Last fall, during the recurring SiriusXM Phish Radio segment, Ask Phish, the band received a call-in from one very special fan, the voice of the New York Jets, Bob Wischusen. “Bobby Dubs”, as he’s known to the NFL team’s fans, asked the band members who they would be starstruck to meet. Guitarist Trey Anastasio caught nearly everyone by surprise when he used the opportunity to express his admiration for “the greatest football player in the history of the game” Nick Mangold.

For ten seasons, Mangold played center for the Jets. While he didn’t lead the team to any Super Bowls, he did play in seven Pro Bowls and a pair of AFC Championships in 2009 and 2010. According to Trey, however, it’s not the rings or the wins that have endeared Mangold to him.

“My fascination with Nick Mangold is what his function was in the function of a team,” Trey said in a new NFL Films mini-documentary. “You think about a center, he’s got his hands on the ball every single play. Every play. Nick Mangold always showed up. He was, like, consistently the heart and soul of the grit of the Jets.”

Trey’s affinity for Mangold is well established, as evidenced by a nearly decade-old, previously-unseen clip from a different NFL Films segment. While the film’s subject was the connection between Phish’s “Wilson” and the Seattle Seahawks during quarterback Russell Wilson‘s tenure on the team, that didn’t stop Trey from giving a shootout to his favorite player.

“I like Mangold, he’s my favorite Jet. He’s not calling the plays,” Trey said in a 2013 interview. “He’s right in the middle there, he’s just so symbolic of what a good New York Jet should be like.”

What Mangold represents to Trey is what it means to be on a team. As the singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter for Phish, he feels like he’s in a similar position to Nick, out there every play with his hands on the ball.

“Nick Mangold to me represents everything I love about being on a team, and I’m on a team, so he inspires me,” Trey said in 2022. “But the team extends beyond the players on the field, and in my world the team extends beyond the four band members. It’s the crew, it’s the drivers, it’s management, it’s so many people that make this thing happen. That’s been the defining element of the years in Phish. That probably explains my love for Nick as a football player because I think he represented that.”

After Trey made his comments about Nick last year, word spread to the now-retired football player. Mangold took to Twitter to suggest a meeting between the two, and who better to facilitate than Bobby Dubs, the Jets announcer who also happens to have somewhere between 50 and 75 Phish shows under his belt.

“It’s just shocking to me someone is so known and has such a following and everything he would pick out a kid from Ohio just running around on a football field,” Mangold told Wischusen. “Just because of how much I appreciate the musical side. I’ve got no musical bone in my body, can’t keep a rhythm to save my life. So I’ve always been awestruck by musicians, to me seeing people playing out there in front of thousands of people that just blows my mind and I love it.”

Mangold had never seen a Phish show, but luckily he had Bobby Dubs to give him the playbook ahead of time.

“It’s musical ice hockey,” the announcer told Mangold. “Like hockey on TV is awesome, but at the same time you’re not getting the full experience ’til you go. And that’s what these guys are. Every show is a snowflake.”

The powers that be arranged for Mangold to take in his first Phish show at the band’s home field, Madison Square Garden. While this year’s re-scheduled April New Year’s Eve run marked the emotional fulfillment of the band’s pandemic-altered year-end celebration, Trey had more on his mind than the life-size whale floating above his head.

“I cried when the whale came out, I have to say,” Trey recalled. “When you see these flying whales and the setlist all integrated, the lights, everything all integrated it is a reflection of a healthy team. This year was really successful, we really felt like it went off great. But the next day was even more exciting.”

Prior to the last show of the run, Mangold and Wischusen went to The Garden to meet Trey. Watching Trey gush over his favorite football player is a somewhat ironic experience considering how often the guitarist is approached by wide-eyed fans praising his greatness. The two struck a common ground, as Trey empathized with Nick—who has yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to Anastasio’s dismay—as the guitarist pointed out that Phish’s 1995 hot dog prop hangs in the lobby of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but the band has not actually been inducted yet.

“He should be in the Hall of Fame,” Trey said of Nick. “Every football fan is going to be proud to see Nick Mangold in the Hall of Fame, because the fans know! You know what I mean? You can’t just put the pretty boys in the Hall of Fame.”

Showtime then rolled around as the lights dimmed on Nick Mangold’s first show. As Trey delivered a blistering “First Tube” opener, Wischusen asked Mangold what he thought so far, with the first-timer observing, “There’s a lot of electricity for the first song, I think it’s gonna be a good night.”

Though Trey has played thousands of concerts in his life, and just the evening before executed a massive audiovisual feat with the completion of the band’s New Year’s Eve* gag, he knew this show was special.

“Pretty cool to think how many times I had watched him, that he’s out there watching us and watching me. That’s just a total thrill,” Trey observed. “That was the Mangold set. Because my favorite football player Nick Mangold was in the audience so I had to bring it, had to bring it on the guitar. I was trying to bring it all night.”

“Nick Mangold, that’s how I want to be in the band,” he concluded. “I want to be the guy in the center, that the other teammates can trust. That’s what I try to do in Phish.”

Watch the new NFL Films highlighting Trey Anastasio and his love for former New York Jets center Nick Mangold on YouTube.