Dont’a Hightower retires from NFL after decade with Patriots

New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower faces reporters following an NFL football practice, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (Steven Senne/AP)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dont’a Hightower is making a quiet exit to a memorable career with the New England Patriots.

The veteran linebacker, who did not play last season, announced his retirement Tuesday in an essay posted on the Players’ Tribune website.

It ends a decade-long run in New England that began with the Patriots selecting him 25th overall in the 2012 draft. It included three Super Bowl rings (2014, 2016, 2018) and a pair of Pro Bowl selections (2016, 2019). He also was named a second-team All-Pro in 2016.

Hightower called his decision “a happy day.”

“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,” he wrote. “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 (coach) Bill (Belichick). Luckily, I knew a thing or two about that from my time at Alabama under Coach (Nick) 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.”

Hightower appeared in 117 games in his NFL career, amassing 27 sacks and 353 tackles.

With his wife expecting their first child, he opted to sit out the 2020 season because of concerns about COVID-19. He returned in 2021, but his production was down. He played in 15 games, logging 64 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.

He became a free agent that summer but didn’t sign a new contract.

Hightower likely will be most remembered for tackling Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch on the 1-yard line late in the Super Bowl following the 2014 season. The play preceded Russell Wilson’s pass that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler in the end zone to clinch the Patriots’ 28-24 victory.

“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,” Hightower recalled in his essay. “I knew he was going to walk through a huge hole if I didn’t take a risk. … I figured we had nothing to lose. So I ripped up under (Russell) 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.”

Two seasons later, he came up big again in the Super Bowl. With the Patriots trailing the Falcons 28-12, his strip-sack of Atlanta’s Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter was recovered by Alan Branch. New England used a short field and scored to get within one possession. The Patriots ultimately tied it and capped off a historic comeback win in overtime.

“I’ll never get tired of inscribing `The Strip Sack’ on anything I sign,” Hightower wrote.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.