With the Super Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J., Phillips has been polite about explaining the geographic difference between North Jersey and South Jersey to those billing the game as a homecoming. He's returning to the state where he first played football, where he graduated high school, and that elicits fond memories.
But the game is not a homecoming - "home" is the Philadelphia area, where Phillips relied on the Police Athletic League as an adolescent.
"One of the best things about Philly, for me, was the Police Athletic League," Phillips said. "The PAL did a wonderful job of molding me to the person I am now, just because it kept me out of the streets and it kept me doing some positive."
Phillips, 33, was raised on 30th Street and Girard Avenue. Once school let out, he rushed to the Logan PAL center. He stayed until 6 p.m., went home for a one-hour dinner break, and then returned to the PAL from 7 to 9 p.m. He played all types of sports except organized football.
Although he grew up a devoted Eagles fans admiring Keith Byars, his original calling was basketball. Phillips' mother played at University City High and his father played at Ben Franklin High. Phillips was too big to play in an organized football league - he remembered a 130-pound weight limit when he was 155 pounds - and there was not much grass in his neighborhood to play with friends.
Phillips became introduced to the sport when he moved with his mother and stepfather to Willingboro for high school. He was a standout athlete, and the coaching staff was immediately intrigued.
"We had quite a few kids from Willingboro who went to play Division I, but he was one that really stood out," former Willingboro coach Ty Belford said. "You can see when we ran drills that [Phillips] had a lot of potential."
Phillips played on teams that included six Division I players. When Belford met with the team for pregame meetings, he often offered them the same refrain: "There's going to be a couple guys in here that are going to be playing on Sundays."
Yet Phillips did not even think about playing in college until his high school basketball coach told him that he could be a Division II basketball player or a Division I football player. That's when Phillips focused his attention toward football.
He was a tight end and pass rusher in high school, and both Phillips and Belford remember a nine-sack performance against Camden during Phillips' senior season. The Camden players shouted insults toward Phillips. After the game, the Willingboro buses were pelted with rocks, eggs, bottles, and bricks.
"I had never seen anything like that before," Phillips said. "In my mind, again, I was like, I have to go prove these guys wrong. I played with an extra added chip on my shoulder and we were able to get a win and I played well."
This is a common emphasis by Phillips, who seeks motivation from any slight. After a productive career at Purdue, Phillips excelled for the San Diego Chargers for nine seasons. He was second on the team's all-time sack list. Yet the Chargers were not interested in bringing Phillips back as a starter when he entered free agency this offseason.
"It was almost like a slap in the face," Phillips said.
Phillips prepared to sign with the Houston Texans. He said the Eagles were interested in Phillips, but he was not looking for a homecoming.
"It's tough with all my family," Phillips said. "They're die-hard Eagles fans. I'd need 50-60 tickets to every game."
Then one of the crazier stories of the offseason occurred, and Phillips' plans changed. The Broncos planned on restructuring defensive end Elvis Dumervil's deal, but they did not receive the faxed contract until after the league deadline last March. Denver was forced to cut Dumervil to avoid paying him $12 million, leaving them with a need for a pass rusher.
They turned to Phillips, who had previously played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He signed a one-year deal, and his role became even more important after linebacker Von Miller was suspended six games for violating the league's drug policy, and later suffered a season-ending injury. Phillips is now the Broncos' top pass rusher and led the team with 10 sacks.
Phillips knows he would not be in Denver if Dumervil returned, and his value might be different if Miller played the whole season. But Phillips, sticking to his Philadelphia ethos, refuted the second-fiddle standing.
"Those guys have been big but I'm almost positive I have more sacks than both of them had at this point in their career," Phillips said. "That just goes to show that everything happens for a reason. That's the reason that I'm here."
He jokes with his teammates that they could not beat him in San Diego, so they made him join them. But Phillips is also honest about how he reached this point.
His sack dance honors his grandmother. He exalts his mother's role in his life. His charity of choice is for after-school programs because of his fondness for the PAL. The Willingboro football field is named in his honor, and he spoke at the school's 2012 commencement.
He singled out the role that multiple people played in his life - Mel Kilgore from PAL, Belford and the coaches at Willingboro, his chemistry teacher who helped him get into college.
"When I watch the game Sunday, I'm going to be thinking about a lot of those things," Belford said. "A lot went into Shaun being where he is. And it's all about the pride in the town, and the pride in the program."
Phillips maintains that pride. Because when the Broncos take the field on Sunday, he knows that he's from Philadelphia and went to school in Willingboro.
"You want to make your hometown proud," Phillips said. "You want to represent for your hometown."