FOXBOROUGH — Dont’a Hightower wanted to inspire his fiancée Morgan Hart as she labored in the 17th hour to deliver their first child. She was exhausted, but the nurse said it was time to push.
He started chanting, “28-3, 28-3.” Adding, “Never give up.”
The standout Patriots linebacker laughs as he recalls his delivery-room audible. It’s New England lore to recite the score of Super Bowl LI, in which the Patriots trailed the Atlanta Falcons, 28-3, with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter. They rallied to win, 34-28, in overtime in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Let the record show that Grayson Hightower heard about it in the womb from his father.
Hart, Hightower’s sweetheart since their days at the University of Alabama, says the “28-3″ mantra gave her strength.
“It was surreal,” she says. “It was a long night and a long day, and he kept reminding me, ‘28-3, 28-3,′ meaning you can be behind and come back. Never, never give up.
“Dont’a is a motivator and always has been. ’28-3′ is about what you can do as a team and, in this case, it was the two of us as a team. He kind of renewed my spirit that he was in this with me, and if I wavered at all, he was here to pick me back up. He got me through it, for sure.”
Hightower uses the reference all the time. The 2017 Super Bowl win gave the defensive captain and linebacker his second of three championship rings.
“Long story short, man, it was a long game against a great team,” he says. “But we never gave up. There was an opportunity in the game for a strip-sack that changed the game in a big way. That led to the [Julian Edelman] catch, and down the road, James White, another touchdown.
“We won the Super Bowl because we never gave up.”
Hightower humbly doesn’t mention that he’s the one who strip-sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during the comeback.
Nor does he mention that two years earlier, he bench-pressed an offensive lineman out of the way to tackle Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch on the 1-yard line. That preserved New England’s lead in Super Bowl XLIX and led to the Malcolm Butler interception on the next play. No Hightower tackle, no Butler pick, no Super Bowl win in 2015.
Hightower doesn’t hesitate when asked which highlight ranks highest on his list of greatest hits.
“That’s easy,” he says with a grin. “The birth of my son.”
When Grayson was born July 16, at 8 pounds 4 ounces, his famous father felt “proud and excited.”
“We’ve waited quite a while, and for us to bring in this baby boy through troubling times, like this pandemic, just speaks volumes on the blessing that God has given us,” Hightower says.
Hightower, 30, decided to opt out of the 2020 season, but he says he loves football and is still in touch with teammates every day. He plans on returning with his family to his home in Tennessee.
“Not knowing too much about the COVID thing, I don’t want to jeopardize the health of my family,” he says. “I understand you can still catch it by going to the grocery store, but I’m not going to put my family’s health at risk for money.
“It’s family first. I want to take all the opportunity that I can to be a great father.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.