Andre Tippett was a very good college player on a very poor team. When he arrived at Iowa in 1979, the Hawkeyes were mired in a streak of 19 consecutive non-winning seasons. They had not been to a bowl game since 1958. Not coincidentally, they won eight Big Ten games in Tippett's first two seasons. And by his senior year, they won a share of the Big Ten title and went to the Rose Bowl.
Tippett played high school ball under long-time New Jersey coach Frank Verducci, whose son, Frank Jr., is currently an assitant coach with the Browns. The school didn't have a weight program, but Tippett had unbelievable natural strength. At Iowa, he started three years at outside linebacker in the Hawkeyes' 50 defense. He ran extremely well and was like a big cat -- very seldom was he ever knocked off his feet.
Tippett was an excellent blitzer coming off the edge, but he was not used a lot dropping off in space -- which probably was the only reason he wasn't a first-round NFL pick. I remember talking to Tippett at the combine in Dallas in 1982. Tippett talked to me about the fact that, at 238 pounds, he had only run a 4.65 40. Still, that was on grass and with a stiff wind. The Patriots ended up making him a second-round pick in the 1982 draft.
Did I mention that Tippett had unbelievable natural strength? The best example, and one of the most vivid memories I have of Tippett, actually does not involve tackles or sacks.
New England was playing at Cleveland in 1985. It looked as if the Patriots scored a game-winning touchdown on the last play of the game -- but the player hit the pylon and it was ruled no score. In the ensuing moments, a fight broke out between the two teams. The only lasting image I have from this melee is Tippett tossing Cleveland players across the field. Like rag dolls.
It didn't hurt that Tippett was a black belt in karate, which is another example of what a great athlete he was. It's no surprise that he was a great special teams player when he was called on to perform in that role during his strike-shortened rookie season in 1982. A year later, he became a starter at linebacker and recorded 8.5 sacks. The next season, he set a team record with 18.5 sacks. That record still stands; Tippett still owns the three best single-season sack totals in New England history.
In his 12 NFL seasons -- all with the Patriots -- he finished with exactly 100 sacks. What's particularly impressive about those numbers is that Tippett played predominantly on the left side, the strong side. In many respects, Tippett was overshadowed during his career by Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor -- but Taylor moved around a lot, he lined up on the weak side an awful lot.
Simply put, Tippett was as good as anyone coming off the edge to rush the passer. Running backs who had to stay back to block hated to see him coming, because they never knew whether Tippett was going to run around them or over them to get to the quarterback. He could do either with ease. Tippett was named to the Pro Bowl five times, earning a spot on the All-Decade team of the 1980s.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is presenting Tippett at the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony this weekend. Tippett is currently New England's executive director of community affairs, so his boss can surely talk about what a great person Tippett is. But it is important to note that Kraft did not become owner of the team until 1994 -- a year after Tippett retired as a player. Before buying the team, Kraft had been a Patriots season ticket-holder since 1971. Who better than a die-hard fan to appreciate the accomplishments of one of the greatest players in team history?