Tedy Bruschi, who officially announced his retirement from the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Monday, doesn't need a barometer to measure the impact he had over 13 years with the organization, but his departure certainly spoke volumes about his significance.
"He's helped create a tradition here that we're all proud of," said a glossy-eyed and choked-up Belichick. "The torch has been passed. We'll try to carry it on. It's a high standard. It's a high standard. I'm proud of everything he did and the payoff that he has paid for all of us going forward."
Bruschi's sacrifices were legendary in Foxborough. As a third-round pick out of Arizona in 1996, he was forced to change his position — from defensive end to linebacker — during an era when players really didn't change positions, particularly ones who weren't sure if they'd make the team. But he took it in good spirits, listened to former head coach Bill Parcells (as difficult as that could sometimes be) and learned new defensive phrases such as "hook slide" and "cover-two."
Bruschi's modest beginnings with the Patriots were symbolic of the organization itself. Just a couple years earlier, the Patriots were a floundering franchise with an uncertain future, but they developed into a Super Bowl-caliber team — falling to the Green Bay Packers in Bruschi's rookie season — and maintained a steady level of success through the Pete Carroll years.
But Bruschi's game really took shape when Belichick arrived in 2000. The linebacker's leadership helped serve as a buffer between the hard-nosed coach who was ferociously trying to implement his system and the players who weren't always sure if they wanted to buy what Belichick was selling, especially on a team that won just five games. Coincidentally, it was the only losing season Bruschi endured in his Patriots career.
"He's always upbeat, always positive, always working hard," Belichick said. "He brought a passionate level to the game that'll help carry the rest of us, even in some of the times when you might want to step back a little bit, or maybe things weren't going the way we wanted them to go, especially like in the 2000 season as an example. He was always positive."
The next season, Bruschi became the centerpiece of a defense that helped lead upstart quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots to one of the most unpredictable Super Bowl runs in NFL history. Bruschi was the picture-perfect example of New England's blue-collar, underdog story in 2001, when his playmaking abilities hit the big stage and vaulted the Patriots into a dynastic era.
While Belichick credits Bruschi for leading that charge, Bruschi won't let the praise go unreturned.
"[Belichick] turned me into a champion," Bruschi said. "Parcells came in. Carroll came in, but I didn't know how to win until Bill [Belichick] came here. He taught me how to win. He taught everybody in that locker room how to win, not to just go out there and play well. You can go out there and roll your helmet out there, and even though it has a Patriots logo on it, if you think they're going to lay down, they're not. You've still got to play, and he taught us that."
Bruschi is the only player in Patriots history to play in five Super Bowls, and New England was 16-6 in his team-record 22 postseason games. The Patriots were 144-67 (.682 winning percentage) in his 211 career games, including the playoffs.
Still, Bruschi remained modest when he reflected upon his career during Monday's 30-minute press conference, thanking everyone who gave him a chance when he was labeled "too small" or "too slow" at nearly every stage of his career. And he thanked them again for leaving the door open and believing in him after his stroke in 2005.
The 36-year-old linebacker was excited to have just one home over 13 seasons, and he was proud that he was an integral part of a team that rose from its dark years in the early 1990s. Bruschi proclaimed that it was better to apply diligence to fix what you've got rather than running elsewhere to find an easier solution.
For that, Belichick called him "the epitome of everything you want in a football player." A Patriots Hall of Famer for sure, Bruschi walked away from the game having surely exceeded his personal expectations. The organization that is celebrating its 50th season — a mark that would have far less meaning without three Super Bowl titles — is better off now than it was when Bruschi first arrived.
"To tell you the truth, I was grateful to have an opportunity," Bruschi said. "I didn't care what the stadium looked like. I didn't care what the field was. I didn't care if there were silver bleachers. This was football. I didn't need Patriot Place back then. All I needed was a field. That's all I needed. It's funny that my development as a player has sort of coincided with this development as an organization with a new stadium and winning Super Bowls.
"It makes me feel that much more connected to the logo on the side of the helmet."
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