Reunion time for Bruschi, ex-coach

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / October 10, 2008
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SAN JOSE, Calif. - In his office, San Jose State football coach Dick Tomey still has a 1994 Sports Illustrated college football preview issue with Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi and four of his University of Arizona teammates on the cover. Bruschi's hair is longer, his face more youthful, and his number a foreign 68, instead of the famed 54, but the fiery eyes remain the same.

Tomey knew Bruschi before he was a New England sports icon and smiling pitchman, back when he was just a hard-working kid from Roseville, Calif., outside Sacramento, who wanted to play college football. Tomey and his staff at Arizona were one of the few big-time schools that came after Bruschi, who even back then was being told he was too small or too slow.

That was the same refrain Bruschi heard from NFL talent evaluators when he left Arizona following the 1995 season as the NCAA's all-time sack leader. Thirteen seasons later, Bruschi is still playing in the NFL, preparing this week for the 181st game of his career, a career that in part he owes to Tomey.

Football fate brought Tomey and Bruschi back together this week with the Patriots practicing at San Jose State in preparation for Sunday night's game against the San Diego Chargers, the second leg of their back-to-back West Coast road games.

"It brings back fond memories for me," said Bruschi. "An old teammate of mine, Joe Salave'a, is on his coaching staff. I feel like I sort of relate to this program because I've been keeping up with it also. I'm from the University of Arizona, but Coach Tomey is my coach.

"He's the one that helped me develop in my college years and take me from an 18-year-old freshman to a 23-year-old fifth-year senior, so I attribute a lot of my success to what Coach Tomey taught me, and I see he's doing great things with the program here."

It's not exactly an accident that Bruschi is at San Jose State. When the school was approached by the Patriots about using its facilities, Tomey gave his approval knowing it would bring Bruschi to campus.

"That was an ulterior motive," said Tomey, who is in his fourth season at San Jose State. "To me, that was important. Just to see him. I don't get to see him. We're both going a thousand miles an hour, and getting a chance to spend time with him is something I was looking forward to."

The two went out to dinner last night, and Bruschi will speak to the Spartans today following the Patriots' practice. Bruschi of all people should know what an honor that is, because the detail-oriented Tomey doesn't let just anyone address his team, especially the day before a big game. San Jose State plays its homecoming game tomorrow against Utah State.

"I don't do that a lot because I don't trust people," said Tomey, who has infused energy, enthusiasm, and expectations into the San Jose State program since taking over a 2-9 team in 2005. "I don't trust most people that they would say the right thing, no matter whether they're some football coach or politician or president or whoever. Some coaches have every Tom, Dick, and Harry talk to their team. I don't because I want to know that whoever it is is going to represent reality in the best way to the players, and I know [Bruschi] will."

"I'm looking forward to it because although it's a different university and they're wearing a different logo on the side of their helmets, I feel like we're being brought up the same by Coach Tomey," said Bruschi. "I know there are certain things that are important to him that are still important to me now that he's teaching them, so I do feel a connection to this program."

A lot has changed since Tomey brought Bruschi to Arizona in 1991. Bruschi is a 35-year-old NFL veteran with a wife and three kids now. He's no longer the carefree kid on the red scooter in the Sports Illustrated article.

At Arizona, he was a defensive end and the leader of the "Desert Swarm" defense. In the NFL, he's one of the most instinctive linebackers of his generation and one of the most inspirational, returning from a stroke in 2005 to resume his career.

Tomey always believed Bruschi would be a success in the NFL. He just needed somebody to do what he'd done with the kid from Roseville - ignore the measurements and turn on the tape.

"I think he's the kind of person that could do just about anything that his capabilities would allow him to do," said Tomey. "He was a great defensive end. Obviously, he would be undersized for the NFL, although [Dwight] Freeney and those guys are about his size, but he was just tremendously quick and he had a tremendous passion. He played at a different level than most other players, but again, he came that way and that's not something we taught him.

"When he was coming out of college, everybody was suspicious about 'is he big enough? Can he run fast enough?' And you're trying to pound it into their heads: 'You just need to watch the tape. He's a special player.' Gladly, the Patriots recognized that."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at

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