The Washington Redskins picked a safety named Phillip Thomas from Fresno State in the fourth round of the NFL draft Saturday. What made this ironic is that last year, on the day after the draft ended, they signed an unselected safety named Phillip Thomas.
Except that they didn't.
Because last year's Phillip Thomas wasn't real.
Actually he was real. He was a cornerback from Syracuse who grew up in Miami, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and could bench press 225 pounds 14 times. And when he wasn't selected in the 2012 draft, he signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. But he also had a very persuasive imposter who created a convincing Facebook page and contacted me several times last spring saying he had signed a rookie free-agent deal with the Redskins.
He posted pictures taken inside Redskins Park with images of a team playbook on a nightstand and inside the club's new practice bubble. At the time it seemed odd but mildly plausible. Teams are slow to release the names of rookie free agents and until the players actually show up for their first minicamp, the lists of signees can be fluid.
When the Redskins had their first minicamp and no Phillip Thomas appeared, I figured he had been signed and then released to make room for someone else. Then I checked the Eagles' roster and there he was. A few days later he messaged me on Facebook. He said he was coming to Washington to check out the city's nightlife. He said he had signed with the Eagles but that he wanted to be a Redskin. He said the teams were fighting over him. He also complained – as players often do – about the lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL. He bragged that he got a $3,000 bonus from the Redskins while former Syracuse teammate, Antwon Bailey, only got $1,200. He sounded like a player.
Then he sent me a photo of his Florida driver's license – even though I hadn't asked him to do so. He said it was to prove who he was. That seemed strange as did the new hometown designation of Landover, Md., on his Facebook page. Landover is the site of the FedEx Field where the Redskins play, but it is 50 miles from Ashburn, Va., where the team practices and the players live.
I asked him for his phone number and then I called the Eagles. A team spokesman said Phillip Thomas was due in the next day for Philadelphia's first rookie minicamp. I told the spokesman I would be there.
The following afternoon I met the real Phillip Thomas. He was friendly and talked with an open smile. He seemed excited about the chance to play in the NFL. He also said someone had been impersonating him on the Internet going back to the previous year. He said he had no idea who this person was. He appeared rattled. When I opened my laptop and showed him the messages the fake Phillip Thomas had been sending on Facebook, his mouth dropped.
"I have no idea who is doing this," the real Phillip Thomas said.
After talking to the real Phillip Thomas I called the fake one on the cell number he provided. He said he was in Philadelphia. I said that was ironic because I was too and had just met the real Phillip Thomas. The fake Phillip Thomas hung up. From the brief conversation you could tell the two men had different voices. The real Phillip Thomas had a slight Caribbean accent, the fake one did not.
After I wrote about this for Yahoo! Sports, the fake Phillip Thomas's Facebook page disappeared. The real Phillip Thomas stuck with the Eagles for a few months but was cut in training camp.
And on Saturday the Redskins got themselves a Phillip Thomas. A real one.
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