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How a 2-Hour Phone Call Led Tashaun Gipson to The Super Bowl

This undrafted special teamer almost quit football before becoming a Pro Bowl NFL safety. All thanks to one pivotal conversion.

An illustration of San Francisco 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson who went from small school undrafted free agent to Pro Bowler and NFC Champion
Credit-San Francisco 49ers/NFL/AP/Joker Mag

Tashaun Gipson pulled out his phone and dialed his mom’s number.

“I’m ready to come home,” he said.

His mother protested, but Tashaun insisted.

“It’s a long shot. It’s not going to happen. I might as well just start my life.”

He was ready to give up on football, and everything he’d worked for.

Starting his life meant joining the family business – a trucking company owned by his father.

But that’s not what happened.

The phone call with his mom lasted two hours. And their conversation changed his life.

“I got Drew Brees, Tom Brady…”

Today, Tashaun Gipson keeps an “Interception Wall” in his house.

A shrine with each of the 33 balls he’s intercepted in his NFL career.

A pro career that almost never happened.

Tashaun Gipson during training camp in 2012: It's a long shot. It's not going to happen. I might as well just start my life.

In high school, Gipson didn’t have a set position.

He played quarterback, wide receiver, free safety, and also returned kicks and punts.

While he was recruited by prominent D1 schools like Baylor, Gipson instead chose the University of Wyoming to play alongside his brother, Marcell.

“I always wanted to be just like [my brother],” he said.

“I don’t think people realize, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to play with the guy I idolized.”

At Wyoming, Gipson learned yet another position – cornerback.

But the switch wasn’t his biggest adjustment.

Heading 920 miles north of his Dallas high school, Gipson left a sprawling city for a town of 30,000 people.

“From the sign that says ‘Welcome to Laramie’ to the end of the town, I could have probably rode my bike and got through the whole town in 10 minutes.”

After a long day of practice, Gipson would drive off campus to run hills in the dark.

And his dedication paid off on the field. In four years at Wyoming, he racked up nine interceptions.

But the reality was he played for a small school in the Mountain West Conference. The NFL was a long shot.

While Gipson was dominating in Laramie, scouts were busy taking stock of powerhouse programs like Clemson and Alabama.

So, Tashaun Gipson wasn’t invited to the 2012 NFL Combine.

And he underwhelmed scouts at his pro day – his one chance to show them what he could do – by running a 4.61-second 40-yard dash.

Instead, he signed with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent where he transitioned back to free safety.

It wasn’t an easy switch.

“(It was) awful. In my first preseason game, I missed six tackles,” Gipson said.

“It was so hard for me to get used to the angles. I’m used to being on an island.”

After that tough conversion with his mother – where he contemplated quitting football entirely – Tashaun recommitted himself to the game.

He kept working, fighting to find a way into the NFL.

As an undrafted free agent, this was his only shot and he knew it.

“You feel a sense of urgency,” Gipson wrote in 2015, “because at any given moment you can be cut with no guarantees and no promises.”

At the end of camp, he got good news: his renewed commitment paid off.

He made the Browns’ 53-man roster as a special teamer.

Hungry to learn, he peppered teammate T.J. Ward with questions about the ins and outs of the safety position.

And by the third week of the regular season, the rookie played his way into a starting job.

“I just can’t thank that coaching staff enough for giving me a shot. For throwing me into the fire in Week 3 and saying ‘Hey, you’re not an undrafted free agent rookie anymore.’ I just never looked back from there.”

Tashaun Gipson on his time as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Cleveland Browns: You feel a sense of urgency because at any given moment you can be cut with no guarantees and no promises.

His confidence grew every week.

But he finally felt like he belonged in the league when long-time defensive coach Ray Rhodes approached him in the team cafeteria.

“He was like, ‘I don’t know why you didn’t get drafted, but you can play football,'” Gipson remembered.

“[It] changed how I saw myself for the rest of my career.”

In his first three years in the NFL, Gipson totaled 12 picks and was named to the Pro Bowl.

He went from a small school “no-name” to one of the top safeties in the league in just a few short seasons.

But Gipson never stayed in one place for long.

Four seasons in Cleveland, three in Jacksonville, one in Houston, two in Chicago, and now two more in San Francisco.

Over the past few years, he considered hanging up the cleats more than once.

But now at age 33, he’s playing at the highest level of his career.

“People don’t talk about him a whole lot just because he’s quiet, mild-mannered, and doesn’t say much about it,” said All-Pro teammate Fred Warner.

“But he’s one of the best players on our team.”

Some would argue that Gipson is as overlooked today as he was in high school.

But after twelve NFL seasons, that isn’t even a thought in his mind. Gipson has made several deep playoff runs, but he’s never won the big one.

And now with the Super Bowl looming, the journeyman safety is focused on one thing.

Sure, it’d be nice to add more interception balls to his wall, but it’d be even nicer to take home that elusive championship ring.

“You get to a point where you’re comfortable in life with what you’ve done financially,” he said.

“Would I like to make $100 million more? Of course. Would I like five more Pro Bowls? Yes. But winning a Super Bowl is my singular focus.”

And he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those people who gave him confidence at his lowest points: his mother, brother, coaches, and teammates.

Sometimes that’s all it takes: one person to believe in us more than we believe in ourselves.

To be the spark that reignites our confidence.

Win or lose, that’s a gift more valuable than any trophy.

This story is an excerpt from The Underdog Newsletter. Get the next edition by joining 11,000+ subscribers here 👇

Written By

Division III baseball alum (McDaniel College) and founder of Joker Mag. Sharing underdog stories to inspire the next generation.

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