February 03, 2008
Tippett Heading To Canton: Good Omen?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Let all these spying allegations be hanged.
Patriot Nation now has two things to celebrate this weekend: A Super Bowl game and the second Patriot to make it to the Hall of Fame. The Patriots have a chance to make history on Sunday if they can beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Meanwhile, former linebacker Andre Tippett made some history of his own on Saturday.
Tippett, linebacker for the Patriots from 1982 to 1993, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in August of this year. Tippett, who was drafted by the Patriots in the second round of the 1982 draft out of the University of Iowa, was the dominant AFC linebacker during his time. His only real problems were that he played his career at the same time as immortal Giant linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and but for a two-year stretch in the mid-1980s, generally played on some lousy Patriot teams.
Tippett becomes only the second player inducted into the Hall of Fame who played his entire career exclusively as a Patriot. The other such player was former guard John Hannah, still regarded as one of the finest, if not the finest, to ever play that position in league history.
Tippett was the fourth player selected in the 1982 draft by the Patriots, following defensive end Ken Sims of Texas, nose tackle Lester Williams of Miami (Fla.), and running back Robert Weathers of Arizona State. Coming off a horrid 2-14 campaign in 1981, the Patriots had stockpiled draft picks like crazy for this year. They had two firsts, three seconds (Tippett was the second of the three), two thirds and two fourths. It would be three years before good things finally befell the Patriots, and of these nine players selected in the first 111 picks, only Tippett and Williams would become starters (as would Fred Marion, selected in the fifth round). Whereas Sims was projected as the next Merlin Olsen, it was Tippett who turned out to be the plum pick here.
Ron Erhardt was fired after that lousy 1981 season, so Tippett would make his debut with the Patriots along with new head coach Ron Meyer, hired away from Southern Methodist University. Tippett played outside linebacker for the most part, and developed into a fearsome pass rusher. He would amass 100 sacks in his 12 NFL seasons.
His team around him was slow in developing. Halfway through the 1984 season, with the Patriots holding a respectable 5-3 record, Meyer fired defensive coordinator Rod Rust. The move was met with outrage throughout the organization, and Billy Sullivan immediately turned around and fired Meyer. He replaced Meyer with Hall of Fame wide receiver Raymond Berry, and Berry immediately reinstated Rust. The chain of events was dizzying, but Tippett had his defensive mentor back and Berry was in for the ride of his life in 1985.
In what would be the crowning moments of glory for Tippett and a lot of Patriots of this era, the 1985 Patriots would go 11-5 and qualify for the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Tippett, who would be named defensive MVP for the AFC this season, watched as his team won three road playoff games (Jets, Raiders, Dolphins) and made it to Super Bowl XX in New Orleans, the first Super Bowl in franchise history. The win in Miami to get to the Super Bowl would be the exact pinnacle, as the win snapped an 18-game losing streak for the Patriots in Miami and sent the Patriots to the show.
Once at the show, however, the roof caved in. Tippett wasn't able to enjoy his one moment on pro football's biggest stage. The Chicago Bears boasted the best one-season defense in league history and mauled the Patriots, 46-10. While the Patriot defense did hold Walter Payton to only 61 yards in 22 attempts, and while Jim McMahon only completed 12 passes on the afternoon (out of 20), most of the Bear drives were short ones thanks to a hail of turnovers (two interceptions, two lost fumbles). Tippett and his crew never really got the chance to tee off on McMahon and attempt to make this mismatch on paper a competitive game.
The 1986 Patriots rebounded and won the AFC East thanks to a dramatic regular season finale win in the final game at the Orange Bowl for the Dolphins. But that would be it for the playoffs for Tippett. The Patriots fell to Denver, 22-15 following the division title, and Tippett would never taste postseason again. For his career in the postseason, counting his strike-shortened rookie season and the goofy playoff system that year, Tippett had a 3-3 record and one Super Bowl.
Tippett languished through seven moribund years before retiring in 1993, Bill Parcells' first season. He was there for the disgraceful 1-15 1990 season, and was there for the terrible 1992 2-14 season which helped the Patriots land Drew Bledsoe the following year. Tippett could not hang on long enough to at least get a whiff of today's prosperity, as the Patriots made the playoffs the year after Tippett left (1994).
Today, Tippett works for the Patriots in public relations. He can be seen on the DVD Three Games To Glory as part of an interview session with Gil Santos, Gino Cappelletti and Mike Haynes. The men discussed the Patriots of old and how they relate to today's championship teams, and Tippett represented the 1980s and 1990s. Like Haynes and Cappelletti, Tippett is proud of what the Patriots have accomplished these days, and is proud of his Patriot heritage.
Just like his team hopes to seal its own special heritage on Sunday, Tippett has already done the same for himself on Saturday with this Hall of Fame announcement. It is of great importance to this organization that they get a former player in the Hall of Fame who is a Patriot and only a Patriot. Haynes, for example, played a lot of his career for the Raiders. Nick Buoniconti is also known as one of the best Miami Dolphins in history. Cappelletti now remains the best former Patriot not currently enshrined in Canton, and it is still up to the Veterans Committee to do the right thing and get one of the best players in AFL history into pro football's Valhalla where he belongs.
So, on the eve of what hopes to be the most significant win in Patriot history, and perhaps NFL history, Andre Tippett distinguishes the Patriots in his own special way. He is now a football immortal, taking his place alongside linebackers like Butkus, Nitschke, Singletary and Lambert. It is a deserving honor for one of the greatest Patriots to ever wear the uniform, and hopefully the Patriots can make a completely historic weekend with a win over the Giants on Sunday.
You have to wonder if Tippett will watch the game and have flashbacks from 22 years ago. Simply put, how can't he?
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