Father's Day: Broncos RB Lindsay's dad inspiring him in fatherhood

DENVER -- On Nov. 25, 2012, University of Colorado head coach Jon Embree walked into the living room of Troy Lindsay's Denver-area home.

The father of five sat with his oldest son, Phillip, who is entering his third season with the Denver Broncos after back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and a Pro Bowl nod in 2018. At that time, though, Phillip had recently torn his ACL, ending his senior season at South High School. The two listened to the head coach as he guaranteed Phillip's scholarship would still be honored. The father and son felt like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders when they heard those words. Many other scholarship offers had disappeared after Phillip suffered the injury, but they were given assurance from the man leading the most prominent football program in the state that they could still count on him.

That sense of security was fleeting, though.

Embree walked out the door after their meeting, and Phillip turned on the TV. Across the screen came the breaking news that Embree had just been fired. The coach, who had no knowledge of his dismissal when he spoke with the Lindsays, was promising a roster spot on a team he no longer was in charge of.

It's a moment when a son looks to his father for comfort and to hear the words everything is going to be OK, even when both men know in their heart that they don't have a clue if it will be.

Phillip has always relied on his father, or "Pops" as he affectionately called him when I recently visited them at Phillip's home, for support and guidance during moments like that one.

"The biggest thing from my father is that not a day goes by for any of us where we don't think 'What would our dad do?' " Phillip said, speaking to the reverence he and his siblings have for Troy. "We make so many decisions off of what he would say. I mean, when he was around he was always trying to lead us in the right way. For my brothers and I, he was the model for what we are supposed to be. Be respectful to women. Be a good friend. This stuff that's the right way to live your life."

Indeed, Troy never left any doubt about whether family came first in the Lindsay household.

For the last 20 years he's been a city bus driver, setting a work schedule that allowed him to spend the majority of his day with his children. He'd get to work every day at 3 a.m. -- and still does -- so a good chunk of his shift occurred while his kids were sleeping. It also allowed him to be home in time for his wife to get to work so they could avoid having to pay for child care. Phillip said Troy didn't get much sleep because he would look after all five kids during the day and coached his sons in youth football in the evenings, as well.

"He was there throughout the whole day," Phillip said. "He would dedicate his time to talk to us. There was never a day we couldn't go to him and talk. We are an open family, anyway. Just ask. They've been through it. We would go to him for a lot of guidance. He's led us in the right direction on a lot of stuff."

Sports were woven within the fabric of the Lindsay household, along with sarcasm at the dinner table and chaos in the yard. All five kids have gone to college on athletic scholarships, and they competed in everything at home. The trash talk could get nasty at times, but the overarching motto for the family was you will always take care of business.

"It was so loud (at home) it got to a point where if it wasn't loud somebody was sick or some stuff was going on they weren't supposed to be doing," Troy said with a laugh so strong it caused him to grab his stomach.

The No. 22 jersey Troy and his brother Tony both wore is retired in their honor at Denver's Thomas Jefferson High School. It's the same number Phillip wore in high school as an homage to his father. Troy said just as the Mannings are a family of quarterbacks, the Lindsays are a family of running backs.

"It's just something we know and we're good at," Troy said.

Troy played college football at Colorado State and his brother Tony suited up at the University of Utah. All three of Troy's sons went to college on scholarships to carry the football. In fact, Troy was the Denver Public Schools District's all-time leading rusher before Phillip broke his dad's record in 2012 and, in an evil twist, suffered the ACL tear on the very next play.

"It was the first big injury I ever had," Phillip said. "I didn't think it was a big deal, but it was a really big deal. It stopped a lot of schools from coming to get me. (My dad) played a big role in my mental game because I did get kind of depressed and down because I couldn't play football."

The Lindsays didn't have the money to afford proper rehabilitation for Phillip's injury. There were times when Troy and Tony would hold Phillip down and force his knee to bend or straighten to try to break through the scar tissue. Phillip would scream in pain and Troy would hold him and scream with him. Every step of the way, Troy was there physically aiding in his son's recovery. His was the shoulder for his son to cry on when it appeared Phillip's football career could be over before it really began.

"I had, like, five months out of surgery and I still couldn't bend or straighten my knee," Phillip recalled. "There was so much scar tissue that had built up, (the University of Colorado staff) didn't think I was going to be able to play. They honestly didn't think I'd be able to play ever again because of how my knee was. It was really really frustrating because everything was there, and just like that, everything just gets taken away from you."

Phillip, of course, did overcome his knee injury and thrived at CU. He redshirted his freshman year and then went on to rush for 3,770 yards (second most in school history) and 36 touchdowns in four seasons. He made plays in the passing game on special teams, too, setting the school record for all-purpose yards (5,760) and yards from scrimmage (4,683). But just as he faced adversity on his way into college, he'd encounter it again on the way out.

Phillip wasn't among the 300-plus prospects invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in 2018 after his standout college career.

"That was a sickening day for us," Troy said of the combine snub. "It was one of those days where I can't tell you what went through my head because that's not nice. It wasn't nice. You better beep it. How do you go two years (as the starting RB) at a so-called Power Five school and (have the success Phillip did) and you don't even get invited to the combine? I guess to this day I'm still trying to figure out how that works."

During my time with Phillip and Troy, I could feel their relationship. It actually has a presence. Both can be stubborn and they get upset about the same topics. So, it came as no surprise when Troy said Phillip going undrafted a couple months later felt "even worse" than not being invited to the combine. He still gets emotional talking about it. In both instances, he was the one Phillip turned to for answers even if he didn't have any for his son.

"My dad is my number one person I go to for everything," Phillip said. "When I'm hurt, when I'm happy, I always talk to him. Of course I sat there with him and asked 'Why?' What's wrong with me?' I'm sitting here and I've done everything and there are people getting picked that I never even heard about. You get on the phone and then you are told you're going to get picked and then someone else's name goes across the screen. Then you get demoralized pretty much. You have so many emotions, you want to cry. You just have your family there and they're angry, and for me it was just the five people in the household. They're just mad because they don't understand, either. I just ask my Pops 'Why didn't we get drafted? Why didn't we get to go to the combine, Pops? Why?' "

After signing as an undrafted free agent with the hometown Broncos, Phillip made headlines when he returned home to live with his parents. He moved into his own place last fall, but being back home for over a year gave him a chance to have nightly talks about football and life at the family dinner table. After five years at school, their father-son bond as adults grew even beyond what it had been before Lindsay went off to college.

There has certainly been a lot for the two to discuss this offseason. Troy said football still is a daily topic, along with developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the arrival of running back Melvin Gordon in Denver via free agency has come up, too. But another arrival on May 4 has changed everything, and will make celebrating Father's Day on Sunday even more special than usual. Phillip became a father himself, and Troy a grandfather.

Phillip is just six weeks into building a foundation for his relationship with his son, and because of Troy, the blueprint has been laid out. The lessons have been taught and, equally important, they've been absorbed.

"For a lot of these young men, it's really important you start taking your place," Troy told me after I asked him about Phillip's new role as a father. "If you are a dad, you start taking that place as a dad. There are too many kids that don't have that dad and that guidance and it's time for the men to step up and take charge and get those kids right."

At a young age, Phillip was aware enough to realize that while it was difficult at times for his parents to pay the bills, they still found a way to have something for each kid under the Christmas tree each year. He said he's blessed to have become a father after he's listened to teammates say they've been unable to get pregnant. As he spends his mornings now talking to his newborn son or having him fall asleep on his chest, there's a message that is already going through his head that he'll pass down.

"The biggest thing in life you have to understand is it's not fair," Phillip said. "Two, is everything that's good does come back down and everything that's down does come back up. So it's about weathering the storm. When the smoke clears, things start to go back up and you stay consistent and the biggest thing (my dad) taught us is about consistency. That's even in football, and in being a father that's what I'll do."

There's no doubt Phillip inherited some of the talent and skill that makes him a great running back from his father. But Phillip's character and his determination to live up to what his father achieved as a parent is what makes Troy the proudest.

"I think it's real important for all fathers ... kids don't want money," Troy said as he began to choke up. "They don't care about all the little gadgets and all that. They need your time. They want to be with you. Anything, you smile with them, giggle with them, wrestle with them. I had girls so I was braiding hair. That's what you have to do. For all men, take that time with your kids. Handle it."

Follow James Palmer on Twitter @JamesPalmerTV.

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