During the eight seasons Ronnie Lippett was with New England, the cornerback collected 24 interceptions, returning two for touchdowns in 1987, and earned an AFC championship ring two years earlier. But his proudest moments as a member of the Patriots have occurred since his final game 15 years ago. His career on the field has presented Lippett with opportunities to give back to communities throughout New England.
"Actually, my wife, Sheryl, got me involved," Lippett said. "A local D.A.R.E. [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] officer in Easton, Michael Fox, came to the door (in 1988) and asked me if I could come to the school and talk to the kids. I told him that I had not done much public speaking and I really don't know if I can do it. And she yelled behind me, 'He'll do it. He'll be there.' I've been talking ever since."
According to the D.A.R.E. website, its primary mission is to provide children with the information and skills they need to live drug- and violence-free lives. The mission is to equip kids with the tools that will enable them to avoid negative influences and instead allow them to focus on their strengths and potential. Additionally, it establishes positive relationships between students and law enforcement, teachers, parents and other community leaders.
During Lippett's visits to elementary schools, he has used what he calls the S.A.F.E. [Students and Athletes For Education] program. "I use a large football and a carpet with a 'good zone' and a 'bad zone' to help kids understand the importance of knowing who their true role models are and staying with good people and doing their homework and all those good things," Lippett said. "I put on this negative T-shirt that (is labeled) drugs and stealing and disrespecting others. I have a rope that I use with little kids trying to pull me out of the bad zone and into the good zone. And when I'm almost about to pull them into the bad zone with me, I have a teacher come and help the kids pull them and me into the good zone.
"Then I take the negative T-shirt off and we thank the kids for helping me and to show them that there are times when there are going to be their own classmates and other people trying to pull them out of the good zone. You've got to use your teachers, your friends and your classmates to try to keep you out of the bad zone. Use the help that you have, all the positive and important people in your life to help you toward your dreams and your goals."
The feedback has shown Lippett that he has gotten through to an impressive number of students and increased the population of the good zone. "The many letters I receive from the kids from those schools that I visited, it makes my heart really, really happy," Lippett said. "And to know that I've done something to try to reach a kid and let them know what their parents are actually saying to them is the truth.
"To reinforce what parents are saying is something that happened to me from a pro athlete. An athlete came to my school and talked to me about the importance of staying in school and doing my best and making my mom proud of me and staying out of trouble and things of that nature. Those are the same things that my mom and my grandmother was telling me as well as the local coach. It's great to hear that from someone else. I guess some people just have to hear it from many other people in order to get it."
Lippett gets it. In addition to visiting schools, he has also done volunteer work to salute veterans, an effort that was recognized with the AMVETS Community Award. And since 1987, he, Sheryl and their daughters, Ronnique and Shonneau, have opened their home "to at least 25" foster children. Currently four girls aged 12-17 are residing with them.
Lippett got it as a player as well. Selected in the eighth round of the 1983 draft out of the University of Miami, his initial training camp was both a learning and painful experience. And even though he separated a shoulder during a scrimmage, when the regular season opened against the Baltimore Colts, Lippett had earned a spot in New England's starting lineup.
"What I had noticed was when guys would get hurt, they would try to stay hurt so that they can stay on the team," he said. "When I was hurt, I tried to rush myself back onto the field and I got fined for putting shoulder pads on to get out there. I had heard from the head coach that they knew that I could play, they just had to get me well. And by going out there on my own and trying to show them that I'm not one of those guys that was trying to falsify an injury, I wanted to show them that I wasn't that type of person and I wanted to make the team on my own efforts."
The 1985 team's efforts, going 11-5, capturing the AFC championship and advancing to Super Bowl XX, tops the list of Lippett's fondest memories of his Patriots career, which ran from 1983-91.
"The key for us was to know that we could win," Lippett said. "We started believing that after our fourth game. We started to put things together. We had a great group of linebackers and linemen that got to the quarterbacks and the running backs and we started to intercept the ball and make some things happen.
"And the way we did it (in the AFC playoffs), going from the Jets to the Raiders and then to Miami, it was great to go to the Super Bowl. It wasn't a great outcome, but I did make some hits in the game that I was pretty proud of. One of the tackles that I made, [Bears quarterback] Jim McMahon was trying to dodge me and I hit his knee and he flipped around in the air, was one of the hits of the season."