Had it not been for Dont’a Hightower, the New England Patriots might not have won their fourth and fifth Lombardi Trophies.
The linebacker made a massive defensive play in each of the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl victories, strip-sacking Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to spur a wild comeback in Super Bowl LI and tackling Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch just shy of the goal line in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIX.
The tackle on Lynch came one play before Malcolm Butler’s championship-sealing interception, and Hightower said he isn’t often asked about it. But that’s perfectly fine with him.
“Maybe a few diehard football fans who know a lot about football,” Hightower said on Adam Schefter’s “Know Him From Adam” podcast. “But I’ve always been a trash man in my career. Never really made the big plays, the touchdowns or whatever. So that doesn’t really bother me. As long as I get a lot of respect and stuff from my teammates, that’s really all that matters to me.”
And what exactly is a “trash man”?
“I’m taking the garbage out all the time,” Hightower explained. “I do the dirty work and the hard work, man. I’m not always the one reaping the reward, but that’s all right with me.”
Hightower’s chat with Schefter included several interesting anecdotes, including one about his mindset in the moments before he tackled Lynch. According to Hightower, his motivation to make a big play stemmed from a touchdown he allowed to Miami Dolphins running back Marcus Thigpen a year earlier.
Thigpen’s score put Miami ahead with less than two minutes remaining, and New England was unable to respond, losing 24-20.
“In 2013, we played Miami, and Marcus Thigpen ran this crazy, insane route on me,” Hightower told Schefter. “It was, like, an option 7 or something — I’m not sure what it was. But he ran a great route, made a great play, and Miami ended up winning with Tom (Brady) not having enough time to go down and score.
“And I just remembered that feeling, knowing that I let my teammates down and that I didn’t want to be put in that situation again. That came up in the Seattle game. I was pressed with a difficult block with Russell Okung. I was able to get off of that, shed and try to make that play.”
It remains to be seen whether Hightower will continue to make plays in a Patriots uniform. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent next month, and while it would be in New England’s best interest to re-sign the second-team All-Pro, the sides have yet to come to terms on a contract extension.
“I love what I have in New England,” Hightower told Schefter. “I don’t have too much drawn up. I just want to be respected and loved.”
He added: “I’m sure (free agency) will be a journey, a rough and rocky one. But I’m looking forward to it. I’ve had five good years, and I’m looking forward to what’s coming my way.”
Thumbnail photo via Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports Images