BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Mark Deal was 7 years old when he attended his first Indiana football game.
His eyes were drawn to some of the stars on the field who would go on to play in the NFL, such as Marv Woodson and Nate Ramsey.
One of the players he saw play but didn’t pay much attention to was Phil Westfall, who was Indiana’s punter from 1961-64. Little did Deal know that 30 years later, he would become friends with Westfall, and that friendship would last another 20-plus years after that.
Deal grew close to Westfall, and that’s why when he heard Westfall had a stroke and was in the hospital, he was devastated.
Westfall's son, Chris Westfall, tweeted that his father started to feel bad on July 20. He was tested for COVID-19, and the results came back positive on July 22. Westfall passed away on July 24. He was 77 years old.
“It was very tragic,” Deal said.
If there is one thing Westfall made clear, it was that he loved Indiana athletics.
As a player, Westfall earned letters from 1962-64. He then became a member of the I Association Board of Directors, which is where Deal met him in the late 1990's.
Westfall won a number of prestigious awards once he joined the board. In 2012, he received the I Association's oldest honor, the 50-Year I Winner Award. He was also a recipient of the Zora Clevenger Award in 2015, which is the highest honor a living I Man can receive.
When Deal, who is currently the Assistant Athletic Director for Alumni Relations, served as I Association President from 2016-2018, Westfall was the second vice president in 2018.
Westfall went on to become the vice president in 2019 and 2020 before assuming his role as president on July 1.
“Being in Indy, it was easy for him to come down (to Bloomington), and he came down a lot,” Deal said. “He was always very supportive.”
Westfall was a proud supporter of Indiana and would constantly visit the football team at practice. After word got out about his death, Indiana coach Tom Allen took to Twitter and said, “My heart is heavy with the news of the passing of one of my friends and former IU player, Phil Westfall. He was such a faithful supporter of our program...I cannot think of an alumni event that he ever missed.”
It began an outpour of mourning and positive messages about Westfall, ranging from members of the program or season ticket holders who knew Westfall because his seats were close to theirs.
“He loved IU,” Deal said.
Westfall would attend more than just football games. He would go to men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as other sporting events.
Deal thinks back to all the fun memories he had with Westfall and other members of the I Association while attending IU athletics events and celebrating the big victories. Games such as the Indiana men’s soccer team advancing to the College Cup in 2018 after knocking off Michigan State in penalty kicks in the Elite Eight at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
“We all watched that together and celebrated that,” Deal said.
Deal feels like he speaks for all members of the I Association when he says that Westfall was a joy to be around and an all-around genuine person.
“Just sharing both of our love for IU sports and IU athletics. Those were all fun. It’s a bond that unites all Hoosiers,” Deal said. “He was very personable and a great, great guy.”