New England Patriots Hall of Fame pass rusher Andre Tippett helped revolutionize the linebacker position in the National Football League.
Tippett hit his stride with Raymond Berry’s Patriots in the mid-to-late 1980s. He dominated the opposition at a time when linebackers grew bigger and faster.
Behind Tippett’s emergence, New England reached its first Super Bowl game at the end of the 1985 NFL season.
Tippett’s martial arts background helped him hold off the NFL’s most athletic blockers with relative ease.
He used his blazing hand speed to keep tight ends and other blockers at bay during his legendary 12-year pro football career.
Tippett was so good that former Cleveland Browns head coach Bill Belichick hired a martial artist to help run his linebacker drills in his first year on the job in 1991.
Not only that, but Belichick has also used Tippett as a role model for the linebacker position well into his two-decade career as the Patriots head coach.
Tippett, the 1985 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowl selection, eventually earned a gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH in the summer of 2008.
This is Andre Tippett’s incredible gridiron journey.
Andre Bernard Tippett Sr. was born in Birmingham, AL on December 27, 1959. He has four brothers: Gregory, Reginald, Kelvin, and Gerard. He also has one sister named Yvette.
Although Tippett was born in Alabama, he spent his formative years in Newark, NJ.
Tippett was fascinated with the gridiron during his childhood. He watched football on television every weekend.
Tippett also closely observed legendary players such as Jack Ham, Willie Lanier, Lee Roy Selmon, and Bobby Bell, to name a few.
Little did Andre Tippett know he would eventually join those men in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
Tippett never played little league football as a child. Instead, he told HawkeyeSports.com’s Darren Miller that he and his friends played football on the streets of Newark.
“We would toss it up and you tried to avoid hitting car bumpers,” Tippett told Miller. “It never dawned on me that I wanted to play football until I got to high school.”
Andre Tippett attended Barringer High School (now known as Barringer Academy of the Arts & Humanities) in Newark, NJ.
"High school sports serve as a great preparation for adult life. And the more sports you play, the more chances you have to learn those lessons."
I always look to share this with every young man or young lady who play high school sports..#NJSIAA HOF class of 2022 #barringer pic.twitter.com/tAm0JvrSaK
— Andre Tippett (@AndreTippett) March 26, 2022
Tippett wanted to go to Barringer High because the school had a reputation for excellence in academics and sports.
There was one hitch—Tippett and his family did not live in the Barringer district.
Andre told HawkeyeSports.com almost four decades later that he used a family friend’s address so he could get his foot in the door.
Ironically, it was not a scout or coach who thought Tippett would excel on the high school gridiron.
According to NJ.com’s Tom Bergeron, Tippett’s massive frame and swagger caught the attention of a Barringer High security guard when his mother accompanied him to campus in 1974. Tippett was about to transfer to the school that year.
The security guard then reached out to Barringer Blue Bears head football coach Frank Verducci. He told Verducci about a possible prospect for the football team.
Verducci wasted no time and tracked Tippett and his mother down on the school grounds.
Verducci told Tippett’s mother that her son could try out for football. The latter initially refused—she believed Andre was going to become a lawyer, per NJ.com.
Undaunted, Verducci told her that some football players moonlight as lawyers. Before long, she finally relented and allowed Andre to strut his wares on the high school gridiron.
Tippett’s high school football journey with the Barringer Blue Bears got off to a rocky start after he didn’t make the freshman team in 1974.
Tippett went to the audition even though he did not have any football gear. Instead, he wore school clothes during the week-long tryout.
When Tippett saw the final roster tacked on the bulletin board, he was upset. However, he did not let the setback weigh him down. He kept tabs on the Blue Bears’ JV and varsity teams while waiting for the next football tryout.
Fortunately, Tippett persevered and eventually made the varsity team as a sophomore in 1975. Verducci asked senior captain Prentice Walker to serve as Andre’s mentor that year.
Walker told Bergeron in 2008 that Andre Tippett was a quiet and observant individual during his high school days. Walker thought Tippett was going to become a special player someday.
“There was something about him that was special; it really was,” Walker told NJ.com. “Obviously, I was correct.”
The Blue Bears won the Group IV New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association title in Tippett’s first year with the varsity squad in 1975.
When Andre Tippett entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2008, he gave credit to Verducci for helping him develop toughness and the proper mindset on the gridiron.
Tonight we recognized 2 Newark legends – Frank Verducci and Andre Tippett – by presenting them both with Keys to Essex County. They both influenced generations of residents and are examples of what individuals can achieve with hard work. #EssexCounty #Newark pic.twitter.com/a83nnWAY1U
— Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. (@Joe_D_EssexExec) November 22, 2018
After Walker earned his high school diploma, Verducci passed the torch to Tippett. Andre not only wore Walker’s number 71 jersey, but he also became the Blue Bears’ undisputed leader for the next two years.
Under Tippett’s leadership, the Blue Bears reached the state final in 1977.
During Tippett’s time at Barringer High, Coach Verducci told him and his teammates to honor the names on the backs of their jerseys—something which was much more valuable than money and possessions.
Verducci also told his players to get an education so they could make a difference in society.
Tippett took these lessons to heart and eventually evolved into one of the best linebackers in New England Patriots franchise history.
“As long as ‘Tip’ was in control, I didn’t have to worry,” Verducci told Bergeron in 2008. “I’ve had a lot of young men, and he was the one who makes you realize that all your preaching and coaching was beneficial.”
As Tippett’s high school football career wound down, Iowa Hawkeyes assistant coach Bernie Wyatt, a native of the Garden State, recruited him.
It was sheer coincidence considering Tippett watched Big Ten football, particularly the intense Michigan Wolverines-Ohio State Buckeyes rivalry, every Thanksgiving Day throughout his youth.
It wasn’t surprising that Tippett wanted to play Big Ten football when he reached the college level.
Tippett initially wanted to suit up for either Ohio State’s Woody Hayes or Michigan’s Bo Schembechler.
However, Wyatt’s reputation as a first-rate recruiter in the East Coast region eventually won Andre Tippett over.
“He didn’t sugarcoat anything; he always told us like it was,” Tippett told HawkeyeSports.com. “Bernie Wyatt is like Moses in our house and at our high school.”
Before long, Tippett committed to Iowa and dropped Ohio State and Michigan from his shortlist.
Andre Tippett was just getting started. He emerged as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten when he played for the Iowa Hawkeyes in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days With the Iowa Hawkeyes
Andre Tippett took the JUCO route and attended Ellsworth Junior College in Iowa in 1978.
According to HawkeyeSports.com, Tippett was the first member of his family to attend college.
Tippett remained in-state and transferred to the University of Iowa. He suited up for Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry from 1979 to 1981.
Tippett and his teammates had a rough time during his first two years at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes were just 9-13 in the first 22 games of the Hayden Fry era. During that forgettable two-year span from 1979 to 1980, Iowa lost to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Purdue Boilermakers, and the Ohio State Buckeyes by an average of more than 40 points.
Nonetheless, Iowa’s core group, which included Tippett, Todd Simonsen, Mel Cole, Brad Webb, Tracy Crocker, Pat Dean, Bobby Stoops, and Lou King, did not let those embarrassing losses shake their confidence.
The turning point came prior to the 1981 NCAA season—Andre Tippett’s senior year at Iowa.
Tippett and Webb approached new Hawkeyes offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz in the summer of 1981. They asked Ferentz, a former Pitt Panthers graduate assistant, if he had film of linebackers Rickey Jackson and Hugh Green.
Tippett’s willingness to learn made a lasting impression on Ferentz, who succeeded Fry in 1999 and remains Iowa’s head football coach to the present day.
A rejuvenated Hawkeyes team won eight of 12 games and ended its 22-year bowl drought in 1981.
Alas, the Washington Huskies beat the Hawkeyes in the 1982 Rose Bowl, 28-0.
Although Iowa ended its memorable 1981 NCAA campaign on a sour note, Andre Tippett became a Consensus All-American that year.
Tippett also earned his second consecutive First-Team All-Big Ten selection at the end of his senior year at Iowa.
Andre Tippett’s career tackles for a loss of 153 yards still stands as a school single-season record, per Miller.
Iowa defensive coordinator Bill Brashier told NJ.com in 2008 that Tippett stood out as the best All-American from that 1981 Hawkeyes roster.
Many years after Tippett played his final down for the Hawkeyes, he gave credit to the school for helping him turn his life around.
“Iowa gave this poor kid from Newark, New Jersey an opportunity to be somebody, to be something special, to be part of a legacy,” Tippett told HawkeyeSports.com in 2021. “I bleed black and gold and I will always bleed black and gold.”
Andre Tippett soon wore New England Patriots red, white, and blue and became one of the most iconic pass rushers in team history.
Pro Football Career
The New England Patriots made Andre Tippett the 41st overall selection of the 1982 NFL Draft.
The Patriots were an above-average team when Tippett joined during the 1982 strike-shortened NFL season.
New England won five of nine games that year but lost to Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins in the 1982 AFC Wild Card Game, 28-13 in January 1983.
The Patriots won an average of nine games over the next two years but never made the postseason.
When former Baltimore Colts wideout Raymond Berry replaced Ron “Slick” Meyer as Patriots head coach during the 1984 NFL season, Andre Tippett’s pro football career took off.
Tippett, New England’s left outside linebacker, smothered quarterbacks with reckless abandon. He had a combined 35.0 sacks from 1984 to 1985. He also had four fumble recoveries and one touchdown off a fumble recovery for good measure.
When Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke at Andre Tippett’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008, he confirmed Tippett was the only linebacker in league history to record 35.0 sacks in back-to-back seasons.
Kraft crossed paths with Tippett for the first time during New England’s memorable 1985 NFL season.
Robert Kraft & Andre Tippett are honoring 26 Myra Kraft Community MVPs today, with over $200,000 in grants. pic.twitter.com/USl1CPnRao
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) June 9, 2015
Kraft saw Tippett decked out in karate gear doing a photo shoot on the Sullivan Stadium field.
“Andre Tippett is the only football player that I have ever met in his full karate garb and the only one I know with a fifth-degree karate belt,” Kraft said in 2008. “Now, that’s an image I’ll never forget that the rest of my life.”
Tippett’s courtesy impressed Kraft on that day. When the former described his passion for martial arts, the latter understood his commitment to high standards and excellence.
Fast forward 21 years later and Tippett told Patriots.com that martial arts played a crucial role in his legendary NFL career.
Martial arts helped Tippett make full use of his hands and arms when trying to sack the quarterback or tackle the ball carrier. The discipline also helped him improve his leverage as a first-rate linebacker.
Tippett was one of the best defensive players in the league. He earned co-NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors with Los Angeles Raiders defensive end Howie Long in 1985.
Tippett’s outstanding pass rush capabilities earned him five consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 1984 to 1988. He also earned two First-Team All-Pro and two Second-Team All-Pro selections during that five-year time frame.
Tippett was so good that New York Jets head coach Joe Walton told NJ.com in 2008 that he was the AFC’s best pass rusher at the time.
Walton told Berger that the linebackers of the mid-to-late 1980s were noticeably bigger and faster than their predecessors.
In Walton’s opinion, Andre Tippett and the New York Giants Lawrence Taylor were the benchmarks for linebackers of that era and beyond.
Legendary New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was the Giants’ defensive coordinator when Taylor wreaked havoc on the opposition in the mid-to-late 1980s.
To this day, Belichick is in awe of Andre Tippett.
Belichick remembered Tippett overpowering blocking tight ends when he led Taylor and the Giants’ defense back in the day.
According to ESPN’s Tim Graham, Belichick made his linebackers practice hand drills because of Tippett’s ability to use his hands to his advantage against opposing blockers.
Belichick took it one step further shortly after the Cleveland Browns made him their head coach in 1991—he hired a martial arts teacher to complement his linebacker drills.
Belichick still uses film of Tippett as a teaching tool for his current linebackers.
“We’d watch him play and talk to our players, ‘See how he’s doing that? That’s the way we want to do it,'” Belichick told ESPN in the days leading up to Tippett’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement in the summer of 2008.
Today is the start of New England Patriots training camp, I really don’t miss those days, but it was a lot of fun being around my teammates.. #nofairducking #onlythestrongsurvive pic.twitter.com/8tz5nmWGcP
— Andre Tippett (@AndreTippett) July 28, 2021
Behind Andre Tippett’s emergence and Berry’s leadership, the Patriots won an average of 11 games per year from 1985 to 1986. New England eventually reached the Super Bowl for the first time in its storied franchise history at the end of the 1985 NFL campaign.
Unfortunately, the Patriots lost to Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears—the “Monsters of the Midway”—in humiliating fashion in Super Bowl XX, 46-10.
Nonetheless, Tippett considered the milestone the “greatest moment of my career” in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2008.
Tippett continued playing at a high level over the next two seasons. He racked up a combined 19.5 sacks from 1987 to 1988.
New England won an average of nine games during that two-year stretch. Regrettably, the Patriots never made the postseason as the 1980s wound down.
Despite missing five games due to a right knee injury in 1986, Tippett became a Second-Team All-Pro selection for the first time and earned his third straight Pro Bowl berth.
Andre Tippett sat out the entire 1989 NFL season due to an injured shoulder. The Patriots sorely missed his services. Without Tippett as their number one edge rusher, they stumbled to a woeful 5-11 win-loss record in Berry’s last year at the helm.
While Tippett was recovering from his shoulder injury at Mass General Hospital, he crossed paths with Robert Kraft for a second time.
When Tippett saw Kraft, he recognized the future Patriots owner from their first meeting four years earlier. Kraft felt honored the Patriots’ Pro Bowl linebacker recognized him.
Kraft told Tippett he was at the hospital visiting his son David, a college wrestler who had a serious knee injury.
Tippett asked Kraft to take him to his son’s hospital room so he could encourage him and lift his spirits. Tippett’s humility and graciousness left a lasting impression on Robert and David.
Tippett took the field for the Patriots in 1990 and went on to suit up in 61 of the final 64 games of his legendary pro football career.
Tippett had 29.5 sacks and nine fumble recoveries from 1990 to 1993. Unfortunately, the Patriots were one of the NFL’s worst teams at the beginning of the 1990s.
New England averaged just four wins per season in Andre Tippett’s last four years in the National Football League.
The Patriots reached rock bottom when they won just one game under head coach Rod Rust in 1990. It was New England’s worst record in its 30-year franchise history.
Andre Tippett retired from the NFL at the end of the 1993 NFL campaign. He had 100.0 sacks, 19 fumble recoveries, two touchdowns off fumble recoveries, and one interception in his 12-year NFL career.
At the time of Tippett’s retirement, he was the only player in New England franchise history to record 100.0 career sacks.
Tippett’s career sack and fumble recovery totals were the most in Patriots team history when he hung up his cleats.
He singled out the Miami Dolphins Dan Marino and Buffalo Bills Jim Kelly as his favorite quarterback targets during his iconic pro football career, per ESPN.
Andre Tippett and his wife Rhonda currently reside in the Boston, MA area. They have three daughters: Janea, Asia, and Madison. They also have a son named Coby.
Tippett converted to Judaism after he married his Jewish wife in 1994.
“I started to research everything surrounding Judaism because I wanted our household to be of one religion,” he told JewishBoston’s Molly Parr in 2012. “When you convert, you embody it wholeheartedly.”
Yep he’s turns 20 today. Let’s wish him a very Happy Birthday today. I’ve enjoyed watching him grow up. He’s still following his dream of a student athlete and figuring things out along the way. @tippett_coby life is like an onion, it has endless layers, keep grinding. Luv u son pic.twitter.com/g4fNb0S7aK
— Andre Tippett (@AndreTippett) June 24, 2018
Tippett began working for the Patriots’ front office after he retired from the National Football League following the 1993 NFL season.
The Patriots chose Tippett as a member of their 35th Anniversary Team in 1994.
Tippett served as New England’s director of football development and promotions when he entered his 12th year in the front office in 2006.
There, Tippett spearheaded team activities geared toward promoting youth football in New England. The Patriots collaborate with local junior high and high schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and YMCAs to help achieve this objective.
Today, Andre Tippett is the Patriots’ vice president of community affairs.
Tippett entered the New England Patriots Hall of Fame in 1999. He became a member of the Patriots’ Team of the Century one year later.
Tippett told the Patriots’ official website in 2006 that he would have played the same role he did in the past on the current Patriots roster. He envisioned himself as an every-down edge rusher in a 3-4 defensive formation.
He told Patriots.com that he had no inkling that he would become a football coach because of his obsession with golf.
Although Tippett coached his son Coby in little league football, he realized at the time that he was more passionate about golf than coaching.
Andre Tippett became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2008. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was his presenter.
Tippett learned about his selection while he was in Phoenix, AZ for Super Bowl XLII between the eventual champions, the New York Giants, and the New England Patriots.
After Tippett received the good news, he had breakfast with his family and watched TV in the Patriots’ hotel lobby.
Tippett called his high school coach, Frank Verducci, and thanked him for everything he had done for him. Both men cried on the phone, per Bergeron.
At that point, it had been more than three decades since Verducci approached Andre and his mother Frances at Barringer High School in 1974.
Part of Tippett’s enshrinement speech reads:
“I am proof you should do everything you can to live your dream…I did not have the material advantages, but through commitment to achieving my goals, using the advantages that I did have and listening to the wise men and women who offered their support, I was able to live my dream.”
Andre Tippett is also a member of the NJSIAA Hall of Fame, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the National Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, the New England Patriots 50th Anniversary Team, the New England Patriots All-1980s Team, the New England Patriots All-1990s Team, and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
Sadly, Tippett’s stepfather Willie Lovett and mother Frances died just four days apart during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.
Tippett’s son Coby, a former Towson University Tigers defensive back, signed a minicamp invitation contract with the New England Patriots in the spring of 2022.
Andre Tippett still does martial arts to this day. The 62-year-old hopes to continue doing it well into his 80s and beyond, per Patriots.com.
Tippett’s passion for karate has taken him to Okinawa, Japan where he has trained with local karate masters.