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Nine-Year NFL QB Eric Hipple Learned Teamwork From the Bench of His Pop Warner Team

Welcome to "Why We Play," a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

Eric Hipple wasn’t a star player for his Pop Warner football team — far from it.

“I wasn’t even good enough to start,’’ Hipple says now with a laugh.

Hipple, who went on to to star at Utah State, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in the 1980 NFL Draft and played quarterback for them for nine years, barely got on the field when his football career began. 

“My dad, or course, signed me up to play,’’ Hipple said. “I was a late developer. I wouldn’t say I was uncoordinated, but I wasn’t caught up yet. And I was probably a little immature as far as my thinking went compared to my contemporaries.

“So being on a team was cool, because I got to be a part of something. I would say that was my most initial gratitude toward playing. My first year playing, we did these drills, and I did not want to go out the next year. I talked to the coach and I’m glad I did.’’

Hipple played for the Downey Rhinos in Downey, California, a city just southeast of Los Angeles and the birthplace of the Apollo Space Program.

To say Hipple’s career rocketed after his Pop Warner debut would be an understatement. 

What he learned from those days in Downey proved invaluable, however, throughout his high school, college and professional careers.

“The social aspect of being part of something is kind of a mission owned type of thinking,’’ Hipple said. “And we all work together for that mission. To win, to have fun, to learn new skills. It wasn’t just about winning, it was about learning.

"Every person is unique because they all have their things to do, but you can’t be successful without everyone doing their job. From the guy who might not be on the field very often — and that was me at the beginning — but being there at every practice and being ready when you do your get your shot. All of that was so vital to your development.’’

There was the coaching Hipple received as a young player in Downey, both on the Pop Warner level and at Earl Warren High School, that also wet a long way in his growth and development.

“From Mr. Webb (Pop Warner), to my high school and college coaches, they all had a specific piece in my development. The early part, Mr. Webb was really great at development. And it was always subtle, it wasn’t ‘Do it this way.’ It was more by example. He was a construction worker and after working all day he would be at practice right on time or even early. And that set a good example. He was just a good, hard-working guy.’’

The team also did well on the field.

“I’ve still got pictures from those teams,’’ Hipple said. “We were champions. We won our (league). And actually went and played a team from Utah. It was great times.’’

Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Spinelli


  • Youth Football
  • NFL Players and Legends