Spotlight: Andre Tippett, A Patriot Legend

Andre Tippett is scheduled to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend in Canton Ohio. It 's a great honor for one of the franchise's best players. Kevin Saleeba provides some thought on how Tippett's final season ushered in the new era of winning in New England...

On a cold January night against the division rival Miami Dolphins in the last game of the 1993 season, Andre Tippett knelt on the ground holding down Miami quarterback Scott Mitchell after dragging the signal caller to the muddy Foxboro Stadium turf. Tippett suddenly raised his arms and fists in the air in celebration.

The sack helped the New England Patriots keep the Dolphins out of the playoffs that year with the team’s overtime victory. The sack was also his 100th and final sack of his NFL career. Tippett would retire shortly after the season, but the game helped catapult a new sense of winning in New England and helped revitalize a dying franchise. It was the first year of the Bill Parcells-Drew Bledsoe era.

With the Patriots organization now at the pinnacle of NFL success, it’s fitting that Tippett -- a seemingly forgotten Patriots legend with most new Pats fans who jumped on the band wagon circa 2001 -- was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tippett will be enshrined on Saturday, August 2 in Canton, Ohio, with ceremonies starting at 6 p.m.

From 1984 to 1988, Tippett was one of the most feared outside linebackers in the game. He is a member of the NFL’s 1980’s all-decade team. Four of the other linebackers on the team are already in the Hall of Fame, which includes Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Ted Hendricks, and Jack Lambert.

On being inducted to the Hall in February prior to Super Bowl XLII, Tippett said “This is by far the proudest moment of my professional football career. I will be joining the greats of the game and I am deeply honored. This recognition does not only belong to me, but also to my family, the Patriots organization, my teammates and especially the fans.”

Tippett was sometimes compared to and mostly overshadowed in the 80’s by arguably the greatest outside linebacker in the history of the NFL, Lawrence Taylor. However, Tippett was able to accomplish a feat LT could not. Tippett recorded the highest two-season sack total by a linebacker in NFL history, totaling 35 sacks during the two seasons. His 18.5 sacks in 1984 are the third most by any linebacker in a single season, while his 16.5 sacks in 1985 are tied for the sixth most by any linebacker in NFL history.

“I think that at every step that we all have gone through in high school football, college, we’ve all had somebody that you look to, as, okay, this is a guy that’s considered to be the very best at the position; okay, well, what do I need to do to be considered or mentioned in the same breath,” Tippett said during a July 15 conference call with the media when asked about being compared to LT.

“It’s a known fact that I’ve been referred to as the LT of the AFC,” Tippett said. “I have so much respect for Lawrence Taylor … He opened a lot of doors for a lot of other guys to come into the league. Guys were measured up against him … I think what he did, how he played; I think we all wanted to play and do the things that he did.”

During their heyday, Tippett may have had more responsibility on defense than LT. He achieved a great deal despite playing primarily on the strong side of the line of scrimmage, lining up opposite of a tight end, in a time where most successful pass-rushers lined up on the weak side. “It was a little bit busier for me on that side because there was so many things that I was looking at, tight end, guard, box … (Taylor) was an amazing athlete, and I have nothing but respect for Lawrence Taylor, and I think that when it’s all said and done, I think it just goes down as Lawrence Taylor was one of the greatest and Andre Tippett was one of the greats and one of the greatest, so it really doesn’t matter now because we are all in the same place.”

Tippett holds the Patriots’ franchise record with 100 career sacks. He also owns the top three single-season sack performances in Patriots history (18.5 in 1984, 16.5 in 1985 and 12.5 in 1987). He ranked seventh on the all-time sacks list, and third among linebackers, at the time of his retirement following the 1993 season. Over his career, Tippett recorded 100 sacks in 151 games, an averaged more than a half a sack a game. The mark currently ranks fourth in NFL history among linebackers.

Ironically, Tippett did not have a sack in nine games during his rookie season in 1982, but over the next six seasons, he terrorized opposing quarterbacks. From 1983 to 1988, Tippett totaled an astounding 72.5 sacks in 83 games played. The Patriots were also very successful during that time with a team record of 56-39, while winning the AFC East in 1986 and being a member of the first Wild Card team in NFL history to win three road games to go to the Super Bowl in 1985.

New England selected Tippett in the second round of the 1982 NFL Draft. Used primarily on special teams during his strike-shortened rookie season, Tippett became a permanent starter in 1983. That year the 6’3”, 240-pound linebacker set the stage for things to come by recording a team-leading 8.5 sacks. The following season he established a new team record for sacks and earned his first of five consecutive invitations to the Pro Bowl (1984-1988).

In 1985, the Patriots, for the first time in team history, advanced to the Super Bowl. A major contributing factor to the team’s success was Tippett’s outstanding defensive play. That year he led the AFC in sacks, recorded three forced fumbles and recovered three fumbles, one of which he returned 25 yards for a touchdown. In four postseason games, he recorded 21 tackles and a sack. His outstanding play earned him All-Pro, Pro Bowl and AFC Defensive Player of the Year honors (NEA, UPI).

Tippett was off to another great start in 1986, when during the ninth game he injured his right knee which required surgery. At the time his 9.5 sacks was second in the NFL. Determined, he returned to the lineup for the final two regular season games and the team’s one playoff appearance. Even though he missed five games, he still earned All-AFC and All-Pro Second Team honors, and was named to a third consecutive Pro Bowl.

In 1987, Tippett’s play remained high. His 12.5 sacks were again an AFC best and were second only to the NFC’s Reggie White.

Injuries plagued the tenacious linebacker later in his career, missing four games in 1988, while a shoulder injury sidelined him for the entire ‘89 season. Although his season sack totals dipped, he still was able to remain a dominant force on some bad Patriots teams. From 1990 to his retirement in 1993, the Pats won only 14 games while losing 50 in four dismal seasons.

“It was frustrating at times,” Tippett said. “You know, it was what it was, and it was nothing that I had any control over. All I had control over was how I prepared, how I contributed to the team … It was kind of frustrating, because you know, you become the laughing stock a little bit, and I kind of grew up in the league where you saw things like that happen. You know, I can remember back in the early 80’s, you always were threatened to get traded to Green Bay at the time; Green Bay was awful in the early 80’s, and then look what happened to those guys.

“So it was that evolution of the National Football League that franchises go through those types of things, and eventually, they get back on track,” he said. “If you look at us, we are a prime example of that. We went from the outhouse to the penthouse, and it's been pretty cool. So you just have to be steadfast and hang in there.”

Throughout the good and the bad times with the Patriots, Tippett told the media he is proud to go into the Hall as a Patriot. On playing his entire career in New England, he said “I wear it as a badge of honor. Toward the end of my career, probably around '90, I talked to guys, and guys would say to me, ‘how do you stay there, all of the things that are going on, and why don't you do something to get out of there.’ And to me, it wasn't my manner. It wasn't my personality or my makeup to be that type of person.

“I was committed to the organization,” he said. “The organization had been committed to me throughout my time as a player … I finished up my career here with the Patriots and I couldn't see myself going anywhere else … With free agency the way it is nowadays, it really is a rare opportunity now no matter how good you are that you'll get that opportunity to play with the (same) team. So for me, it definitely is a badge of honor.”

In 1986, Tippett and the Patriots played in the Hall of Fame game in Canton the season after they went to the Super Bowl. “Recently, we took our rookies there (to Canton), and that was pretty much the second time I had been there, and comparing it from ‘86 to now, the place is amazing,” said Tippett, who was the Patriots’ assistant director of pro scouting and now serves as the team’s executive director of community affairs. “You have nothing but respect as you walk through this place and see the evolution of this game and how it’s changed. It really truly is a great place …

“I think going through the Hall of Fame for me as a new inductee; it’s priceless, and I’m just honored to be part of this.”

** Archived information and stats from the Pro Football Hall of Fame was used in this story.

Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin here.

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