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He's casting his backing Tippett's way

Andre Tippett preferred a low-key approach on his path to becoming a Patriots legend and dominating linebacker. Andre Tippett preferred a low-key approach on his path to becoming a Patriots legend and dominating linebacker. (Frank O'Brien/File/The Boston Globe/1987)
Email|Print| Text size + By Sal Paolantonio
February 2, 2008

In the frigid aftermath of the Patriots' win in the AFC Championship game, standing on the victory platform next to Hall of Fame offensive lineman John Hannah was a man who deserves to be enshrined in Canton: Andre Tippett.

Before there was Bruschi and Vrabel and Seau, the Patriots had one of the most feared and productive pass-rushing linebackers in NFL history. From 1983-93, Tippett was one of the toughest guys to block in the league. The problem is that, outside of New England, few remember what Tippett accomplished. Why? One name: Lawrence Taylor.

Tippett had the misfortune of playing virtually his entire career in anonymity in Foxborough at the same time Taylor was becoming the most famous football player on the planet 200 miles to the southwest in East Rutherford, N.J.

Taylor is universally credited with pioneering the role of the modern pass-rushing linebacker, but Tippett was almost Taylor's equal as a pass rusher. During the 11-year period in which they both started, Tippett recorded 100 sacks and Taylor 115. That's a difference of only 1.4 per season.

Yet Taylor was the first-ballot Hall of Famer and Tippett made his first appearance as a finalist in 2007, 14 years after retirement. Taylor was a three-time Sports Illustrated cover boy. Tippett couldn't even make Faces in the Crowd.

Taylor did lead the NFL with 20 1/2 sacks in 1986, but that was his only season with at least 16. Tippett had two of the greatest seasons ever by a linebacker, recording 18 1/2 sacks in 1984 and 16 1/2 in 1985. He led the AFC in sacks twice and Taylor led the NFC in sacks only once.

"Anything LT could do, Andre could do it just as well," said longtime Patriots teammate Irving Fryar. "He could rush the passer just as well, stop the run just as well, cover backs out of the backfield just as well. He just never got the notoriety of LT because we played up in New England.

"But it never bothered him. Not a little bit. He didn't care about anything but winning. He was a phenomenal player and an equally phenomenal teammate."

And Taylor drew so much attention to himself that there was no way the quiet Tippett could compete. Taylor was always in the news, just as often because of trouble off the field as success on it.

Tippett's 35 sacks over the 1984 and '85 seasons are still the most by a linebacker in a two-year period. His 100 sacks were third in NFL history by a linebacker when he retired and sixth heading into 2007.

Five of the six linebackers from the NFL's 1980s all-decade team have already been enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Taylor, Mike Singletary, and Jack Lambert in their first year of eligibility, and Ted Hendricks and Harry Carson after longer waits. But Tippett, a finalist again this year, still waits.

Maybe Tippett should have drawn a little more attention to himself and gotten suspended for two positive cocaine tests, as Taylor did at the peak of his career. Something to get himself noticed. Because just being one of the finest outside linebackers in NFL history obviously wasn't enough.

Put him in the Hall.

Sal Paolantonio is a national correspondent covering the NFL for ESPN. Part of this text was excerpted from his book, "The Paolantonio Report: The Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches & Moments in NFL History (with Reuben Frank)," published last year.

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