Andre Tippett: From Standing Up For Himself To The College Football Hall of Fame

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Paybacks.

It’s well known what kind of troubles that can be had being on the receiving end of paybacks.

Few people understand that concept the way Andre Tippett does. 

Except, in Tippett’s case the paybacks he made were of a much more mature manner and within the confines of football, which he parlayed into a stellar career at all levels.

Tippett, a former standout at the University of Iowa, will be enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame later this year in Atlanta.

Tippett was caught by surprise when learning of his selection for enshrinement.

“I went to the door to get the mail and there was a Federal Express package,” the former Hawkeye explained. “When I opened it there was a letter customized for me informing me of being selected. 

“My first thought was that my wife was pranking me,” he added, “and I went back in the house already thinking of ways to get back at her for playing a joke on me.”

It was far from being a prank or joke. Tippett earned every honor that has come his way over the years after dominating the college game and helping Iowa rise to level not seen in America’s Heartland in a very long time.

“When I realized the letter was legit and on the up and up I got teary-eyed,” Tippett said. “There are so many great college football players who have played the game and to be recognized alongside them is an amazing honor.”

GROWING UP

Born in Birmingham, Ala., Tippett moved with his family to New Jersey when he was seven.  It didn’t take long for for Tippett to find himself becoming the target of bullies in his Newark neighborhood.

“From sixth grade to eighth grade I had a problem with bullying,” Tippett recalled. There seemed to be three or four kids who were always bullying me and others in the neighborhood. Those were probably the toughest three years of my life.”

Through it all, Tippett only grew.

“It made me stronger,” he added.

It was during that time Tippett began to gravitate toward football as a way to escape the challenges of the tough streets of Newark.

“Football began to take on a new meaning for me,” Tippett said. “I found out that it gave me an avenue to stand up for myself in a constructive way.”

Tippett used the address of a friend to get into school at Barringer High School. Founded in 1838, Barringer is one of the nation’s old high schools. The Blue Bears were one of the top prep programs in New Jersey for many years.

IOWA HAWKEYES

The six-foot, three-inch Tippett caught the eye of plenty of college recruiters.

Iowa, coached at the time by Bob Commings, won out. 

But, there was one obstacle that Tippett had to overcome before beginning his career in Iowa City.

Tippett was forced to enroll at Ellsworth (Iowa) Junior College before he could find his way to Iowa City. 

He found the tiny community of Iowa Falls, the home of EJC, not to his liking.

“I wanted out of Ellsworth after one year,” Tippett recalled.

He made sure his grades would allow him to do that. 

But, another obstacle came up when Commings, Tippett’s original recruiter, was fired as coach at Iowa. Commings, who never had a winning season as coach of the Hawkeyes, finished with an 18-37 record in his five seasons. He was replaced by Hayden Fry.

The losing continued for the Hawkeyes in Tippett’s first two seasons with the team. Fry’s first Iowa team finished 5-6 and followed that with a 4-7 record in his second season. The Hawkeyes finished 4-4 in the Big Ten in each of those seasons.

That all began to change in Tippett’s final season of 1981. And in a big way.

Iowa finished 6-2 in conference play and shared the Big Ten championship with Ohio State.

It was Iowa’s first winning season in 20 years and the first Rose Bowl appearance since 1959.

“The traditional beat-downs ended that season.” Tippett said.

It became apparent early in the season that something special might be on the horizon in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes began the season with a 10-7 win over No. 7 Nebraska at home inside Kinnick Stadium. A loss to in-state rival Iowa State the following week tempered some of that enthusiasm.

A four-game winning streak restored the excitement and expectations that the long drought of sub-.500 seasons just might come to an end.

A convincing 20-7 win over sixth-ranked UCLA started that winning streak and the Hawkeyes followed with win over Northwestern (64-0), Indiana (42-28) and a narrow 9-7 win on the road at Michigan.

The Hawkeyes needed wins in each of their final three games of the regular season to secure a share of the conference title and the trip to Pasadena.

Tippett also began making a name for himself and establishing himself as one of the best in college football history.

He was named to first-team all-conference team in each of his final two seasons at Iowa. He set a school record for tackles for loss in 1980 when he recorded 20 TFLs for minus-153 yards. Tippett finished the season with 66 tackles, including 41 solo stops.

The 1981 season, his final season in Iowa City, was filled with some of the most impressive statistical numbers in school history.

The Hawkeyes allowed just 129 points in their 12 games, including the Rose Bowl, where they dropped a 28-0 decision to Washington. The 10.8 points per game allowed were the fewest since 1965. The 86.9 yards per game rushing allowed remains the best in school history. 

Tippett and his defensive teammates allowed an average of 253 yards per game, the fewest since 1959 and the fourth-best in school history in terms of yards allowed. Northwestern managed just 78 total yards in a 64-0 loss to the Hawkeyes in Evanston.

Tippett was a consensus All-American in 1981 after recording 61 total tackles, including 14 sacks. He ended his collegiate career with 141 (88 solo) tackles and three interceptions. He played in the Hula bowl and Japan Bowl following his Iowa career.

He was later elected to the Varsity Hall of Fame at Iowa.

“It is really, really special to be voted by your peers and the people who saw you play,” Tippett said when being immortalized in Iowa City in 2007. “I’m going in with some of the greatest people to ever play sports at the University of Iowa.

“This is one of the greatest honors I have ever had,” he added. “This is a special feeling because during the three years I was there, I developed a great bond with the players and coaches.”

NFL CAREER

Tippett, who had grown to 230 pounds by the time his collegiate career came to a close, was selected in the second round of the 1982 NFL Draft (42nd overall) by the New England Patriots. 

He would spend his entire 11-year pro career with the Patriots and become one of the most dominating defensive players of his time.

“(Lawrence Taylor) is in a class by himself,” New York Jets running back Roger Vick said during Tippett’s playing career. “L.T. is first, then Tippett and (Cornelius) Bennett behind him.”

The former Hawkeye was voted to five straight Pro Bowls (1984-88). He recorded the highest two-season sack total by a linebacker in NFL history when he tallied 35 sacks (1984-85). The 18.5 sacks he recorded in 1984 are the third most by any linebacker in a single season in league history. He had 16.5 sacks the following season which ranked sixth most by a linebacker in a single season. 

Tippett, who appeared in 151 games (139 starts) during his NFL career, was held without a sack in his rookie season, but would go on to finish either first or second on the team in sacks in each of his final 10 seasons in the NFL. He missed the entire 1989 season with an injury. He finished his pro career with 100 sacks.

He also shares the New England franchise record with 18 fumble recoveries with Steve Nelson and was credited with 17 forced fumbles during his time in New England. He played in three playoff games while with the Patriots, including the Super Bowl following the 1985 season where New England lost to the Chicago Bears 46-10.

Tippett says it’s important for young player to take advantage of those trying to teach them.

“Do everything you can to become a great teammate,” he said. “There are so many people who are willing to teach you the things necessary to succeed if you are willing to learn.

“It takes some time to grow and it takes a work ethic and discipline to achieve success,” he added.

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