FOXBORO -- It's a fun game to play, thinking about how the stars of yesteryear might fit into today's game. Would they keep up? Would they still be the game-changers they were in their own eras, when the game was so different?
Mike Haynes and Andre Tippett, two of the best defensive players in the history of the Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Famers, visited the Gillette Stadium press box before tonight's game between the Patriots and 49ers. Turns out, they like to play that game, too.
They answered questions about how much the NFL has changed since their heydays in the 1970s and 1980s. Though both agreed the rules have been altered to favor offense, they believe their own personal styles would have allowed them to succeed nonetheless.
Tippett, an outside linebacker for the Patriots between 1982 and 1993, finished his career with 100 sacks. He smiled when asked how he might have fared in today's NFL.
"I probably would've gotten more sacks," Tippett said. "Because of all the quarterback drop backs. I love it. You got these guys getting 100, 140 sacks, I tell people it's a little bit different now. Watch these guys with these outside linebacker tags and they're not really outside linebackers. They're hybrid defensive ends just rushing up the field. I played the game from a run-pass standpoint. I consider myself a complete linebacker that happened to be pretty good at rushing when I was called to blitz."
Haynes played cornerback in New England from 1976 to 1982 and then with the Raiders from 1983 to 1989. His eyes lit up when he thought about the number of passes thrown in every NFL game nowadays.
"They'll pass on every down," said Haynes, who had 46 interceptions in his career. "They'll pass to get two yards, they'll pass to get three yards. I think that makes it a lot more exciting for the fans and it would've made it a lot more exciting for me, too. I would've loved to have been playing."
Tippett and Haynes, along with Curtis Martin, will serve as honorary captains for the Patriots tonight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tippett has stayed involved with the Patriots since retirement and has become close with New England's current crop of linebackers: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower. For all the changes the game has undergone, those three players remind Tippett of how linebackers played years ago.
"I love them all," Tippett said. "It's funny I can say this now, I love them all like my sons. I whisper in their ear from time to time, just to say, 'Hey keep up the good work, I admire what you're doing. I think you guys are playing hard. I think you guys are bringing it, putting it on the off people like it needs to be done.' It's a game of tough guys and it's fun watching those guys play. and I let them know that and I appreciate it."