Bruschi One Of The Best In The Game
By Kevin Saleeba
August 31, 2009
With the New England Patriots playing the 9-1 Super Bowl favorite Denver Broncos in Week 12 in 1996, Patriots coach Bill Parcells put a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a then little-know special teamer and rookie linebacker named Tedy Bruschi.
The Patriots were facing a fourth and short on their own 32 yard line on the game's opening drive when punter Tom Tupa faked the punt and threw the ball near midfield to a wide-open Bruschi. The play could have worked and might have sparked the team to an upset in that game, but the ball went through Bruschi's arms and bounce off his chest onto the turf. The snowball effect of that play led John Elway and the Broncos to run rough-shot over the Patriots to one of the worst losses that season, a 34-8 Denver drubbing of the Patriots.
Like the standup guy he would prove to be his entire Patriots career, Bruschi blamed himself for failing to make the play. "It looked pretty good in practice," he said after that game. "I just couldn't hold on. I'm not going to make excuses. There's no sugar-coating. I just dropped it."
That play seemed so long ago with the 36-year-old Bruschi announcing his retirement today. Bruschi decided to end his 13-year career, seven of which serving as the team's defensive captain. There is "no sugar-coating" what Bruschi's career meant to the Patriots organization. He simply helped lead the Patriots to numerous playoff victories; five Super Bowl appearances; three Super Bowl wins; and eight months after he suffered a stroke in 2005, he engineered an inspirational return as a starting linebacker with the Patriots the following season.
"Tedy's first year here was my first year in 1996 when Bill (Parcells) drafted him out of Arizona (as a defensive lineman, the all-time Pac-10 sack leader)," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "Coming into the NFL, we were going to make him a linebacker. We didn't really know what we were going to do with him. We didn't see him do anything (at college) except rush the passer, but we didn't really think he could do that at (defensive lineman) and in this league.
"He became a player that transformed himself from a great, great college player into a great NFL player… It takes a pretty special guy to do that," said Belichick.
And a great player he was. Bruschi defined what Patriots football and what championship football was the last 13 years in New England. He 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).
During today's press conference with the media announcing his retirement, Bruschi said he has accomplished all he wanted to accomplish in the game and he leaves with no regrets.
"Whether it was turning myself into a linebacker from a defensive lineman, to winning championships, every player's career will have a beginning, middle, and end and today's my end," said Bruschi "I think of everything I wanted to achieve in this game and I was able to achieve those goals… I'm in a great place."
For his career, Bruschi finished with 1,134 total tackles, 30.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns, 62 passes defended, 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. From 2003-2008, his 631 stops are the most on the team over that span. During that time, the Patriots allowed an average of 17.25 points per game, the second best total in the NFL.
Bruschi also made big plays in big games. During the 1997 AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he made the game-clinching interception; he had 4.5 career playoff sacks (two against the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI; one in Super Bowl XXXIX); and three fumble recoveries, including one memorable strip of Dominic Rhodes of the Colts in the 2004 Division game when he thwarted an attempted screen pass and simply outmuscled the ball from Rhodes to get possession.
Bruschi was the heart-and-soul of the Patriots organization and helped create a tradition of winning and excellence. The Patriots organization hopes future players will continue that legacy.
"Tedy embodies everything we want the Patriot brand to stand for: hard work, perseverance, overachievement, and selfless commitment to team first," said Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "He handled every stage of his career with great class. I'm mindful of the example he has meant to the young people who have come in here. Last year at training camp I asked Jerod Mayo how he's doing and he said, 'You know I'm doing fine. I'm just trying to emulate Tedy Bruschi and everything he does: how he handles himself on the practice field, how he handles himself watching tape, and how he interacts with people.' I think that says it all right there."
Mayo told WEEI today that he learned from Bruschi to "give it all every play. You never know when it's going to be your last."
"When Tedy first came into the league and was working his way into a role and eventually as an every-down linebacker, every-down player, an all-pro player, he worked harder than everybody," said Belichick. "And when he was achieving success, he worked harder than everybody…
|Bill Belichick looks on as Bruschi rushes into actoin (Photo Kevin Saleeba / PatriotsInsider.com)|
"Along the way he heard too small, too slow, too this, too that," said Belichick. "And he just kept getting better and better and working harder and outworking and outcompeting pretty much everybody he faced. It didn't make a difference who it was; faster backs, bigger lineman, big tackles, athletic tight ends, he found a way to compete and more importantly, win in those competitive matchups."
When asked how he felt about Bruschi as a player, Belichick, choking back his emotions, said Bruschi was "a perfect player… I've had the privilege of coaching a lot of great players and I'll put Tedy above all of them."
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).
Additionally, since 2002, Bruschi's nose for the ball has created seven defensive touchdowns. He scored four of those touchdowns on interception returns (two in both 2002 and 2003), forced two fumbles that were picked up and returned for scores (Oct. 3, and Nov. 28, 2004), and tipped a pass that was grabbed by James Sanders and returned for a touchdown (Dec. 11, 2005). This is in addition to his first career touchdown at Baltimore (Oct. 6, 1996) when Bruschi picked up a blocked punt by Larry Whigham and returned it four yards for a touchdown. Bruschi was selected to the 2004 Pro Bowl team.
Bruschi said he's ready to pass the torch onto the next generation of Patriots linebackers. "As good as I am going to be without them they're going to be just as good without me. Jerod Mayo's a great player. He's going to be a great leader. I talked to him yesterday and felt privileged to be around him for a year-and-a-half. He himself has the desire just to be good and that's great. From the first meeting, all the questions he would ask me and how he would be next to me on the practice field and pick my brain. I knew this was a kid that it really meant a lot to… Gary Guyton, Pierre Woods, Adalius Thomas, Eric Alexander - all of these guys are ready. They're ready to play. They're excited about this season. I think they are in great hands."
For more than a decade before every game, Patriots players exit the locker room and sprint past the red, white, and blue words "Full Tilt; Full Time" and the number "54" which was displayed by Bruschi fans near the south end zone at both the old Foxboro Stadium and the current Gillette Stadium.
The idiom is synonymous with the solid 13-year career of Bruschi, one of the hardest working and most beloved Patriots player in the history of the franchise. Bruschi decided to call an end to a career that saw him go from a little-known special-teams player to a leader at middle linebacker on three super bowl championship teams.
He will be sorely missed and never forgotten!