Andre Tinney was, perhaps, under-appreciated in the annals of Ansonia football lore since none of his teams won a state championship at a school swimming in trophies.
But, by all accounts, the quiet and humble 5-foot-7, 175-pound tailback who shed tackles and weaved through opponents on the way to 3,000 yards over two seasons, was a prototype of what was to come over the next 20 years with record-shattering backs like Alex Thomas, Arkeel Newsome and the Dobbs brothers, Montrell and Markell.
“I’ve always said he’s got to be one of the most underrated Ansonia players,” said teammate Robert Lisi, who is the son of longtime assistant Ansonia coach Bob Lisi and graduated a year ahead of Tinney. “We played in that era, the 1996-2001 era of the ‘title drought.’ We were just after the Steve Coughlin championship teams and before the Kenney Tinney (Andre’s cousin) ones.
“But he was great. Andre Tinney was like one of those baseball players that, when they retired, had a home run record that’s long since surpassed. He put up huge numbers every game.”
Twenty years since he last wore an Ansonia uniform, Tinney died March 24 at age 38 from injuries suffered in a March 18 car accident on Route 34 in Orange. He will be laid to rest this weekend in a private ceremony.
Though many of his teammates lost touch with him over the years, Tinney maintained a close friendship with former Ansonia defensive end and baseball player J.J. Giamattei.
Giamattei, now a resident of Shelton, said he spent last week “bawling” over the loss of his best friend, whom he was unable to see over the past year’s COVID-19 pandemic — though they would talk and text often. “I took his passing hard,” he said. “I’m going to miss him.”
Thrust into the lineup after an injury to Julius Freeman in the first game of the 1999 season, Tinney became a two-time New Haven Register and Connecticut Post All-Area selection.
“Andre was massive and muscular and we would always compare him to (Pro Football Hall-of-Fame running back) Barry Sanders,” Giamattei said. “Nobody could ever tackle him. We’d watch film and wonder how that guy didn’t tackle him. He would just bounce off them and take off.”
As a junior, Tinney ran for 1,475 yards and 20 touchdowns as Ansonia reached the Class S championship, but lost to Bloomfield — one of the state’s all-time best teams. Tinney ran for 226 yards and three touchdowns in a “miracle,” 26-22 semifinal victory over Tolland.
“It was exciting because didn’t expect it,” Tinney told Connecticut Post in 2000. “When I got my opportunity, I just took it and played as hard as I could.”
His position secured, Tinney rushed for 1,542 yards and scored 19 touchdowns in 11 games in his senior season, including the NVL championship. He also had 20 catches for 298 yards. Ansonia went 20-3 over two seasons.
Tinney’s 154-yard, two-touchdown day helped Ansonia to a 15-12 overtime victory over Naugatuck in the 2000 Thanksgiving clash. Though Griswold upset Ansonia, 7-6, in the Class S semifinals, Tinney did rush for 140 yards.
“He was easily was the most humble star I ever played with,” said Craig Behun, who graduated a year behind Tinney. “He was the ultimate teammate. Never uttered a negative word to a teammate or an opponent. Never asked for the ball. But when he got it, he was going to run somebody over and then apologize to them for doing it.
“I doubt you will find anybody who didn’t love and respect him. (He was) definitely cut from a different cloth than most All-State caliber players.”
Tinney had ample opportunities to play football in college, Giamattei said, but never played a down. Instead, Tinney stayed home and helped his mother, Andrea, raise his two younger brothers, Tyreek and Robert Green Jr.
“We went to Gateway Community College together for a little while, but his family needed his support,” Giamattei said. “He was a family man and it was hard for him to go back-and-forth to school. He put a lot of people on his shoulders. I give him a lot of credit for that.”
Tinney worked for Valley Discount Liquor for a time. He had become a machine operator and assembler at Dietzgen Corporation in West Haven at the time of his death.
He never married, nor did he have any children.
“Everybody knows him from football, he was but he was great in academics and a great person,” Giamattei said. “If he ever found a wife, he would have been a great husband. He was a great, all-around guy. He was compassionate and if you ever needed anything, he’d give you the shirt off his back.
“He just did his own thing. He did everything for his mother and two brothers.”
Police said Tinney was driving a 1998 Pontiac Bonneville with his brother Rob Green in the passenger seat on March 18 around 4 p.m. when, according to a preliminary police investigation, it collided with a 2018 Mazda 3 as Tinney was turning out of Mapledale Road onto Route 34 in Orange.
Tinney had to be extricated from his vehicle and was taken to Yale New Haven Hospital with life-threatening injuries to his back and brain. He died five days later.
Green, the driver of the Mazda and its passenger were also transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to police.
The night after the accident, Giamattei said he was home, painting his house with his wife when he realized he missed a call from Tinney’s phone. It left no message.
“I’m not crazy religious, but… it felt was like he was saying goodbye,” Giamattei said.
Tinney is survived by his mother, Andrea, and two brothers Tyreek and Robert Green Jr., his uncle Gary and wife Felicia, aunt Anita Tinney Green and stepfather Robert Green Sr. He was predeceased by his biological father, Edward Zollarcoffer, whom Tinney only got to know later in life, Giamattei said.
Calling hours will be Saturday, noon-to-2 p.m. at the Jenkins King & Malerba Funeral Home at 12 Franklin St. in Ansonia. Funeral services will be private.