Long love affair with Komets requires long road trips

Married for 43 years, Dan and Margo Phillips have been driving to Komets games this season from Knoxville, Tenn. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

Dan Phillips must be a very secure man because a couple times a month he drives 464 miles so his wife can check out hockey players. That’s OK, though, because he wasn’t a hockey fan when they met but Margo married him anyway.

This is a fascinating love story about Dan and Margo, and really Margo and the Komets which is where it all begins.

When she was 3 years old, her father took her to her first Komets game, which also just happened to be the Komets’ first-ever game in 1952. They sat right on the railing in the upper arena, so he carried her up there wrapped in a baby blanket.

She remembers early Komets such as George Drysdale, Puggy O’Brien and Edgar Blondin, but of course Mr. Komet Eddie Long was her hero. That started her life-long love affair with the Komets, and she’s owned season tickets off and on since. Among her all-time favorite players were Doug Reid and Paul Hoganson. Of the current players, Cody Sol reminds her of Teddy Wright, Jamie Schaafsma a little bit of Reg Primeau and Taylor Crunk makes her recall Terry Pembroke.

Then, when she was 25, her roommate introduced her to Dan, who had recently returned from the Vietnam War.

“I had to say, `Don’t talk to me during the game. Don’t ask me questions,’ ” she said. “We found this book for a $1 at the store, `Hockey for Dummies.’ It was kind of a neat book. I said, `Here, study this.’ ”

And that’s how Dan became a Komets fan, or more particularly, a Margo fan. They’ve now been married for 43 years, raising sons Joshua and Aaron and spoiling eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Their Komets’ story might be like thousands of other families, but this season has been unique. Margo is a retired nurse and Dan retired recently from Dana after 30 years. They owned a home on Big Long Lake where in a nice twist of serendipity their neighbors included Brady Long, Eddie and Gayle’s son.

Just like his mother, Brady is a bit of a character and once came over to ask Margo if he could borrow a screwdriver. “A Phillips?” she asked. “Well, of course, it would be one of Dan’s screwdrivers, wouldn’t it?” he replied. With Brady, you’re never quite sure who’s in on the joke.

As part of their marriage, Dan got Margo to promise they’d spend half of it in the cold North as long as eventually they would spend half in the warmer South. This year that promise came true as they moved to Knoxville, Tenn., in July. They always admired the area as they drove by for anniversary trips to Hilton Head, S.C., so they bought a villa so Dan didn’t have to do the yard work.

In return, Margo made Dan promise they could maintain their season tickets to the Komets games in section 212. That means a couple times a month they drive 464 miles — or about 7 1/2 hours — to watch a pair of games whenever the Komets are in Fort Wayne for the weekend. They stay with friend Cheryl Holmes.

To Dan, it’s not that much of a sacrifice because he understands Margo’s passion. Knoxville has a Southern Professional Hockey League team, the Ice Bears, but it’s not the same and she calls it “Slap and tickle hockey.” Whenever they pull into the Memorial Coliseum parking lot, she’ll yell, “Let’s get this party started!” And her volume rarely decreases the rest of the night.

“The Komets never changed their name or their venue, and I just think they are awesome!” Margo said. “I always tell anybody who sits next to me, `This doesn’t stay pretty here.’ In my real life I’m a grandmother who reads books to her grandchildren. One time this lady said, ‘Well, I’m I’m going to have to move, it’s very loud here.’ I just said, ‘You should go to a tennis match then.’ You don’t go to hockey and be quiet. That’s wrong, just wrong.”

She also has golden rules of never booing the home team, and always clapping for them at the end of the game, no matter what.

Dan has the trip broken down into four segments, and he can make it from Knoxville to Anderson before having to refill the fuel tank on the minivan they purchased in 2015 with 2,500 miles. Now it’s past 87,000.

They’ve figured out if they leave Fort Wayne or Knoxville between 9 and 10 a.m. they’ll miss the rush hour traffic patterns in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Lexington. They also drive the day before or after games. There are plans to stop in Cincinnati and Indianapolis later in the season for road games on their way to Fort Wayne.

“I read to him as we drive, sometimes it’s jokes from Reader’s Digest, sometimes it’s the Bible or stories out of magazines,” Margo said. “We do trivia, but it’s always children’s trivia because we’re not smart enough. Now I’ll drive him crazy with Christmas CDs.”

But Dan really doesn’t mind. He knows Margo is happy and then so is he.

“I’m more of a fan now than when we first started coming to the games because I’m starting to feel like I know what’s going on,” he said.

And he knows the Komets are still Margo’s heroes.

“We come back for every game, and will as long as we are able,” Margo said.