LARAMIE – Tashaun Gipson Sr. signed with the Chicago Bears this offseason because he thought he had a chance to win. And while he’s been right thus far, each effort has been a rollercoaster ride.
In his first game as a Bear, the former University of Wyoming defensive back saw his team come back from down 17 in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions. Chicago squeaked past the New York Giants 17-13 in week two.
Against the Atlanta Falcons, the Bears trailed by 16 points with 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. With Nick Foles under center, Chicago roared back. The comeback was capped by Gipson’s interception with just over 1 minute left on the clock.
He’ll gladly sign up for the thrill ride if it leads to victories. After all, it really wouldn’t be Gipson if the journey wasn’t a little bit unpredictable.
“This is what I signed up for. That type of resiliency,” the ever-charismatic Gipson told WyoSports. “(But) we have to cut down on the theatrics.”
The former Poke was an undrafted free agent signed by the Cleveland Browns in 2012. By 2014, he was a Pro Bowler. Gipson is in his ninth NFL season and has solidified himself as one of the league’s better safeties. He is one of 15 former UW players on NFL rosters, the most of any Mountain West program.
After spending last season with the Houston Texans, Gipson signed with the Bears on a one-year, $1.05 million deal in the offseason.
“We talk extensively here about our players focusing on getting a degree, but every one of our players also has a desire to play in the NFL. To have 15 guys on NFL rosters – we’re proud of that,” UW coach Craig Bohl said.
“They’re a byproduct of doing things the Wyoming Way – coming in and working hard and being developed into becoming better. … What (NFL) clubs also know is that if a guy is going to come through our program, they’re going to learn how to work hard and be very focused.
“That is where our players’ draft stock has gone up, and their chance of getting in camps as free agents has improved,” Bohl said.
But as a cornerback coming out of college, it was hardly assured Gipson would get to where he is now. And he’ll be the first to tell you he realizes how special and unique his journey has been.
While some wait until their careers are done to smell the roses, Gipson is breathing in every waking moment. If it seems like Gipson is always cheerful, it’s probably because he is.
“Life is short. Man, this window is short. Why not (celebrate it)?” the 30-year-old Gipson said. “Give somebody their flowers while they’re here. Cherish these opportunities.”
Gipson, a Dallas-area native, was not heavily recruited out of high school. His only major offer was from Baylor, though it wasn’t the somewhat successful football factory it is today. He chose between Fresno State and UW, where his brother Marcell already roamed in the secondary.
Then-UW coach Joe Glenn told Gipson he would have the chance to play early and start alongside his brother, about as much of a dream scenario as possible. Gipson, who still to this day has lived almost exclusively in large cities, was struck by Laramie and its coziness.
There’s something beautifully simple about waiting for 45-cent wing nights at Chili’s.
Gipson has bled brown and gold since.
“I committed that weekend,” Gipson said.
The rest is, as they say, history. Gipson started all four years at UW and finished his career with 250 total tackles and nine interceptions. He was named second team All-Mountain West as a senior in 2011. Despite his success, he was not invited to the 2012 NFL Combine and was ultimately undrafted.
Gipson signed with the Cleveland Browns, who thought his best fit was ultimately at the safety position. It wasn’t exactly a smooth transition, and Gipson will be the first to admit that.
“(It was) awful. In my first preseason game, I missed six tackles,” Gipson said with a laugh. “It was so hard for me to get used to the angles. I’m used to being on an island.”
But Gipson worked. And he worked. And he worked some more.
He constantly asked Browns safety T.J. Ward questions about the intricacies of playing the position. Gipson transitioned from a project into an NFL player.
It was his defensive coordinator at the time, Dick Jauron, who went out on a limb for Gipson when he somewhat surprisingly made the Browns roster out of camp in 2012. He hasn’t forgotten what Jauron told reporters.
“Dick Jauron was asked, ‘What did you see out of Gipson?’ He said, ‘(Gipson’s) going to be a Pro Bowl player one day,’ and this is before I ever played a snap,” Gipson said. “Four weeks ago, I was missing five tackles in Detroit.”
Jauron proved prophetic. In his first season with Cleveland in 2012, Gipson played in 10 games, making three starts. His first game, a matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, featured quarterback Michael Vick, one of the most recognizable icons in the sport and one of Gipson’s favorite players. That was his “I made it” moment.
“I just remember I was on the sideline. Mike Vick would make a bad play, and I was like, ‘Come on Vick, you’re better than that,’” Gipson said with a laugh. “Like, I was rooting for him.”
By 2013, Gipson was a full-time starter for the Browns. In 2014, Gipson was selected as a Pro Bowler after finishing second in the NFL in interceptions (six) despite missing five games. He made it to the AFC Championship with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, coming up just short of a Super Bowl berth.
From underrated recruit to undrafted free agent to NFL mainstay, not even Gipson could have imagined his road going this direction.
“I remember the call (telling me I was a Pro Bowler) … Everyone wants to go to the Pro Bowl, being there with safeties like Earl Thomas, T.J. Ward,” Gipson said. “‘Am I here? Do I belong here?’ It was so surreal. … It was nothing that I would have scripted.”
Gipson hasn’t looked back since earning his chance, having started 107 of a possible 115 career games. But it hasn’t been all good times. Despite his consistent track record, Gipson has been cut twice, once by the Jacksonville Jaguars and most recently the Houston Texans, who he played for in 2019.
Free agency in 2020 was a whirlwind in a world of COVID-19, not having the chance to visit teams or meet as extensively as he normally would be able to. It’s more about “a hunch … and a feel,” Gipson said. But one of his former Browns teammates, Buster Skrine, is a member of the Bears and helped sway Gipson. He was close to signing with the Bears the previous offseason.
The NFL is, at its core, a business. And Gipson’s decision to join the Bears was about putting himself in a position to be successful, regardless of money. He’s at a point in his career where he wants team success over a signing bonus. And, at 3-0, the Bears look like a good gamble so far.
“I’ve made my bones. I’ve made my money. I want to win,” Gipson said. “I was talking to my mom about it. I understand how this game goes … nothing is guaranteed … if it can happen to Peyton Manning, then obviously (it can happen to me).”
Gipson has what he calls an “Interception Wall” at his house. It is a collection of the actual balls he’s intercepted from various NFL quarterbacks, 24 in total. There’s one from Drew Brees, a pass he intercepted and ran back for a touchdown. There’s a ball that came off the hand of Alex Smith. There’s also one that was thrown by Tom Brady, the winningest quarterback in NFL history.
In many ways, Gipson’s career has defied the odds. He’s made it to the top of the NFL without the luxury of multiple guaranteed contracts or a cushy draft position. Every step along the way has been a chance to prove himself, and he’s risen to the occasion each and every time.
Sure, there will be plenty of time to reminisce about a stellar career when Gipson is retired. But why wait until then? It’s been a memorable journey thus far. He might as well enjoy it as it comes.
Gipson is going to keep gazing at that Interception Wall.
“I got Drew Brees, Tom Brady,” Gipson said. “I don’t want to cherish those moments when I’m done and I’m old.”