A ’bye on the schedule
Bruschi retires; career is lauded by Kraft, Belichick
FOXBOROUGH - Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the only way he could describe linebacker Tedy Bruschi was that he always did the right thing.
“Whatever was the right thing at that moment, it seemed like he always hit it right on the head,’’ said Belichick.
Yesterday, the 36-year-old Bruschi decided the right thing was for him to retire after a decorated and inspiring career with the Patriots that spanned 13 seasons, eight AFC East division crowns, five conference championships, three Super Bowl titles, and one remarkable recovery from a stroke.
Perhaps no player better represented the gridiron gestalt that defines the Belichick-era Patriots than Bruschi.
“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 has handled every stage of his career with great class.’’
With his wife, Heidi, looking on and flanked by two of his No. 54 jerseys hanging behind him, the fiery Bruschi appeared completely at peace with his decision during a 40-minute news conference/career retrospective yesterday at Gillette Stadium.
“When you come into this facility there is a sign . . . I read it all, but there’s one part of it that’s important and Bill does a great job of always emphasizing this and you’ve heard him say it, ‘Do your job.’ Well, I did my job for 13 years and now my job is done,’’ said Bruschi. “My job is done, Bill. I’m looking forward to living the rest of my life, I really am.’’
It was typical Tedy Bruschi, going out on his own terms. When he told teammates of his retirement on Sunday, the one word Bruschi kept using was fulfilled.
Few thought that Friday night’s 27-24 exhibition win over the Redskins would be the last time Bruschi was seen in a Patriots uniform, but Bruschi said that retirement had been in his mind, and his all-out, all-the-time style let him walk away with no regrets.
With the retirement of Bruschi two weeks before the 2009 season-opener Sept. 14, just five players remain who have been with the Patriots for all three Super Bowl championship seasons (2001, 2003, and 2004): Tom Brady, Matt Light, Kevin Faulk, Richard Seymour, and Stephen Neal.
If there was one theme to Bruschi’s career it was consistently overcoming the odds and outperforming expectations. A third-round pick by the Patriots out of the University of Arizona in 1996, Bruschi made the conversion from standout college defensive end - he tied the NCAA Division 1 (now Football Bowl Subdivision) record for career sacks with 52 - to Pro Bowl NFL linebacker.
Bruschi, who played more games (189) than any linebacker in team history, evolved from a situational pass rusher and special teams player to the heart and soul of the Patriots’ defense.
He had a penchant for making big plays in big spots, reaching his goal of being “a linebacker that played every down and that made the biggest plays in the biggest games.’’ He is the only player in NFL history to return four straight interceptions for touchdowns.
His 22 playoff games are a club record and the Patriots were 16-6 in those postseason contests.
The voice of the normally stoic Belichick quivered with emotion as he talked about Bruschi, whom Belichick said epitomized what he thought a player should be.
“If you ask me to sum up how I feel about Tedy Bruschi in five seconds - he’s the perfect player, he’s the perfect player,’’ said Belichick. “He has helped create a tradition here that we’re all proud of. The torch has been passed, and we’ll try to carry it on.’’
Most, including Bruschi, thought that the end of his NFL career had come four years ago, when he suffered a stroke in February 2005, following his first and only Pro Bowl appearance. Less than nine months later, Bruschi was back on a football field, making his season debut in the Patriots’ seventh game of the season.
He had 10 tackles in a 21-16 win over the Bills to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and never looked back, playing three more seasons and leading the team in tackles in 2006 and 2007.
“I think what makes this day a little bit easier for me is that experience that I had in 2005,’’ said Bruschi. “I think after that experience, having a stroke in ’05 after the Pro Bowl, I was retired. I was retired. I didn’t think it was possible. The thought of playing professional football after experiencing a stroke, I mean, is that a statement you hear every day? It’s not. It’s not, so that was something I didn’t think was possible.’’
Bruschi took time out to thank the fans for being with him on his journey. That journey appears to have reached its final football destination.
Bruschi all but ruled out unretiring in midseason to rejoin the Patriots, a la Junior Seau last season.
“Bill and I had a great conversation [Sunday], and I don’t know if my answer to that was, ‘Don’t call me.’ I think if I was in a different situation, there would be a different answer to that,’’ said Bruschi.
“If there was more I wanted to achieve, to come back and do more, then I would welcome that. But like I was saying, I made sure during my career when I was on the team, when I did have that opportunity, when I was there playing every day, that’s when I made sure I’m going to take advantage of my opportunity now. I’m not going to wish when I’m done that I did more.’’
Bruschi did everything full-tilt, his retirement should be no different.