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Dont'a Hightower Makes His Retirement Official at Last with an Announcement That is a Glass Case of Emotion

I guess if there's any surprise baked into Dont'a Hightower's retirement announcement today, it's that he made one at all. Given the fact his last game was 14 months ago, the Wild Card playoff loss at Buffalo following the 2021 season, I think we'd all assumed he just kind of did the Quiet Quitting that is all the rage with the kids nowadays in post-pandemic America. 

That said, it's good to hear from him finally. I kept expecting him to come back for one final season last year. I'd figured he was going to show up late to camp with that veteran's privilege that was extended to Junior Seau (RIP) and Bryan Cox way back in the day. And when it didn't come, I just assumed he had no interest in making an announcement. But this is welcome because a career of the magnitude of Hightower's deserves an exclamation point, drawn in his own hand. 

When Devin McCourty retired and I called him the second best Patriot of the Dynasty Era, I got quite a bit of blow back, which I was prepared for. Because there is no lack of worthy candidates for the title. After all, Ty Law and Richard Seymour may have played elsewhere, but they're in Canton as Patriots. Gronk will be as well in four years or so. But all things considered, the only argument I heard that truly made me reconsider my choice of McCourty came from someone suggesting Hightower. 

That Tweet from the Patriots says it all. Three Super Bowl rings, three crucial, game-changing plays from Hightower.:

  • The stop on 1st & goal from the 2 in XLIX. 
  • The strip sack in LI with Atlanta on 3rd & 1 in field goal range in a 28-12 game. 
  • The sack that killed the Rams' deepest penetration in LIII and forced them to settle for a field goal, their only score of the game. 

Not one of those wins would've happened without him stepping up at a crucial moment. In that way, Hightower was the David Ortiz of the second half of the Dynasty. And I'm happy to see that his contributions are not lost on him. In his announcement in The Player's Tribune, he walks us through all of them. And on an emotional level, reading them described in his own words is like the final act of It's a Wonderful Life times Herb Brooks breaking down in the tunnel in Miracle to the power of the fight scene in Rocky:

I know these announcements always feel bittersweet, but I can’t think of a better story than the one I wrote in New England. A decade, three Super Bowls, two Pro Bowls, and the birth of my son — all playing for one franchise. How many guys have a story like that? …

Every ring tells a story.

When I look at that first ring, I think about the Marshawn tackle.

When I saw Seattle line up in that I-form, I knew Beast Mode was getting it, and I knew they’d been gashing us with that strong-side lead all game. I knew he was going to walk through a huge hole if I didn’t take a risk. …

Well, I wasn’t sure. But I figured we had nothing to lose. So I ripped up under Okung and shot my shot. All I saw was Marshawn’s two legs churning, and I just prayed to God that I could clip him up or something. I reached out … and you already know what happened next.

When they lined up for the Malcolm Butler interception, I was thinking the same thing as everybody else in the world: Marshawn is getting the rock. When they snapped the ball, I took one step into the hole, ready to unleash everything I had on him. Then I saw Russ turn to throw it.

When I saw Malcolm running out the endzone with the ball, I was screaming, “Get down! Get down, bro!!!” We jumped in the dogpile, and everyone was screaming, “We did it!!! We did it!!!”

Every Super Bowl I won, there’s a little memory like that attached to it.

That second ring?

I’ll never forget when we were in the locker room at half-time. We’re down 21–3, so some guys are quiet, and some guys are doing the rah-rah stuff. I sat there and for some reason thought, “Man, I don’t even have a son yet. But one day, he’s going to watch the tape of this game, and he’s gonna know one thing for sure. His dad never f***ing quit.”

You already know the rest. And I’ll never get tired of inscribing “The Strip Sack” on anything I sign.

That third ring? Just as sweet, despite dealing with food poisoning in the days leading up to the game. All I can say is, when Sunday rolled around, you already know what it is….

Do your job.

Simple as that. We kept our mouths shut that whole week. The only reply was up on that scoreboard. 13–3.

Giphy Images.

I'm going to have to pause here a moment and gather myself, because that is too much joy to process all at once without my feelings short circuiting. 

OK. I'm back. I'm still going to stick with McCourty, due to the fact he was also critical to winning those same three championships, and due to Hightower missing most of 2017 and sat out both the Covid year and last season. But that's not a hill I'm looking to die on. The fact remains that Hightower came up biggest in the biggest moments, and that will forever cement his legacy. Better yet, it will preserve it in amber for future generations to admire. As such, he was everything they could've possibly wanted him to be when they took him after Chandler Jones in the 1st round of 2012 (which I'll always remember as the Police Academy Draft, and regret they didn't draft a Tackleberry to go with them). 

Hightower was a Pro Bowler. A captain. The most coveted free agent on the market who tested the waters, but ultimately decided to spend his entire career in New England. But above all else, he'll always be associated with those championships. And that's what will put in him in the Hall at Patriots Place. In this announcement, he says it better than anyone else ever could:

People always ask what makes the Patriots culture so different. Easy answer: it was about professionalism, period. You knew that you had to show up every single day — not just physically but more so mentally. We had a saying, “If you do it right, you do it light.” Being good was expected. Being great might even get you a thumbs up from Bill. Luckily, I knew a thing or two about that from my time at Alabama under Coach Saban.

For nine seasons, I lived that mentality 24/7. Today, I’m totally at peace knowing that I gave this franchise every ounce of sweat I had left.

Enjoy retirement, High. You've earned it. Godspeed.