His eyes watched a highlight video, fixating on the plays that would come to be known as game-changing, even franchise-altering.
He got emotional.
And really, could you blame Bill Belichick?
The Patriots head coach, so often seen as perpetually gruff and grouchy, was the one choking up at Tedy Bruschi's retirement announcement.
If ever one moment summed up one man’s sentiment, it was this.
"You ask me to sum it up, how do I feel about Tedy Bruschi in five seconds? He was the perfect player," said Belichick, voice quivering. "That's a high standard."
The highest, in the eyes of Bruschi, who finally called it a career on Monday after 13 seasons with the Patriots. Owner Robert Kraft reminded the room that Bruschi is the only player to be with the Patriots for all five Super Bowl appearances during his realm as chairman and CEO. He praised the linebacker – the defense’s unquestioned leader – for his professionalism as much as his play.
“Tedy embodies everything we want the Patriot brand to stand for,” said Kraft.
A seemingly endless stream of praise for Bruschi flowed from the owner right down to the last player in the locker room on Monday in Foxborough. There were stories of how Bruschi welcomed new players to the team, from second-year linebacker Jerod Mayo and even backup quarterback Andrew Walter.
But it was Belichick who appeared the most shaken by Bruschi’s decision. Remember, the two first arrived in Foxborough together back in 1996, Belichick as a defensive coordinator and still unproven head coach and Bruschi as a third-round draft pick out of Arizona.
Bruschi was a brilliant defensive lineman for the Wildcats, wreaking havoc on Pac-10 quarterbacks. But Belichick and then head coach Bill Parcells didn’t feel he could fit that same role in the NFL, so they asked him to switch to linebacker.
“It didn’t make any difference who it was – faster backs, bigger linemen, big tackles, athletic tight ends – he found a way to compete and, more importantly, win in those competitive matchups,” marveled Belichick.
“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 outcompeting pretty much everybody that he faced.”
Belichick was downright loquacious about Bruschi, raving that the linebacker was always in the right place and consistently made the right decision.
The guy simply made plays – big ones, small ones, but mostly crucial ones.
No Patriots player has ever been more playoff-tested than Bruschi. He played in a team-record 22 playoff games, winning 16 of them and, of course, three Super Bowls. You remember that picture of Bruschi clutching a newspaper inscribed with a "Dynasty" headline, flashing a smile and three fingers – one for every championship? Of course you do. It’s iconic.
It’s everything this era of Patriots football is about.
And that’s why Bill Belichick was so emotional on Monday.
Bruschi was his guy, his perfect player. The two, as Tedy pointed out, were so often on the same page.
There are a few players – Tom Brady, anyone? – who have been crucial to the Patriots success, not to mention the head coach’s genius label. Don’t think Bill Belichick doesn’t get that. Don’t think he doesn’t appreciate it.
Of course, we knew this moment was coming, and quick. All the signs were there. The torch had been passed to Jerod Mayo. Hints had been dropped.
“I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m 36,” said Bruschi, who probably wasn’t going to see much of the field in what would’ve been his 14th season.
But Bill Belichick wasn’t about to force him off of it. If Bruschi had wanted, I’m pretty confident the coach would’ve kept a roster spot for him, a la Troy Brown.
But Bruschi made the right call, at the right time.
The guy just has a knack for that, doesn’t he?
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