Honoring Andre Tippett

Andre Tippett will be honored by the New England Patriots during tonight's Monday Night Football game at Gillette Stadium. We felt it appropriate to share some reflections on his career from his induction into the Hall of Fame this summer.

[This story has been republished from an article writtin at Tippett's Hall of Fame Induction in August]

CANTON, OH – Nobody knows more what it’s like to face Andre Tippett than Hall of Fame offensive lineman John Hannah.

Hannah, arguably the best offensive lineman in the history of the league and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 1991, saw first hand how dominating at linebacker Tippett was for four seasons in New England. Everyday at practice Hannah and the Patriots offensive lineman had to face off against Tippett.

“In practice when you’re going up against Andre, you’d get nervous,” said Hannah prior to Tippett’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. “You’d get that competitive spirit going and not wanting him to beat you and it made me a better player from having practiced against him. He was just a great player …

“He was just one of those guys who just gave it everything he had, not only on game day, but during practice and he was an inspiration to the rest of his teammates,” said Hannah, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame the first time he was eligible. It took Tippett 15 years after his retirement in 1993 for him to finally be enshrined.

“People in our era didn’t have the benefit of free agency and so a lot of great players get selected by weak teams and they were forced to play under those poor ownership teams for their whole career and so they were never able to go to great teams and be part of a great team and get the kind of notoriety that they deserve,” he said of Tippett. “To see Andre, who wasn’t on Super Bowl Champions, get inducted like that is a great tribute to him. I think it’s well deserved and about time.”

Scattered in the sea of the burgundy and gold colors of the Washington Redskin fans at Fawcett Stadium prior to the enshrinement ceremony, there were several number 56 Red, White and Blue jerseys scattered around the stadium. The throwback New England Patriots jerseys are the same Tippett wore when he terrorized AFC East Quarterbacks for 11 seasons in the 80’s and early 90s.

From 1984 to 1988, Tippett was one of the most feared outside linebackers in the game. He is a member of the NFL’s 1980s all-decade team. 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.

“Anything LT (Lawrence Taylor) could do, Andre could do it just as well,” said former Patriots teammate Irving Fryer. “He could rush the passer just as well, stop the run just as well, (and) cover backs out of the backfield just as well. He just never got the notoriety of LT because we played up in New England.”

“Andre Tippett was an impact player who consistently played at a level that set him apart,” said Raymond Berry, former Patriots head coach and Hall of Fame wide receiver, prior to the enshrinement. “Accounting for him limited what an offense could do. He made quarterbacks nervous … and rightly so.”


Andre Tippitt (R) Robert Kraft (L) Photo Kevin Saleeba/PatriotsInsider.com)

Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft presented Tippett with his Hall of Fame bust. “Of all the players I watched and rooted for … I can say, without a doubt, that Andre Tippett was the most dominant defender the Patriots ever had and one of the greatest ever to play the game,” Kraft said during his enshrinement speech. “Andre possessed the perfect combination of strength, speed and athleticism. In his prime, Andre was probably the most intimidating player in the game. I can't think of a higher compliment for a linebacker.”

The lasting image from Tippett’s speech will be the image of his mother, Francis Tippett standing in the middle of the crowd, rocking back and forth and hugging herself as the tears streamed down her cheeks.

“My journey here has been a long one,” said Tippett. “And it hasn't always been easy along the way … What can I say about my mom? Thank you for teaching me perseverance. Life wasn’t easy for us moving from Birmingham, Alabama to Newark, New Jersey, with not much more than the clothes on our back. Through my mother I learned to be accountable for my actions and understand the consequences of those actions. And with that you better believe my mom she made me appreciate, understanding what’s right and what’s wrong. She ruled with love and a whole lot of discipline. Mom, I love you and thank you for that.”

Tippett said, as a kid, he often emulated his favorite football players and they inspired him to be the best he could be.

“I can't believe I'm joining this fraternity,” said Tippett as he turned and acknowledged the Hall of Famers seated on the stage behind the podium. “I tell our young players to know their history, because you are the living representatives of that history. You have inspired me since I was a young boy, dreaming of one day standing here. In my youth, I watched every game I could. I studied all the great players like Ham, Lanier, Youngblood, Bobby Bell, Lee Roy Selmon and many more.

“Some kids play cops and robbers,” he continued. “I emulated you. You are my heroes. Even in my college years, my teammate and I, Brad Webb, would pretend we were the Steelers linebackers in our Iowa black and gold. Brad Webb was Jack Ham and I was Dennis Winston. To my contemporaries, you also inspired me; the linebackers of the '80s. You guys set the standard for how to play the position. You are we are the best of the best.”

Tippett also thanked his “second family,” the New England Patriots organization. He thanks the late Dick Steinberg, the team’s former director of player personnel, and Pat Sullivan and the Sullivan family, former owners of the team.

He also had great praise for his former coaches and teammates. “Raymond Berry, innovative player, same as a coach. He taught me the value of preparation and understanding the business is winning football games. Under Coach Berry we became the first team to take the organization to the Super Bowl; the single greatest moment of my career. Coach! Thank you for everything.

He had a special place in his heart for former Patriots defensive coordinator Rod Russ. “Without him I would not have had the career I had in New England. He was the mad scientist we all grew to love.”

And then, as Tippett puffed out his chest with pride as he praised the Patriots linebackers from the mid-80s.

“To the backers, I love you all. (Don) Blackmon, Wisu (Clayton Weishuhn), (Lawrence) Magrew, (Brian) Ingram, (Johnny) Rembrandt, (Ed) Reynolds, Nelly (Steve Nelson), we were a tight group. We were the ‘backers … We had a lot of good times and some great, great memories.”

Tippett said standing at the podium in front of the legends of the game wearing his own mustard colored Hall of Fame jacket was a dream come true.

“I was able to live my dream. This was my dream!” he concluded in his speech. “I am truly humbled and I'm honored to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

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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. (All photos in this story courtesy K. Saleeba)


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