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Bruschi announces retirement
New England Patriots
New England Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi announced his retirement today, closing his 13-year career as one of the most productive Patriots players in the team's 50-year history.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - New England Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi announced his retirement today, closing his 13-year career as one of the most productive Patriots players in the team's 50-year history. As a team captain, Bruschi's relentless work ethic and on-field intensity helped set the tone for the entire team.

"For the past 13 seasons, Tedy Bruschi helped define what it means to be a New England Patriot," said Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. "The heart and soul of the defense during the most successful era in the history of the franchise, Tedy also served as an example to every new Patriot of what it takes to be a champion on and off the field. Tedy's tenacity as a player made him a fan favorite long before he helped bring three Super Bowl championships to New England. His remarkable and courageous return to the field following a stroke only added to his legend as one of the most significant and memorable athletes in the history of New England sports. We are blessed in so many ways to have had Tedy Bruschi as a career Patriot."

Bruschi, 36, was originally drafted by the Patriots in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft. The Arizona product spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Patriots. Bruschi leaves the football field having played a major role in leading the Patriots to 11 winning records, including nine playoff seasons, eight division championships, five conference titles and three Super Bowl crowns. In Bruschi's 211 career games (including regular-season and playoffs), the Patriots had a 144-67 (.682) record, including a 16-6 (.727) playoff mark.

Bruschi earned his first Pro Bowl honors following the 2004 season after co-captaining a Patriots defense that allowed just 16.25 points per game, the third fewest in franchise history. Bruschi is the only player in NFL history to return four consecutive interceptions for touchdowns and his career total of four picks returned for scores ranks second in Patriots history. He is tied for fourth in NFL history among linebackers, and Bruschi is the only Patriots linebacker to return multiple interceptions for scores in a single season (2002 and 2003).

Beyond his impressive numbers, fans and his peers revered him for his accomplishments off the field and for his dedication to the New England area. After Bruschi suffered a stroke in February 2005, he dedicated himself to raising funds and awareness to fight stroke along with the American Stroke Association. He established "Tedy's Team," a vehicle to help battle stroke, the number one cause of disability in the United States. Members of Tedy's Team have run in the Boston Marathon and the Falmouth Road Race and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for stroke research.

Bruschi returned to the lineup for the final nine game of the 2005 season following his stroke, and in his first game back he earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors following a 10-tackle performance vs. Buffalo (10/30/05).

Bruschi played in 189 regular-season games for the Patriots, more than any other linebacker in team history, third among all defensive players and sixth overall in team history. Bruschi played in 22 career playoff games, the highest total in Patriots history and tied for the second highest total of any active player (Adam Vinatieri, 23).

For his career, Bruschi finished with 1,134 total tackles, 30.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns, 62 passes defensed, 18 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, including one returned for a touchdown and 55 special teams tackles. Bruschi averaged 105 tackles over the last six seasons. His 2003-2008 total of 631 stops are the most on the team over that span. Over that time, the Patriots allowed an average of 17.25 points per game, the second best total in the NFL.

Bruschi announces retirement


After 13 years and 3 titles, Tedy Bruschi retires


BOSTON(AP) Tedy Bruschi began the first day of his post-football life by taking out the trash.

``I'm real life,'' he said, ``I'm just regular.''


Bruschi is that unique player who won three Super Bowls, spent a long career with just one team and got Bill Belichick to drop his stoic persona on Monday and, in a voice shaking with emotion, call Bruschi ``a perfect player.''

And one more thing:

``The thought of playing professional football after experiencing a stroke. I mean, is that a statement you hear everyday?'' Bruschi said. ``It's not.''
After all that, and more, the inside linebacker and father of three whose sons stayed home Monday because they ``would rather play with their Transformers than come and sit in the front row'' next to his wife, announced his retirement after 13 seasons with the New England Patriots.
Smiling and never expressing regrets or shedding a tear, the longtime leader of the Patriots defense had a simple explanation for retiring now.
Bruschi, who had missed much of training camp and one exhibition game with an undisclosed injury, said he was simply too old and found his ``body doesn't heal as quickly.''
He also had accomplished all his goals except ``winning a fourth championship,'' he said. ``Knowing I have three previous ones, I think I'll let that one go.
``I feel great about myself right now.'

Just 4 1/2 years ago, Bruschi walked unsteadily out of Massachusetts General Hospital with his wife Heidi. He had been admitted two days earlier, on Feb. 16, 2005, three days after playing in his only Pro Bowl and 10 days after his final championship.

He had felt numbness in his left arm and left leg and had blurry vision. The diagnosis: a mild stroke.

Bruschi had surgery for a hole in his heart, but made it back for the seventh game of the season.

``I was retired,'' he said. ``I didn't think it was possible.''

In that game, he had 10 tackles against the Buffalo Bills. He led the team in tackles for the first time in 2006 despite surgery for a broken wrist a month before the season. He was the Patriots' leading tackler again in 2007.

His performance declined last year, and rookie Jerod Mayo, the Defensive Player of the Year, emerged as his successor as the leader in the middle of the defense.

``He kind of took me under his wing when I first came here,'' Mayo said. ``He told me then that one day he would pass the torch on to me and the rest of the team and I guess today's that day.''

Bruschi's retirement leaves running back Kevin Faulk, who joined the team in 1999, as the longest-tenured Patriot.

``When you talk about Tedy, you talk about leadership, inspiration,'' Faulk said.

Bruschi was a third-round draft choice from Arizona in 1996 who tied the Division I-A career sack record. The Patriots switched him from defensive end, where he would have been undersized in the NFL, to linebacker and he had to learn to cover receivers.

``We (didn't) really know what to do with him,'' said Belichick, who also joined the Patriots in 1996 as assistant head coach to Bill Parcells. ``All along the way he heard, 'too small,' 'too slow,' ' too this,' 'too that,' and just kept getting better and better and working harder and outworking and out-competing pretty much everybody that he faced.''

Belichick spoke nonstop for 8 1/2 minutes, about Bruschi's passion, instincts and optimism, his knack for always doing ``the right thing,'' and being ``the epitome of everything you want in a football player.''
As his coach left the podium and Bruschi approached it, they embraced.

Wearing a beige suit and light blue shirt with an open collar, Bruschi stood in front of two dark blue jerseys with his name and number 54 hanging on either side of a video screen that had played career highlights - Bruschi sliding on his knees as he scored on an interception, dumping the contents of an orange Gatorade bucket on Belichick, raising the Super Bowl trophy in his right hand.

``There isn't one moment and I'll never have just one moment,'' Bruschi said. ``I'm very fortunate to have so many.''

Bruschi was proud to play with one team.

``I think people want to move, to change teams because they want to fix their problems an easy way,'' he said. ``I'd rather right the ship than jump ship.''

Bruschi played in 189 regular-season games, more than any linebacker in club history. His 631 total tackles over the past six seasons were the most on the team.

For his career, he had 1,134 tackles, 30 1/2 sacks and 12 interceptions, four of them touchdowns.

``Tedy embodies everything we want the Patriot brand to stand for,'' owner Robert Kraft said. ``Hard work, perseverance, overachievement, and selfless commitment to team first.''

Bruschi isn't sure what's next.

What if Belichick calls in November, asking him to come back?

``Bill and I had a great conversation (Sunday) and I don't know if my answer to that was, 'Don't call me,''' Bruschi said. ``If there was more I wanted to achieve, to come back and do more, then I would welcome that.''

But he made sure he took advantage of his opportunities so when his career was over he wouldn't wish he had done more.

``There were the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,'' Bruschi said. ``I did my job for 13 years and now my job is done. My job's done, Bill. I'm looking forward to living the rest of my life.''


After 13 years and 3 titles, Tedy Bruschi retires



Tedy Bruschi, the consummate Patriot, retires
By Ian R. Rapoport | Tuesday, September 1, 2009 | http://www.bostonherald.com | N.E. Patriots

FOXBORO - Inside the locker room, his former teammates dressed for practice and spoke in hushed tones, reflecting on the profound impact the player had on their lives.

Outside it, with his wife Heidi by his side, Tedy Bruschi [stats] walked down the dimly lit hallways of Gillette Stadium, into the sunset and away from football.

Bruschi, the inspirational linebacker who became a face of the Patriots [team stats] franchise, decided 13 years was enough. After earning three Super Bowl rings, making one Pro Bowl and becoming an example to a community for returning to football following a stroke, he retired yesterday.

“Every player that’s in that locker room (his) career is going to have a beginning, a middle and an end,” Bruschi said in an emotional news conference. “Today is my end. And it’s a celebration. I’m in a great place.”

The only Patriot to play in all five Super Bowls under owner Robert Kraft, the fan favorite leaves a legacy that includes 1,134 tackles, 30 sacks and 12 interceptions in 189 regular-season games. He set the franchise mark with 22 playoff appearances, and the team had a 144-67 record when he played.

“Tedy embodies everything we want the Patriots brand to stand for,” Kraft said. “A true iconic legend.”

The praise was overwhelming.

“He always did the right thing,” coach Bill Belichick said. “The perfect player.”

Of his reputation as a gritty, often victorious competitor, Bruschi pointed the spotlight in one direction.

“But I didn’t know how to win until Bill came in here,” Bruschi said of Belichick. “Even though (your helmet) has a Patriot logo on it, do you think they’re going to lay down? They’re not. You still got to play, and he taught us that.”

Bruschi led the team in tackles in 2006 and ’07, but slipped to third with 75 last season. Never the biggest, strongest or fastest, his skills began to wane.

In 2009, he figured to back up inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton. The realization came: He is 36 years old.

“You realize you’re getting older,” Bruschi said. “It would be harder if I wanted to hang on and go get that championship. Well, I’ve made sure during my years that I was giving it all then, so right now at this moment I could feel good about myself.”

A rarity in today’s sports world, Bruschi played his entire career wearing the same No. 54 Patriots jersey.

When he began, and Heidi was just his girlfriend, he looked at her and said, “I want to be the one that stays there the entire time.”

He did.

“He played at Roseville (Calif.) High School, the University of Arizona and the Patriots,” said Dick Tomey, who coached Bruschi in college. “His whole football career has encompassed three organizations, and he’s been revered in all three places.”

In his wake, Bruschi leaves Mayo, a burgeoning star at inside linebacker who last year was named the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“He told me that one day he would pass the torch on to me and the rest of the team, and I guess today is that day,” Mayo said.

Now, Bruschi said he’ll be a regular person. He’ll drive his children, T.J., Rex and Dante, to school. He awoke yesterday morning and took out the garbage. Bruschi plans to live in the Foxboro area, but he won’t answer the phone and make a late-season appearance Junior Seau-style.

“I’m not going to wish when I’m done that I did more,” Bruschi said. “I’m a 36-year-old father of three, and I’m looking forward to playing that new role in my life.”

Bruschi told many of his current and former teammates of the news Sunday night. Many were surprised.

“I envy the guy,” defensive lineman Ty Warren [stats] said. “He’s going out on his own terms.”

A big-play maven, Bruschi’s decision likely conjured up discussions of his interception in 2003 against Miami that led fans to throw snowballs into the air, the short-yardage stop against Oakland in the 2002 playoffs, and others.

“The plays he made around here,” nose tackle Vince Wilfork [stats] said, “unbelievable.”

Now, they will only be memories.

Bruschi walked into work every day seeing a sign that reads, “Do your job.”

“Well, I did my job for 13 years,” Bruschi said, “and now my job is done.”
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/football/patriots/view.bg?articleid=1194614


Link to Herald Photo Gallery:  http://www.bostonherald.com/galleries/index.php?gallery_id=2947&p=0


Bruschi's Blue-Collar Work Ethic Will Be Missed

by Kristen Merrill on Sep 4, 2009 9:39:17 AM

Patriots fans were somewhat surprised this week when veteran linebacker Tedy Bruschi announced his retirement after 13 seasons with the New England Patriots. Bruschi came to be known as the quintessential Patriot player, putting team before self and playing with heart over the course of his entire career. And while Bruschi's retirement will garner fewer national headlines than those related to Michael Vick or Brett Favre, his news is no less important.

Bruschi's career, when viewed against those other higher-profile players, stands out as special for the simple reason that he was rarely controversial and spent his entire career with a single team. In this day and age of free agency, a career like Bruschi's became the exception rather than the rule.

Bruschi's retirement signals the vanishing of a particular kind of player in the NFL.

Loyalty is a rare commodity in today's NFL. Just ask Green Bay Packers fans how they feel about it. When a player who has become synonymous with one franchise turns his back on the team and its fans, claiming a level of disrespect, the fans find it hard to understand the player's motivations.

We are often blinded in our world of sports fandom as we frequently fail to realize that the outcome of games is always going to mean more to fans who grew up rooting for these teams through good times and bad, than it will for professional athletes who are paid handsomely to play these games for a living.

But a player like Tedy Bruschi did a great deal to bridge the gap between a fan's affinity and affection for a team and a player's responsibility to his team's fans. In his retirement news conference, Bruschi revealed that at one point when he became a free agent, he visited with a few other teams to discuss possibilities. He claimed, "I went to Green Bay, and the moment I saw that Super Bowl trophy from '96, I knew I wasn't going there." He was referring to the Patriots’ loss to the Packers in the 1996 Super Bowl and the wounds that Bruschi, as a member of that Patriots team under Bill Parcells, still felt. That kind of loyalty is incredibly rare in professional sports.

Perhaps it's because he was underestimated as a young player. At 6-foot-1 and 247 pounds, Bruschi has always been considered slightly undersized for a linebacker. Bill Belichick said in his news conference that no one expected Bruschi to be a successful NFL pass rusher. He was deemed too slow or too small.

But Bruschi has always worked harder than everyone and stopped at nothing to achieve what he set out to achieve. As we know, Belichick has never been prone to hyperbole. So when he referred to Bruschi as "a perfect player," it was obvious he has a great fondness for Bruschi -- both as a player and person.

Belichick was uncharacteristically emotional when discussing Bruschi. Perhaps it's because he knows from what kind of struggles Bruschi has had to overcome. In addition to the questions about his size and speed, Bruschi also suffered a stroke and underwent heart surgery in February of 2005 before returning to the field in October of that same season.

Those medical issues highlight the depth of the relationship between Bruschi and the fans of this region. Heartfelt outpourings of concern for Bruschi's health and his family reached the linebacker in droves. People spoke of their desire to see him recover, not so that he could return to football, but because they generally cared for him as a person.

That's a rare thing in this world, and Bruschi has always indicated how much he appreciated it. He spoke at length at his news conference about how he wishes he could thank each fan individually. Many of them, he probably will.

Even the length of Bruschi's career is unusual. With the average NFL career spanning roughly four seasons, a 13-year Pro Bowl career for a defensive player is, in itself, rare. To play the entirety of one's career with a single team is nearly unheard of in this age of free agency and nonguaranteed contracts. But Bruschi has never indicated that he wanted to play anywhere else.

He makes his home in North Attleboro, Mass., and has chosen to raise his family of three boys in the area. He has said he plans to stay in New England now that he's retired. That, again, is rare.

Few people would blame him if he were to take his three Super Bowl rings and relocate to his home state of Arizona where harsh New England winters are a rumor. But he's going to stay. He's become a New England Patriot in every sense of the word.

At a book signing, after the release of his book, Never Give Up: My Stroke, My Recovery, and My Return to the NFL, a friend of mine sported her "54 Full Tilt, Full Time" T-shirt, shook Bruschi's hand and earnestly told him, "Thank you for being a Patriot." He smiled and told her she was welcome.

In the last few days, watching the ongoing coverage of Bruschi's retirement and the promise that he will remain around the team in some capacity, we're left with the impression that Bruschi has never considered being anything else. The quintessential Patriot may have retired, but he spoke of his hope for the team in the future and the ways in which he fulfilled his dreams for his career.

We, as fans, are lucky to have had him for 13 years. A truly classy player, Tedy Bruschi brought an energy and heart to the field every week, which is often difficult to find in the jaded world of professional football. He is a role model for many and someone we can be proud to call one of ours.

He will be missed.


Bruschi's Blue-Collar Work Ethic Will Be Missed - New England Patriots - NESN.com


Bruschi more than a special player

The most stunning of all the circumstances surrounding the retirement of New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi wasn’t the news itself.

It was that, during the press conference Monday morning, Bruschi was composed and matter-of-fact.

It was his coach who was all choked up with emotion.

Who would have thought that?

“What that tells you is Tedy was probably his favorite player he’s ever coached,” said Nashua’s Randy Pierce, the former Patriots Fan of the Year who has developed a special bond with Bruschi over the years. “Although I don’t think he’d ever say that. It also tells you Tedy probably went out on his own terms.”

Since Bruschi suffered his stroke in 2005, Pierce and the linebacker have grown closer, “more on a friendship basis than a fan-player basis.” That’s because Pierce himself has had his well known health issues, being legally blind and also, for a time, unable to walk. Six surgeries in the last few years have been able to help rectify the latter issue and he’s now even studying karate again. Amazing.

As amazing, perhaps, as Bruschi’s return from that stroke. As Pierce, who communicates with Bruschi often by e-mail – including early Monday – said, the bond became easy because Bruschi’s first problems following the stroke were his eyesight and ability to walk. “Well,” Pierce said, “I couldn’t see and I couldn’t walk.”

Pierce is also mentioned in Bruschi’s book, and was the subject of an HBO “Inside the NFL” video clip a couple of years ago that was nominated for a sports Emmy. He is always seated with a crew of fans in the corner of the end zone, spotted by the banner, “No. 54: Full Tilt, Full-Time.” That, he said, will change, but not for the first game this season.

“That will be my chance to say good-bye to him as a player,” Pierce said.

Its these bonds that have made Bruschi a folk hero. He was simply a playmaker, an overachiever who, while not the most physically imposing, simply the smartest.

“His instinctiveness, his passion,” Belichick said. “He always did the right thing . . . I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do what he’s done. It’s remarkable, it’s truly special.”

Indeed, there was quite a unique bond between Bruschi and Belichick as well. Good coaches have extensions of themselves on the field, and Bruschi was certainly that. He even mused about how Belichick’s words every week to the team “I swear it’s the same thing I would say.”

“(Belichick) turned me into a champion,” Bruschi said. “I knew how to play, but I didn’t know how to win before Bill got here.”

Why is he retiring? His body was telling him he was, at 36, simply too old to go on, especially after all he’s accomplished.

“Goals achieved, career fulfilled,” Bruschi said.

“We all have that happen, don’t we?” Pierce said. “My first reaction (to the news) was selfishly sad, because of the end of the era it signifies. But five minutes later, it was elation, because it was a celebration.”

Pierce’s father, Bud, suffered a debilitating stroke some time ago, and Pierce took him down to a Bruschi book signing in Littleton, Mass. The player stopped the event and took Bud Pierce into a back room to communicate as well as could happen. From there, the bond between Pierce and Bruschi grew even more.

Those kinds of stories are what makes Bruschi a New England folk hero. He succeeded in his vow of playing all 13 seasons with the same organization, often negotiating his own deals before hiring Brad Blank as his agent later in his career. He was just a different guy. Yours truly remembers a beaming Bruschi wearing his buzzed haircut (rookie hazing), sitting in front of his locker after the final game of the 1996 preseason. He knew he had made the team, which is all he cared about.

And now? There will be a void when reporters walk into the locker room from post-game auditorium press conferences. We will look immediately to the right and Bruschi won’t be there for comments which were always so telling. He was indeed the conscience of this football team.

“I will get past it,” Pierce said. “I don’t think I’ll ever wear another jersey with another number. In fact, I have it on right now.”

In fact, he hopes in part to pay tribute to that number in the next 10 years. He plans on hiking up each of New Hampshire’s 48 mountains beginning 2010, ending in 2020.

And, by that time, Pierce will have turned 54 years old.

And you know his journey will be full tilt, full time.

Tom King can be reached at 594-4468 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com.

© 2007, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire


Last call for Bruschi tales
Linebacker’s career was one to savor
By Mike Reiss | September 6, 2009

How about a few leftover Bruschis?

After all that was eloquently said last week at the first-class sendoff for Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, here are a few parts of his life and career that shouldn’t be left out:

Modest beginnings. Bruschi seldom discussed with reporters his early years, but when he did, it was clear how they shaped his identity. Born in San Francisco, he grew up in a rough-edged area of the city where there was no backyard, only a community circle of grass that was hardly big enough for pickup football games. Bruschi loved to play “street ball,’’ dodging would-be tacklers while also being careful not to trip or turn an ankle on the sprinkler heads that popped up from the ground. Last Monday, Bruschi spoke about how NFL game days were an “explosion of passion’’ for him, and that passion was born on that circle of grass.

East-West Game catapulted him into the NFL. Bruschi’s production at Arizona was impressive, his 52.5 sacks tying Derrick Thomas’s NCAA Division 1 record. Yet as NFL teams prepared for the 1996 draft, many had a hard time projecting him as a defensive end because of his size. The Patriots’ personnel department was led by Bobby Grier that year, and momentum started building to select Bruschi after the East-West all-star game, in which he shined. Bruschi and the Colorado State duo of Brady Smith and Sean Moran were part of the discussion, but Grier liked Bruschi, envisioning the Patriots integrating him into the mix with a “Bruschi package’’ that would initially have him on the field on third downs.

Football just sort of happened. After his family moved to the Sacramento suburb of Roseville when he was 13, Bruschi was attending freshman orientation and bumped into two classmates who urged him to try out for the football team. Everyone else showed up with cleats and other gear, while Bruschi had tennis shoes and a T-shirt. Classic Bruschi. Once practice started, Bruschi didn’t know where to go. Coach Don Hicks pointed to the linemen, and that’s how Bruschi found his position. The Sacramento Bee noted that Bruschi’s career almost never started, because his mother wanted him to remain in the school band (Bruschi still plays the saxophone). Now the weight room at Roseville High is named after Bruschi.

The initial phone call from the Patriots - short but sweet. Bruschi once laughed when reflecting on the call he got when he was drafted. Then-coach Bill Parcells kept it short, saying only: “Bruschi, we’re going to put you at linebacker. Here’s Al Groh.’’ Then the phone was handed to Groh, the linebackers coach, and Bruschi’s transition from defensive end to linebacker was under way. Bill Belichick later explained that Bruschi - who earned his lone Pro Bowl berth in 2004 - had come about as far as a player could in learning a new position and turning into the “perfect player.’’

A bond with his brother Tony. At the end of his opening remarks Monday, Bruschi saluted his older brother “who always gave those pushes when needed’’ while mentioning the similarities between them. The Bruschi brothers have always had each others’ backs, sharing in some of Tedy’s most thrilling highs as a player. Tony once recalled his brother crying at his last high school game and his last college game, because he didn’t know whether he’d play again. Then there was the great moment after the Super Bowl win over the Rams, when Bruschi looked at his brother and told him he’d made it. The power of his words, and the memory of the modest beginnings they shared, brought Tony to tears.

Negotiating his contracts. Unlike most players, Bruschi went through a handful of contract negotiations without an agent, negotiating the deals himself. He hired an agent, Boston-based Brad Blank, only after his stroke in 2005. Bruschi once explained his approach by saying he was comfortable to sit at the negotiating table and work things out because the Patriots treated him with respect. His intensity struck former Packers negotiator Andrew Brandt on a free agent visit in 2000, as did his honesty. Bruschi told Brandt that even if the Packers offered more money, he was unlikely to sign with them.

Last call for Bruschi tales - The Boston Globe


Ex-Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi to join ESPN as football analyst

Tedy Bruschi, who retired last Monday after 13 seasons as a Patriot, will be joining ESPN as an in-studio analyst, according to an industry source.

Bruschi, a well-polished speaker, will be appearing on NFL Live, SportsCenter, and will also likely be doing interactive chats on ESPN-Boston, the new website expected to be starting up shortly.

The former Pats linebacker and defensive captain is expected to start his new job as soon as Thursday.

How do you think he’ll do?

BostonHerald.com - Blogs: Rap Sheet» Blog Archive » Ex-Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi to join ESPN as football analyst


True Bru
New England's most beloved linebacker is as genuine off the gridiron as he was on it.

On a steamy August night one of Foxboro’s biggest stars collided with one of Nashville’s. Tedy Bruschi hopped up on stage to join country balladeer Kenny Chesney in singing Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker.” “Kenny was proud of me,” Bruschi says with a grin. “I’m glad I knew all the words.”
It was a surprisingly apt song for him. That lighthearted, sing-along side of the former Patriots linebacker isn’t one the public always gets to glimpse. Since 2005, when Bruschi suffered and recovered from a stroke, he’s appeared as Mr. Serious, plugging the necessity of life insurance with SBLI (“Life hits hard”), and raising awareness and funds for the American Stroke Association.

But friends say—and Bruschi himself shows—that there’s more to him, more to life, than the serious stuff. He loves to explore and play, which makes sense when you think about it: While he made his career as a professional athlete, football remains a game (albeit a high-stakes, lucrative one), and Bruschi essentially got to play for a living.

He’s someone who hasn’t lost the ability to tap into the child he once was. He still practices the saxophone and has even performed in concert with students from the Longy School of Music at Symphony Hall. “It was much more nerve-wracking than any of my football games,” he says. “I felt like I was 15 again, but it got me back into my music. We all sort of lose our childhood; as adults we say, ‘I wish I knew how to play piano or speak another language.’” Bruschi isn’t one to pine over a wish—he goes out and tackles it. So when he set up his oldest son, TJ, with piano lessons, he decided to take them, too.

During the past off-season he traveled with his wife, Heidi, out to Vail, where they went ziplining. “I love to do things that I haven’t done before,” he says. But when he heard that he was over the 235-pound weight limit (he was a trim 247 during the season) and got a peek at the gorges and rivers over which the line flies, he balked. “There was a split-second when I was going to turn around,” he says. “But I did it. By the end of the day I was running off the platforms.”

Such exuberance is easy to envision for anyone who watched the 2003 AFC East title game against the Miami Dolphins, when a blizzard prevented many ticket holders from attending, while those frozen few who did make the game sat atop banks of snow on Gillette’s seats. Bruschi says that game remains engraved in his memory for the snow, but also for one of his biggest thrills—intercepting a pass and taking it back for a touchdown. After the goal he famously threw snow into the air, pumped as full of joy as a man on a football field can be.

One of the unique things about Bruschi is how thoughtful he is about this game he used to play; how he had consciously chosen to carve out a career with stability in a vocation that is as volatile and ever-changing as a game of Boggle, with players and coaches rearranging themselves season to season like lettered dice in a shaken cube. Of all the players with the Patriots in 2008, Bruschi had been with the team the longest: Last season marked his 13th with the Patriots, his only team. It’s an anomaly in pro sports, and one reason why he’s so beloved here. Just as the Patriots chose him in the third round of the 1996 draft, he has chosen the Patriots and Boston as his home. Even when given the opportunity to play for other teams for more money, Bruschi declined. Twice. “I’m sure some folks out there have watched what I’ve done and said, ‘What is he doing?’ For me it’s about more than the money,” he says. “It’s about me being comfortable with a team and my family being comfortable in a home. It’s human nature to want more, to see something you don’t have and go get it. One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do is fight that temptation.”

And if he’d lost that fight, he might have lost the chance to play football again. During that magical 2004 season, as the Pats were driving toward a third Super Bowl, he was coming into free agency. Big money was already being passed under his nose like savory meats. The Pats offered less. But before the end of the season Bruschi had made up his mind: If the Patriots wanted him, he wanted to stay.

Just months after signing that deal and days after his return from the February Pro Bowl game in Hawaii, however, Bruschi woke up feeling off balance and numb in one leg. He had to crawl from his bed to the bathroom, unable to stand up. When he realized his vision was distorted, he called the team’s head trainer, who said to call an ambulance right away. Bruschi was having a stroke at age 31. He assumed that his football career had halted for good. His story had the makings of a sad country song.

Instead he became the comeback kid of the gridiron. After months of grueling rehab, his neurons forged new paths in his brain as he relearned physical feats he had once taken for granted—the ability to balance, or stand on his toes. In September, just months after his stroke, the doctors gave him the OK to return to the sport.

In some ways that recovery parallels Bruschi’s entrance into the sport. At the University of Arizona he’d played defensive lineman, but during an initial, brief conversation with Bill Parcells after the Patriots drafted him, he learned he’d be playing special teams and linebacker. He hung up from that call shocked, baffled and a little worried—he had no idea how to play those positions.

Most pundits scoffed: Bruschi wasn’t big enough at 6-foot-1, 247 pounds, and he’d never played linebacker. But they didn’t know Bruschi’s inner machinery just yet; they didn’t know that this guy was so methodical, even as a kid, that he packed away and labeled all his Transformers in zippered baggies, every piece with its instructions. He spent his time learning how to look at the game differently, watching films from a new perspective. “It was an extremely difficult transition,” he says. “It took me three years to feel comfortable in the position.”

His knowledge of playing the line helped him as a linebacker, he says, especially when he took on a guard. “I wasn’t the biggest or fastest out there, but I knew how to use balance and angles so I could outsmart them.” During the preseason, before Bruschi announced his retirement, he tried to pass some of that experience and know-how on to younger members of the defensive team, like Jerod Mayo. “I saw players like Mayo doing well, and I didn’t view them as a threat—I saw them as players who could help the team win.”

He hopes those lessons help take the team to a fourth Super Bowl this year. He has always taken that long view, even when he was on the team, knowing that he’d one day be watching games from his couch in North Attleboro. When he started the season, he knew the end of his football career was approaching. “I couldn’t play linebacker forever,” he says. “I couldn’t play football forever.”

Bruschi admits that when he gets up in the morning his shoulders and neck ache. His knees have a lot of miles on them. “You make 735 career tackles, and your body is going to talk to you,” he says with a smile. “I’m not old, but I’m football old. And that whole old thing was getting old.”

It’s hard to believe anyone thinks this guy is old—he’s about as fit as a 36-year-old can be. He’s thought about coaching, but knows from watching Belichick and the other Patriots coaches that the time commitment can be extreme. When ESPN approached him to become an NFL studio analyst, Bruschi saw it was the right play for him. He would have time to advocate stroke awareness for the American Stroke Association, coach Little League, attend school events for his boys, have dinner with his family and still study the game.

Bruschi’s commitment to the Patriots was not unlike a marriage, and he says the same principles he applies to his union with Heidi really did apply to his loyalty to the Pats. It was about righting the ship instead of jumping ship, he says. “Dealing with different personalities in the locker room wasn’t so different from dealing with my three sons and my wife,” Bruschi says. “Remembering that detail on defense was like remembering that detail of what my wife needs.”

Though there are no films to analyze, Bruschi believes in taking stock of your own skills in marriage as you would in the game. “Seeing what I’m not good at in my marriage—maybe communication, for example—is like finding weaknesses in my game. You’ve got to work on those, take steps to get better,” he says. “I like to think we have a quarterback rotation in our relationship. Sometimes we need someone who can throw well, and sometimes we need someone who can run with the ball.”

Football and family have long been his life. Now that full-time football has ended, he enjoys more time with family. “I’ve dived into that other part,” Bruschi says. “But I feel lucky that I succeeded with the Patriots. Together we did some things we’d never seen done before. I look back and smile.”

We do, too. And we look forward to his next move and next stage—whether it’s in a television studio or with another country singer. BC

Boston Common Magazine



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