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Long before he became a successful lawyer and an important part of the Phoenix sports scene, Brad Wright was a fan. The kind who wouldn't let a tall wall and barbed wire keep him seeing his favorite team: the 1983 University of Illinois Big Ten football champions.
At the time, the now 57-year-old Wright was a student and athlete at Schlarman High in Danville. Wright played football for the Hilltoppers, part of Greg Colby's two state championship teams. Wright was an offensive and defensive lineman, checking in at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds.
The entire team was later inducted into the Schlarman Hall of Fame.
"Greg Colby was one of the best motivators, leaders, coaches I've ever had," Wright said. "He is just a terrific, terrific guy. He really knew how to get the most out of us in a positive way. He was impressive."
Colby later joined the staff at Illinois, working in two stints for John Mackovic, Lou Tepper and Tim Beckman.
During Mike White's title run in '83, Wright drove his Pontiac Firebird to C-U with his younger brother Darren to Memorial Stadium each football Saturday.
All those games were vital for Illinois that season. The team beat ranked Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan during the run, fans celebrating by tearing down goalposts..
Most times, the Wrights were given tickets by other fans.
"We'd walk around all the tailgates, and people would be nice to us, give us a hot dog, sometimes they'd give us a beer even though we weren't old enough to drink one," he said.
As the team started piling up wins, the enthusiasm for the program grew.
"I remember the Butkus family always had their tailgate there on the west lawn outside the stadium," Wright said. "They were one of the groups that always took us in. We just made friends with bunch of different guys."
The free tickets dried up for the game against Michigan. None to be found.
"They gave us a beer, they gave us a hot dog, but they said, 'Sorry kid, there's no tickets.'"
So, Brad, Darren and friend Todd Schickle decided to find another way in.
"We're bummed out," Brad Wright said.
As they headed back to their car, they walked past the south end of Memorial Stadium where they got inspiration from Illinois students.
"They were climbing the wall," Wright said.
So, why not?
"I boosted my brother up. I boosted Todd up, and then someone threw me up and over."
On his way down, Wright had a problem.
The barbed wire caught his jeans and ripped a huge hole in the backside. Embarrassing? Maybe. But he was in.
"I didn't get hurt. I just had some venting in my pants," Wright said.
They didn't have seats, so they moved from spot to spot during the game.
"I had to hold my pants up the whole time," Wright said.
As Illinois clinched the 16-6 victory, the Wright brothers and Schickle raced onto the field with the rest of the fans. All good until the Michigan team started running toward the locker room, none too pleased.
"A Michigan player gave Darren a forearm shiver that sent him flying through the air," Wright said. "He rolled and jumped up, and we celebrated."
Didn't feel a thing.
So, what became of the ripped pants? And how did Brad explain the hole to his parents when he got home?
"I don't think I showed them," Wright said. "I should have kept the pants."
Wright has strong ties to the University of Illinois besides his affection for the athletic teams.
"I've been an Illinois fan my whole life," he said.
His dad, Gene, was a freshman quarterback at the school before getting hurt and transferring to Eastern Illinois University, where he stopped playing football.
Gene Wright still lives in Danville.
Brad's mom, Sharon, a Westville native, attended Illinois. And Wright's stepfather, John Ady, earned his MBA at the school.
Despite the connections, Wright decided Illinois was too close to home for his liking.
"I had to go farther away," Wright said.
So, he went to Illinois State University instead. There, Brad studied accounting at the Normal school from 1984 to '88.
He went to law school at Washington University in St. Louis. Wright became a lawyer at a St. Louis law firm.
Rising in Phoenix
In 1994, Wright moved to Phoenix, where he worked as an attorney.
"I became friends with the Bidwill family (owners of the the Arizona Cardinals)," Wright said. "They were trying to build their stadium back then."
They asked Wright if he would help with the campaign, and he volunteered. In 1999, he became the spokesperson and executive director for the stadium campaign.
Because of his work, Wright was appointed to the stadium authority board. The stadium is owned by the Arizona Sports & Tourism Authority.
The Arizona capital city has hosted a number of big-time sporting events over the years: four Super Bowls, the 2017 Final Four and the 2016 College Football Playoff title game, which was held at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
Wright served as chairman of the host committee.
"We were the group that raised the money locally to host the event," Wright said. "It was a great honor. It was a lot of fun."
Wright continues to help with events. The latest effort is to bring an electric car race to the state.
In his lawyer duties, Wright represents the Arizona Sports & Entertainment Commission.
"I stay pretty involved in the sports and entertainment world here," Wright said.
Wright is currently a shareholder with the Polsinilli Law Firm, practicing business transactional law, real-estate law and sports and entertainment law.
He is fan of Phoenix.
"I absolutely love it," Wright said. "It's a very welcoming place. There are a lot of Midwesterners here and a lot of people from someplace else. If you show up here and you want to work hard and get involved, there's a place for you."
A concert event the night before the football national title game in '16 sums up the community for Wright.
"The headliner that night was John Mellencamp," Wright said. "Everybody's excited for what looks like a great matchup between Alabama and Clemson, and Mellencamp's last song was 'Small Town.' I'm standing there thinking 'I'm a kid from a small town, here I am in Phoenix, involved in this effort to bring this amazing event to a big city, and it's kind of come full circle.' I'm blessed to have been a part of it."
Wright remembers hanging out with his buddies in high school, talking about their futures. Schickle dreamed of playing in the NBA, Dave Torri was going to the NFL, and Dave Scott aspired to be in the major leagues.
"They looked at me, and I said 'I'm not going to play sports guys. I'm going to be your agent.'
"I always knew sports would be part of my life, and I'm fortunate they been part of my career," he said.
Wright and fiancee Andrea Perrin have a blended family of four kids. All are in college.
Josie is a senior at New York University, Regan is a sophomore at Texas, Ryan is a sophomore at Nebraska, and Davis is a freshman at Michigan State.