Mike Phillips was unforgettable. (Tim Fuller/USA Today)

National anthem demonstrations may have split the country during this NFL season, but even the most divided families had to find the version that preceded the first Thanksgiving game to be therapeutic.

Saxophonist Mike Phillips poured his heart into “The Star-Spangled Banner,” just as he did earlier this year when he played before an Atlanta Falcons playoff game and again at the NFC championship in January, a rendition that has been watched more than 3 million times on the NFL’s Facebook page.

Phillips, who has played with Prince and Stevie Wonder, has been praised for playing with heart and soul, but he also plays with pain since the murder of his manager, Sharneen (known as Shawn) Norman, by her boyfriend in December 2014.

“You have a foundation of wanting her to be proud,” Phillips told The Undefeated‘s J.A. Adande earlier this fall. “I have to replace the anger with being ferocious in this industry and making her proud.”

Phillips was filling some big shoes. Last Thanksgiving, Aretha Franklin sang a stirring (and really long) anthem before the Lions’ game.

“Creatively, I’m putting everything I can into it,” Phillips said. “Despite everything that’s gone on in America and all of the issues that are still pending, I can still play the song with the hope of America catching up to the greatness it should be at.”

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