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Thursday, July 31, 2008
LT learned a thing or two from Tippett


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

 
 Ken Levine/Getty Images
 Andre Tippett is the Patriots' franchise leader in sacks (100) and fumble recoveries (17).

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The notion young New York Giants assistant Bill Belichick could hold up another player for Lawrence Taylor to emulate sounds preposterous.

Taylor was the nouveau outside linebacker, remaking the position before our eyes with every wicked movement. Taylor revolutionized the position, made it his own. He was considered the standard.

"When you're coaching Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks," Belichick said, "there's not a lot of guys you can really put film up on and say 'Let's do it the way that guy's doing it.' In most cases (other linebackers) couldn't do it as well as those two could."

Except one guy. There was one contemporary outside linebacker who could be considered Taylor's peer.

Andre Tippett, who toiled on so-so New England Patriots teams for most of his career, was overlooked compared to the Big Apple spotlight Taylor enjoyed.

But in NFL film rooms he was looked at over and over and over.

"We'd watch him play and talk to our players about 'See how he's doing that? That's they way we want to do it,' " Belichick said.

"He was one who was every bit as dominating of a player in his time and in his game."

Tippett on Saturday night will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Tippett spent his entire career with the Patriots. He made five Pro Bowls, all in a row, and finished as the franchise leader with 100 sacks and 17 fumble recoveries. He recorded the highest two-season sack total in 1984 and '85, amassing 35 of them.

He was named the NFL Players Association's top linebacker in 1985, '86 and '87. That was in Taylor's prime.

"The average guy goes 'I don't really remember him.' Well, look at his stats," said former Miami Dolphins tight end Joe Rose. "He was special, boy.

"He was unbelievable. He was just phenomenal."

This weekend, though, Tippett's an emotional wreck. He admitted so himself. He has been overwhelmed since he got the call. The more he learns about Canton's magnitude, the more intense the whole thing gets.

"There is so much history here in the National Football League," Tippett said Thursday during a news conference in Gillette Stadium, "and to be part of the Hall of Fame is unbelievable."

Tippett rattled off numbers that put his awe in perspective, starting with his estimate that there have been 18,000 players in NFL history.

"The percentages will stun you when you look at it," Tippett said.

There are 247 Hall of Fame members. Only 230 were players. Tippett said 155 honorees still are alive.

He's the 17th linebacker to get in and the second career Patriot behind guard John Hannah.

"This is something you can't pay for," Tippett said. "You can't be cut from this team. You can't even quit.

"To be part of this is the greatest honor there is. There is nothing after this honor -- just to die."

For 11 seasons he snuffed opposing quarterbacks. He overmatched tight ends, tackles and fullbacks, leaving them strewn behind him in a path of tornadic ruin.

His sack total began with Mike Pagel in September 1983. He dotted the likes of Cliff Stoudt, Vince Ferragamo, Art Schlichter, Brent Pease and Browning Nagle along the way before stopping on Scott Mitchell in January 1994.

Two of his favorite destinations were within his division, Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.

"I just remember seeing Andre as a guy that was dominant," Belichick said. "Tight ends couldn't block him. They couldn't run outside to his side. They couldn't run off-tackle to his side.

"He was a very powerful pass rusher. He was fast. He was athletic, and he used great technique. He used his hands well."

Oh, those hands.

That's where Tippett had it over everyone else. He studied martial arts since he was 13, when self-preservation in the Newark ghetto motivated him to learn karate. He was a black belt when he played, and the reflexive hand movements he demonstrated in his Sunday dojo were studied and adopted around the league.

Belichick, for one, put his linebackers through hand drills because of Tippett. When he became head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1991, he hired a martial arts instructor.

"When you watched Andre play you could really see it," Belichick said. "You could see how fast his hands were and how he was able to swat people off him or knock blockers' hands down to create a better leverage."

Tippett explained his objective was to work the outside frame of a would-be blocker to make him reach. That's when Tippett unleashed a torrent of forearms and elbows. Former Patriots tight end Don Hasselbeck once said nobody inflicted more pain on him that Tippett did in practice.

"Pass rushing was really simple because of pass rushing and playing outside linebacker is hand-to-hand combat," said Tippett, who still owns two of the top six season sack totals for linebackers in NFL history.

Tippett was named to the NFL's all-decade team for the '80s, a period when outside linebackers overtook middle linebackers as the defensive glamour position. His best season was 1984. He recorded 18 1/2 sacks, 118 tackles.

Yet he never garnered the widespread attention Taylor did.

Taylor became known as the most vicious defensive weapon in NFL history, a reputation galvanized with a pair of Super Bowl victories.

Tippett, meanwhile, played for middling teams. The Patriots had six losing records in his 11 seasons. They totaled double-digit victories twice and reached the Super Bowl once -- the epic blowout defeat to the Chicago Bears.

The Patriots were ordinary during Tippett's tenure, but now he can count himself a member of football's ultimate team, every bit as worthy as Taylor or Jack Hamm or anybody else in Canton.

"It's cool," Tippett said. "I feel so cool. I can't wait to put that jacket on."