Andrew Whitworth has accomplished a brilliant football career spanning 16 years in the NFL for both the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals. He ended his illustrious playing phase this year after winning Super Bowl 56 with the Los Angeles Rams in February 2022. It was a glorious night in which the whole city roared their appreciation for their team and a giant of a man whose skills as an offensive tackle contributed majorly to the Rams titanic victory. Like Tom Brady, Andrew had joined the 40 club, which made his performance that much more remarkable. It is well known that being an offensive tackle is one of the hardest positions in football and it requires a special caliber of athleticism, intelligence, and courage. Andrew Whitworth has consistently proved his worth as an athlete and as a leader on the football field.
But Andrew Whitworth’s contributions to this world extend well past the football goal lines, and our interview with Big Whit revealed a man whose heart is as big off the football field – as it is on. The recently crowned Super Bowl champion received the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year award in recognition of his outstanding performance in the game as well as the positive impact he’s made through his extensive charitable work.
We begin our interview by digging a little into Andrew’s childhood in Louisiana. What we immediately recognize is that he was so gifted at all sports that football really didn’t feature in his life until much later. He excelled initially at basketball and baseball, and he describes his boyhood years like this:
“Growing up I played basketball where I was a forward and center because I was so tall. I also played baseball where I was a first baseman and then a pitcher. I didn’t play football until junior high. I played defensive and offensive line.”
We ask Andrew why he never played quarterback and he answers, “I can throw the ball well, but no, never a quarterback because I was always so much bigger than all the other kids. If you are a certain weight in elementary school, they make sure you are categorized in a certain weight class, and because I was big, they put me on the line. I played tight end and defensive end in high school until my senior year where I played tackle.”
As the conversation continues, we learn that Andrew still stays firmly in touch with his high school buddies, and this speaks volumes about who he is:
“One of my high school buddies became the president of my charitable foundation, and in fact, he’s visiting us here in California this weekend.”
We dig more deeply into that definitive time in his life when Andrew thought about becoming a professional athlete, and he supplies us with the history of that.
“My grandmother and grandfather always wanted me to play professional baseball and I used to think about that. I was a huge Randy Johnson fan. He was such an imposing figure on the mound with a baseball.”
Back then Andrew didn’t know that he would go on to become an imposing figure at left tackle playing football.
“In baseball,” he continues explaining, “I also really liked Mark Grace and Rafael Palmeiro. Actually, basketball was my favorite sport back then. It was something I was good at as a young kid. There was no question at that stage that basketball was what I enjoyed doing the most. I didn’t necessarily love football at the beginning. It was only when I got into college that I began to really love it. High School was an amazing experience, and our football team was unbelievably successful, but basketball still had the edge then.”
A successful high school football career is an understatement. Andrew and his Louisiana high school team were state champions for his last two years. That’s no small feat. He also omits to mention that he was a tennis champion in his hometown, an excellent golfer, and he participated in the first-ever U.S. Army All-American Bowl in High School Football in December 2000.
On the night we won Superbowl 56, I felt massive relief and confirmation for all the people who have either supported me or been in my corner. They always believed it was going to happen for me. I felt so good that all those people were right
Andrew went on to excel at Louisiana State University (LSU) under legendary coach Nick Saban. Inevitably that leads us onto a discussion of the best football coaches. We’re specifically most interested to find out who impacted Andrew greatly.
“To know me is to know this,” he responds. “I don’t believe in anybody being ‘the best’ unless we are talking about genres. I have to be able to put that person into a particular time or place. For instance, if you ask me what my favorite restaurant is, I would ask you what kind of food are we talking about? The person who had the greatest impact on my football career started in high school. From a physicality/body point of view, without a doubt, Casey Sanders had a huge impact. He was one of my best friend’s dads. In the state of Louisiana, Casey Sanders ran our high school strength program. That included junior high. He was one of the first people ever to have true weightlifting and conditioning. We had a full hour at school where all we did was weightlifting and conditioning. Our 4th period at school meant we changed our clothes, went into military lines, and it was serious, full-on training. That was huge for me – to have someone of my stature and height – dedicating that time to something that would later be so important in my football career. I was a high school basketball player, and also a powerlifting state champion. They are two totally different things. There were a lot of high school practices where I was pretty miserable on the basketball court because I would go from strength and conditioning training in my last hour – where I was putting 600 pounds on my back – to running up and down a basketball court with completely dead legs.”
Andrew’s longevity in professional football is exceptional, and he attributes Casey Sanders’ strength training to his ability to play in the NFL for so long.
“Without a doubt,” he confirms. “Also, there aren’t a lot of high-cut defensive linemen in the NFL. A lot of players aren’t built to take on lots of pressure and weight on the lower body mass. For me, being high cut (long athletic legs and a big upper body) was an advantage because I was one of the few offensive linemen who had long, strong legs and a well-built stature. I was able to be successful because of that foundation of great strength training. My legs have always been one of my strongest attributes. Even though they are skinny legs, they are really strong!”
We go into more technical proficiency as we talk about Andrew’s left tackle position on the football field. Everybody knows that it’s a pretty brutal position and Andrew provides this insight.
“What’s interesting is that having long legs is better from an injury standpoint. You can slip in and out of things more efficiently because you are not so heavy-legged with big ankles and calves. I know I was able to get myself out of some bad situations more easily than other guys who were heavy-legged.”
Andrew continues the conversation about the people who impacted him greatly in his football career.
“There’s no question that Nick Saban had a huge impact on my football career at LSU,” he confirms.
Nick Saban is known as one of the greatest college coaches ever, and we ask Andrew about the difference and similarities between Nick Saban and Rams head coach, Sean McVay, who has earned the reputation of being a young, dynamic, brilliant coach. The two appear to be so different and Andrew negates that with some great information:
“Interestingly, they are both very similar coaches: When I talk about similar – it doesn’t include personality. You can be any personality you want. If you look at Sean McVay’s and Bill Belichick’s press interviews, they are totally different – personality-wise, but they are still excellent coaches. For me, the similarity is in how they approach every single day. Nick Saban’s intensity level is unremitting; his attention to detail is exceptional and he has this unwavering ability to achieve the highest standards of excellence every single day. He’s the most consistent person in the building and on the football field. He never yells or shouts. It’s about approaching every day with a work ethic second to none, and an intensity level that is not dependent on his daily life circumstances. It’s full-on consistency. He wins a national championship and the next day he’s immediately working on recruiting. The national championship is just a confirmation of everything he already does. It’s not a goal. Sean McVay is wired the exact same way. I knew that from being with him for one month – and I told him that. He approaches everything he does with intensity and with unfailing consistency. He looks at the goals, the chase, the standard. He excels in every facet on a consistent basis every day – no matter what outside influences are there.”
One of the best players I played against was Dwight Freeney. He was built to rush the pass. Dwight is always the guy who had my number a little bit. He was such an exceptional guy with his getup and his spins
We’re interested to know if Andrew keeps in touch with Coach Saban and he says,
“I don’t. We were never close on a personal level. Similarly, Casey Sanders is a very quiet guy, and I don’t think he ever even had a cell phone while he was working. If I emailed him, it would be to his wife, and she would answer the email. Nick is very similar to Casey, He’s a ‘no chatter’ kind of guy, and I respect that. There’s no question that Nick’s and my relationship is about deep mutual respect. I remember he had an honor board – and the players who best represented the team were on that board. I was on it all the time. The respect was always there, but I’ve never been one of those players who says, ‘I need to call Nick’. I’m an internal guy. I always go back to what Casey Sanders taught me, or what Nick Saban taught me. I deal with it myself. That’s how I’ve always been. I’m not one to put a call into my coach. But the great thing is that if I ever saw Nick Saban, we would communicate as easily as if we had seen each other the day before.”
As for the toughest defensive lineman Andrew ever faced, he offers this multi-faceted perspective:
“There are a lot of great challenges in the game. When you’re playing with a bad team, you are in a permanently tough situation. It really is situational. If you are facing 3rd and 10 – you think – this is the last guy I want to face. If it’s first down, it doesn’t really bother me. There are a lot of situations that dictate how you think. I played against two of the all-around best players for 11 years when I played for the Bengals in Cincinnati. There was Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens, and Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts.
“Those guys dominated, and they were eliminators to offensive athletes. Playing those two guys really helped me because they were just such good players, and their all-round game was excellent. There was also Khalil Mack who was a prolific pass rusher.”
“As far as our team was concerned, we fitted in with each other and we had a lot of success. From a standpoint of protecting the quarterback, I had tons of success with them because we’re built similarly, and we play our game similarly.”
“Probably one of the best players I played against when I was young was undoubtably Dwight Freeney. He was built to rush the pass. Dwight is always the guy who had my number a little bit. He was such an exceptional guy with his getup and his spins. In any situation with him, he was going to be tough to beat.”
Andrew has two sons, and we ask him the inevitable question about whether he would want them to play football.
“It’s their choice entirely,” he answers with conviction. “They are going to have a lot of pressure to be good at stuff because of who their dad is. I know that I’m the last person who ever wants to put pressure on myself. I don’t like to be pushed, so I wouldn’t want to do it to them. My theory with my kids is that they don’t need to be doing extra stuff at this point in their young lives. No All Stars. They can play the sport that is in season – be it baseball, basketball, soccer whatever…and we’ll move to the next board when the season ends. Once they are old enough to choose something that they love, I’ll unleash the book on them of everything I know about that sport. Until then, I just want them to have fun, play sports and figure out what it is that they love. Later on, we’ll hunker down and go at it as hard as we can. Whatever it is, I want it to be their passion.”
One of the questions we looked forward to the most was asking Andrew how he felt on Sunday, February 13 when he helped lead the Rams to their Super Bowl victory. We ask about all the thoughts that were going through his head as he raised the Vince Lombardi trophy on that historically great day. He gives this thoughtful response.
“I was primarily thinking – 16 years in – of all the war, adrenalin and the injuries that went into 16 years with the NFL. I don’t recall there being much elation and excitement. I think if I were year 3 or year 5 in the NFL, maybe there would have been all that and you’d feel like you were on top of the world. I didn’t feel that as much as I felt massive relief and confirmation for all the people who have either supported me or been in my corner. They always believed it was going to happen for me. I felt so good that all those people were right. For Melissa and our kids, coaches, family members; I looked around at the field and the stadium and thought about all the people who’d had a hand in that Super Bowl victory. There are so many invisible people who each contributed so much to that night. That’s really what I was thinking about – the great support from so many people who played such a vital role in that victory.”
Having long legs is better from an injury standpoint. You can slip in and out of things more efficiently because you are not so heavy-legged with big ankles and calves. I know I was able to get myself out of some bad situations more easily than other guys who were heavy-legged
We confirm with Andrew that despite his retirement after this year’s Super Bowl, he still has one year left on his contract with the Rams. It begs the question whether he would have stayed on for another year had the Rams lost the Super Bowl in 2022.
“I thought about that in the playoffs,” he says. “I wondered if this was it. The truth is that I’m not getting any younger and the wear and tear on my body gets harder. It was less about – do I go out there on Sunday and play – and more about the intangible things that make what I love about football. I love to set a good example on the practice field. I love to run around and chase the ball. We used to joke that I would have the highest yardage of all the linemen. All NFL players have GPS trackers in the pads of our helmets and that’s how we measure our yardage. We even have them during our practices. We all would have a good laugh because I love to chase the ball. That’s what makes me happy. It’s the hustle and energy that I like. It’s also really important to me that I be a good example to the young guys who are coming up into the league. I always said to myself that once it got to the point where I couldn’t practice like that anymore; if it put me down body-wise for a couple of days – that’s when I would do the assessment. The key is to have a healthy body come Sunday’s game. In my earlier days, I would beat myself up after a game and return to the field on a Monday and do thousands of reps, push sleds, and do whatever it was to punish myself for not playing as well as I wanted to play. I’m no longer at an age where I can do that. That’s the reality. And that’s why I figured that the fun of the chase was not what it used to be.”
Andrew is now a football commentator on Thursday Night Football (TNF) on Prime Video. We ask him what led him in that direction and whether he intends to take a unique or different approach from other commentators.
“It came about because at the end of the season during the playoffs,” Andrew explains, “Melissa and I had both decided that this was kind of it. I was going to retire. Melissa used to be a news anchor and I grew up watching her do the news early in our relationship. So, she’s always been my coach from that aspect. It’s not that I’m that interested in the media world as much as I wanted an opportunity to talk about the game that I love. For me, football is the only thing I have ever known or cared about outside of being a dad and husband, and doing stuff for people in the community, so this was an opportunity where I thought – this was a great way to still be involved in the game and keep it fun. What could be more fun than talking about a game that I’m passionate about? I also want to be myself. TV can be weird because there are people who try to imitate other people’s styles. I’m not going to do that. I am going to be true to who I am – and not be comparable to anyone else. If it works out, that’s great, and if it doesn’t, that’s ok too. I never want to get into a space where I’m worried about somebody’s opinion. I will never let other people’s opinions of me become my reality. My goal is to enjoy it and hopefully do well at it – by being me.”
We ask Andrew to imagine the height of the football season at the end of the year. It’s week 12. The Rams left tackle goes down. Sean McVay calls him and asks him to come back to save the team. Could he muster up the strength and will to do it? Without a second’s hesitation, Andrew answers,
“Yeah…there’s no doubt about that!”
There are huge smiles in the room and Terry Moore quips back, “I already knew the answer, but I had to ask.”
It’s always interesting to ask a hugely successful person who they would choose to have dinner with if they could choose any one in the world. Andrew smiles as he says:
“John Madden. For someone who coached as well as he did, he went on to the broadcasting booth, and did such a great job in his commentary. He brought so much to the game, and kept it fun, lighthearted, and entertaining. I think that aspect has been missed in a lot of broadcasts today. John Madden brought attention to the guy in the hotdog stand or someone sucking down a Gatorade on the sideline; the trainer being stressed out on the field. He pointed out all the stuff while also providing the viewer with the intelligence of the game. He’d be a pretty cool and dynamic personality to have dinner with. He knows so much about the game. That’s one of the things I’ve learned being on Amazon. Al Michaels is there – announcing the game on Thursday Night Football on Prime Video. To sit down with him and hear the stories of how people got to where they are; It would be so fun to learn about the history of the game with that all-around knowledge that he has.”
Andrew is a solidly devoted family man. He takes his role as a husband and father seriously, and approaches family life with total commitment. We ask him what his response is to the cynics who view the responsibilities of family life differently. His words speak volumes about the quality of human being that he is.
“When I think about our family, I certainly see some guys in the locker room that want to be single forever, and then there are guys who walk that, and so we constantly have these conversations come up all the time. I think it goes back to how you are wired. My desire was always to be a captain and a leader in my football team. I’ve also always desired to make a difference in my community and to be there for them. I think the desire to have children and having a wife that you love and choose to love and be devoted to – is something very special. Our family is about being there for each other every day and finding a life that goes beyond just ourselves. I don’t find being selfish fulfilling. I think that life is so much more valuable when you aren’t immersed in yourself and your own feelings. It’s so much more gratifying and fun to make other people happy. That in turn makes you content and joyful within yourself. I think a lot of times people chase themselves in an attempt to make themselves happy. That road is never going to work until you find a way to fulfil yourself in more meaningful ways – which is to bring joy and happiness to other people.”
BigWhit is Andrew’s nickname, and the name of his charity, the BigWhit77 Foundation. He does a fundraising golf tournament in Louisiana every year. He’s also a motivational speaker to youth groups in the greater Cincinnati area and Louisiana. But his altruism goes way beyond that. Andrew does extensive giving across the entire country. His description gives us some idea of its scope.
“The BigWhit77 Foundation was an opportunity for Melissa and I to make a difference in the communities that we both came from. Melissa was a former Miss Louisiana. I was an LSU athlete, and our communities were about 20 minutes from each other, so they were always intertwined in some way. We thought it would be a really cool way to give back. We came from the mindset of looking back at the mistakes we might have made when we were younger, or the things we should have done better. We wanted to help the next generation and answer some of the questions that would help them to make better choices. That was one of our original goals: to hold a leadership conference and award kids who wanted to go to college, and leaders who wanted to make good decisions and lead by example. We brought in panelists and speakers to answer questions that young people have – be they freshmen in college – or whatever stage of their young lives they’re at. The foundation just grew and grew – into scholarships. Once we moved to Cincinnati, we did less with the foundation because I got so involved with other foundations – helping to promote them. Then, when I came to the Rams in Los Angeles, multiply that by a thousand, I got involved in 30+ foundations. It’s been pretty crazy but fun, and that’s where our focus is now – advocating for others and other foundations – and helping to make them strong. We are doing a lot across L.A. from food insecurities to homelessness to children’s programs and leaderships programs throughout L.A. Unified School Districts. We work with the Boys and Girls Clubs throughout this area, Big Brothers and Sisters. Habitat for Humanity. All these different programs we’ve had a chance to jump on and really fire up. It’s become much less about our foundation and what we were doing in Louisiana, and more about what’s the groundwork and foundations we can set up for our kids – to where they understand that no matter what another person’s walk of life is – no matter what their skin color is – or what their background is – it’s their job to love and to care, and to be there for people around them. If Melissa and I win at that, we really don’t give a toss about whether our kids get straight A’s or are good at a particular sport. We care much more about who they are as individual people. To me, that’s the most important thing. I want our kids to see what being altruistic looks like. They come with us to every one of those community-outreach programs and witness firsthand what a life of service to others looks like. It’s a great way of opening their eyes to recognize the place of privilege that they come from – and also to know that other people are struggling from day to day, and it’s an opportunity to reach out, to love them and to bless them so that their day improves.”
Andrew walks the talk and is a man of his word. One small example is when Covid-19 rocked the world and hit us in Los Angeles in March 2020. Without hesitation – and right at the inception – he donated $250,000 to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
We ask Andrew if there is anything he wishes he had known when he was much younger – that he now knows – and he answers,
“I wouldn’t change a thing about the way I grew up. Obviously, there are some decisions and some struggles I went through and looking back, I wish I hadn’t put myself through those episodes – but – they’ve helped mold me into who I am today. The reality is – if I were talking to that young version of me 20 years ago – the advice I would give is: don’t make things more than they really are. Don’t dramatize something that is not a fire. Also, sometimes we are always wanting to label ourselves just because we make a mistake. There’s no need to do that and put ourselves down. On the other hand, it’s not wise to put yourself on top of the world. The key is to be moderated and consistent and more disciplined in who you are. It’s important to know who you are – and to celebrate the victories, weather the defeats, and pick yourself back up. Keep rolling and being consistent is a great life strategy. I have found that it’s really helped me in life, and I’ve passed that on to my kids. That’s why I’m such a huge advocate for sports in life. What a great example we can take as human beings. Wins or losses, you are going to have good days and bad days. The key is to show up – believe in yourself – and give the new day your best shot. If you apply most of the principles we talk about in sports – from how to be a good teammate or a good captain – or how to have discipline; how to improve at something in workouts. If you apply all of that to life, you’ll be really good at life too. If you skip workouts by sleeping in all the time, or you walk away from commitments because you don’t feel like showing up, you are failing at life. Fixing your discipline and being consistent is not a big deal and it will make you a much better person in life. It’s that simple.”
Andrew’s career has gone full circle in the sense that he played and won this year’s 56th Super Bowl against a former team that he spent so many years representing – the Cincinnati Bengals. In the 2019 season, the Rams had defeated the Bengals 24-10, and with that victory, Andrew became only the 12th starter in league history to earn victories against all 32 NFL teams.
Andrew Whitworth’s achievements are gargantuan both on and off the football field. This mountain of a man, whose core values are family, faith, and football, is a champion for thousands of invisible people whose lives are a struggle. His understanding of invisibility makes him a vital asset to the NFL. Never has this astutely intelligent lineman ever sought lights and cameras. He quietly and efficiently gets the job done for his teammates, and therein lies the massive respect that he’s earned. TNF on Prime Video have garnered a giant asset, and Andrew Whitworth’s talents will continue to light up the world.