The retirement of linebacker Tedy Bruschi will bring about endless amounts of stories, videos and tributes to No. 54 through the remainder of the preseason. The praise will come from writers, fans and radio hosts and is likely to fulfill every story line until the season opener.
While it may seem a bit excessive, make no mistake about it: Bruschi’s earned every bit of it.
Part of the reason there will be so many stories about him is that it’s difficult to accurately and concisely put into words what Bruschi has meant to the New England Patriots organization and its fan base over the past 13 years.
Drafted in the third round of the 1996 NFL draft out of the University of Arizona by Bill Parcells, Bruschi transitioned from the defensive line to linebacker, thus shaping his career. As a rookie, he made four sacks in the regular season, intercepted a pass in a playoff game against Jacksonville and recorded two sacks in Super Bowl XXXI.
Though the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to Green Bay and Parcells left the franchise, Bruschi and the Patriots were just beginning to take off.
Statistically, Bruschi was impressive, but he’ll never be remembered for any number. Instead, Bruschi’s legend will live on as the epitome of the hardworking attitude that fans in New England fell in love with. He’ll always be remembered for scoring a touchdown in the snow, performing the perfect form tackle on Marshall Faulk in Super Bowl XXXVI, picking up his game when it mattered most and helping to cap off the Patriots’ dynasty with a fourth-quarter interception in Super Bowl XXXIX.
By February of 2005, he had won three Super Bowls and had just finished participating in the Pro Bowl when it appeared his career ended suddenly. Bruschi suffered a stroke in his home, and football became the furthest thing on his — and fans’ — mind.
But giving up was never part of Bruschi’s style. During his recovery, as soon as he knew he had a chance to return to the football field, he spent every ounce of his energy to do so.
And he did.
Though many people questioned his motives and ability (and his sanity, for that matter), Bruschi silenced all critics by recording nine tackles and earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in his first game back. He never regained his elite status, but he served as a valuable veteran for the Pats, recording 92 tackles and two sacks in the Patriots’ run at perfection in 2007.
Many are speculating that Bruschi’s decision to retire was only partly his and that the team may have suggested he wouldn’t have a spot on the team. If that’s the case, it’s not hard to believe that Bruschi opted to leave the game on his own terms.
Off the field, Bruschi embodied what it meant to be a true Patriot. He often went on the record as saying he could never play anywhere else, even though it likely hurt him at the bargaining table. But while it may have cost him a few dollars, he more than made up for it with appreciation from the fans.
He won’t be enshrined in Canton — that’s almost certain — but his three rings and 13 years of service to the Patriots will earn him a lifelong legacy in New England.
That’s an exchange he’d almost certainly take.