TEMPE – It was an unorthodox commute to work Sunday for Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Jesse Luketa, one that he will remember forever.
And the Phillips family, a collection of Cardinals fans, will, too.
Luketa left the team hotel late Sunday morning, confident he would make his noon report time. However, as he got on the 101 highway before the Cardinals game against the Los Angeles Rams, he received some unfortunate news from his vehicle.
“I get a notification that I have a tire issue,” he said. “So ‘I’m like, ‘Alright cool, this is not good.’ I think it’s a situation where I have to put in some air. I get to the gas station, and it wasn’t working.”
Luketa has repeatedly experienced trouble with the front left tire of his BMW, so he knew that there was no easy fix to the problem. So he began scrambling to find any way to get to the stadium. Roadside assistance would take too long, and a ride from a Cardinals employee would likely make him late as well.
Then, Luketa looked across the gas station, which was still about a 30-minute drive from the stadium.
“So as I’m sitting there looking to my right, I see a family. They’re in Cardinals gear. It looks like they’re going to the stadium,” Luketa said.
He weighed his options.
“The dad is pumping gas,” he said. “He’s wearing a Patrick Peterson jersey. I could see the kids through the window. They had jerseys on. So it’s either they’re going to a tailgate, they’re going home to watch the game or they’re going to the stadium. I got nothing to lose. I might as well try and see what it is.”
Luketa called out to the dad, saying he was a player who desperately needed a ride to the stadium. At first, it was clear the man wasn’t sure Luketa was telling the truth.
“I yell out, ‘Are you guys going to the stadium?’ He looks at me a little crazy, and he’s like ‘Yeah,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m a player, can you guys help me out? I need a ride to the stadium.’”
“Uh, yeah,” the man, J.W. Phillips, recalled telling Luketa as he wondered why this person needed a ride.
After consulting his wife, Phillips told Luketa to hop in. With Phillips driving, Luketa in the passenger seat and the wife and three kids in the back, they were off to State Farm Stadium.
Luketa talked football with the family. They asked him questions about his experience in college at Penn State and discussed Cardinals football over the year. Phillips was impressed with how Luketa carried himself.
“The biggest thing I want people to know about this is that he is just the nicest guy you will ever meet,” Phillips said. “I have three kids, and we were just chatting. It felt like he was part of the crew.”
Although it deviated from his normal routine of music on gameday, Luketa, 24, enjoyed the experience.
“I had a blast talking to his kids the whole way there,” he said. “They got me there on time, and that’s all she wrote.”
After arriving at the stadium, Luketa posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, hoping to track down contact information for the family. He connected with the family postgame for photos, and has arranged to provide them tickets for the Cardinals’ next home game vs. the San Francisco 49ers on December 17th.
Coach Jonathan Gannon found out about the situation as he was on his way to the stadium. It’s not an experience he can ever remember witnessing happen.
“I’m kind of laughing about it now,” Gannon said. “It’s really not funny. I would have been freaked out if I got a flat tire on my way to the game, but I’m thankful for the family of five. We got an ‘A Lot’ pass for them.”
Once Luketa’s work duties – playing defense in a 37-14 loss to the Rams – ended, it was time to return to the troubles of his BMW. He made his way back to the original gas station, where he had been forced to leave his car. Roadside assistance picked him up, and the car was brought to the repair shop. Luketa expected to have his car back Monday afternoon.
“Once I’m done here, I’m going to go pick it up,” Luketa said.
The mess has caused Luketa to consider making a change to his personal automobile, like purchasing a Toyota or Lexus. For now, he’s grateful to the company that got him and a family of five to the game safely.
“Shout out Infiniti,” Luketa said.
And to good Samaritans.