Thank You, New England

Tom Dipace/AP

They say time flies in this league. Boy, they’re not lying.

Today, I am officially retiring from the NFL. 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?

So this is a happy day for me, and I just wanted to let you all know how much I appreciate you embracing a Southern kid from Lewisburg, Tennessee.

I can’t even lie to you. My first reaction when I got the call from the Patriots on draft night was, “Dang it seems cold up there.” I think I managed to try one sleeveless game in my whole career as a Patriot, and it was a struggle. I don’t know how you crazy dudes up in the stands at Foxborough be drinking beers with no shirts on in the middle of January. You’re truly a different breed. But you have always supported me — on and off the field — from Super Bowl wins to charity events and beyond, Pats Nation has always showed up.

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.

I’m totally at peace knowing that I gave this franchise every ounce of sweat I had left.

Dont'a Hightower

My son is only two years old, so he never got to see Daddy play. He’s too young to really understand the game, but a few weeks ago we pulled out my rings on Super Bowl Sunday just to show him.

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. It’s funny how things come full circle, because when I was at Alabama, Kirby Smart used to always tell us, “Never ever go behind a block unless you’re sure you’re going to make a play.”

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.

Aaron M. Sprecher/AP

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.

Sometimes it’s still unreal to think about…. I am a three-time Super Bowl champion. Pretty good for a kid from Lewisburg, Tennessee. I appreciate everyone who helped me make this dream come true. But I especially want to thank my mom. None of this happens without her. Now that I got my own 40-pound two-year-old running around the house like a little wrecking ball, I don’t know how you held it down for us all by yourself.

Thank you. Just thank you. I wouldn’t rewrite a single chapter of this story.

Dont'a Hightower

I just want to say thank you for helping me live my dream.

To you, to my beautiful wife, Morgan, to all my coaches, my teammates, my mentors, my teachers, my friends, my entire family, and to all the fans at Bama and New England....

Thank you. Just thank you. I wouldn’t rewrite a single chapter of this story.