’m going to Disneyworld” in a postgame commercial.
A small-town museum
Throughout an NFL career that saw Phil Simms make the Pro Bowl twice and throw for 33,462 yards, Barbara Simms collected memorabilia of her son’s achievements.
Yet as Barbara grew older (she passed away on Feb. 14, 2015, at 82; Bill Simms had died on Aug. 26, 1991), the idea of donating some of the keepsakes she had saved gained appeal.
Meanwhile, Springfield, like many Kentucky small towns, was seeking ways to revitalize its Main Street district.
Those mutual needs became the genesis of the Phil Simms Exhibit that is now located in one room on the first floor of the Springfield Opera House.
Kathy Elliott, executive director of the Springfield Tourism Commission at the time the Simms exhibit was proposed, said the commission invested some $20,000 to make it a reality.
On Aug. 12, 2015, Simms, now 62, came to Springfield for the official dedication. He felt positive enough about what he saw that he hopes to donate some of his own memorabilia to the exhibit. “I’d like to get back down there with some more pictures,” he said.
Having toured the museum, you can tell it was professionally curated. It features signs that guide you through the narrative arc of Phil Simms’ career. There is a replica of the jersey Simms wore in Super Bowl XXI.
The best part, though, is the memorabilia saved by Phil’s mom. The Southern High School varsity letter jacket of “Phillip Simms” is on display. So is Simms’ Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame plaque.
In Springfield, they report there is one downside to hosting a shrine to the Super Bowl hero born in Washington County. It is pushback from Louisvillians insisting their city is the quarterback’s proper hometown.
“Some people don’t even have one hometown that claims them,” Phil Simms joked. “How lucky am I? I’ve got two.”
If you go
What: Phil Simms Museum
Where: Springfield Opera House, 124 W. Main St., Springfield, Ky., 40069
When: Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Super Bowl LII
Eagles vs. Patriots
6:30 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis (NBC-18)