His name may not come up as frequently as Curt Warner, Kerry Collins, LaVar Arrington or Saquon Barkley. But looking back at the last decade-and-a-half, AQ Shipley belongs right up there with many of the greats to come out of Happy Valley.
The entirety of Shipley’s career always seemed to unpredictable from one moment to the next. It’s a testament of Shipley’s desire and ability that he has spent his career proving others wrong, while finding success at every turn.
Shipley arrived in State College prior to the 2005 season, with no clear home. He went back and forth from offense to defense, trying to find the right fit. Despite shifting around, he still managed to contribute two sacks as a true freshman as Penn State shocked the world to win the Big Ten Championship.
He would eventually find his permanent home on the offensive line in 2006. That season is probably best remembered by Tony Hunt pounding defenses into the ground, most notably in the Outback Bowl upset against Tennessee. As starting center, Shipley did the dirty work in the trenches to help Hunt shine.
By 2008, Shipley had developed into one of the best offensive linemen in the nation. He helped Penn State earn another Big Ten title, and received his due with several individual honors. You probably can still picture Evan Royster galloping free through MAC Truck sized holes created by Shipley and company. He was named as the top offensive lineman in the Big Ten, was a unanimous first-team all-conference selection, and was the first (and still only) Nittany Lion to take hone the Rimington Award, given annually to the best center in college football.
Despite these accomplishments, NFL teams were cool on Shipley’s prospects ahead of the NFL Draft. He would have to wait until near the very end of the draft to learn he would be remining in Pennsylvania, as a seventh round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the last of seven centers selected in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Like it happens so often, NFL teams misjudged an obviously talented individual for not perfectly fitting the mold. His arms were too short, and perhaps his 40-yard dash time just wasn’t up to snuff, which gives pause when considering all of those moments were an interior offensive lineman is required to sprint 40 yards in a straight line.
Shipley would prove himself again and again in the NFL, continuously being counted out only to work his way back to the top. He was initially released by the Steelers before being invited on to the practice squad. He then headed to Philadelphia, spending another season on the practice squad. From there, he would go to Indianapolis, earning his first NFL start in 2012. The next season he would be traded to Baltimore, lose out the position battle in camp only to work his way back to the starting gig around midseason. However, it wasn’t meant to last. Shipley would be released by the Ravens, only to find his way back to Indianapolis as their starting center.
The journeyman was then able to put down some roots after signing with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. Once again, he started the season as a backup but found himself in the starting role around midseason. He was able to hold on to his starting job the next two seasons, before a torn ACL during preseason forced him to miss all of 2018. He would bounce back, like always, the start for the entirety of the 2019 season.
Shipley would make one last stop ahead of 2020, joining Tom Brady in Tampa Bay as the team aimed to build a Super Bowl-caliber offense around its new gunslinger. He certainly fit the bill as a proven commodity who knows what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Shipley’s season was cut short after suffering a neck injury in a Monday Night contest against the Rams in late November. The incident forced Shipley onto the injured reserve list, ending his 2020 season, and in all likelihood, his football career.
He will be forced to watch the action from the sidelines on Sunday, but Shipley’s presence this season was a major asset for the Buccaneers to become NFC champs. While the vast majority of fans seem to be firmly in the Chiefs camp, a Tampa Bay victory and Super Bowl ring would be the perfect bookend to Shipley’s career.
We will see what is ahead for Shipley once the the confetti is swept up from the Raymond James Stadium turf. Perhaps he has another improbable comeback and somehow makes his way on the field again. Maybe he’s back on the sidelines in Beaver Stadium to coach up Penn State’s offensive line. Or maybe his second act has nothing to do with the game of football at all. Wherever Shipley goes from here, he’s made one thing clear — he’s going to find a way to succeed.