He was still hitting - right notes
FOXBOROUGH - Tedy Bruschi thanked his wife, his owner, his coach, his teammates, his agent, his trainer, his brother, and his fans.
He got it wrong. We all should be thanking him.
In a way that athletes seldom really do, he gets it. He had it when he walked in here 13 years ago and he refined it to the point where yesterday’s farewell is now the gold standard of gracious goodbyes. He’s had it on the field, he’s had it in the locker room, and he’s got it off the field.
He deserved everything good that’s happened to him. He worked for it all as a Patriots linebacker, and he’s been humble throughout and generous in sharing his knowledge. Bob Kraft tells us that Jerod Mayo attached himself to Bruschi last year. So we are not exactly surprised to learn that the young linebacker is already an acknowledged team leader in just his second season, are we?
Tedy Bruschi deserved to hear his owner label him as someone “who has handled every stage of his career with complete class.’’ He likewise deserved to hear his coach, Bill Belichick, say that he is “the epitome of everything you would want in a football player,’’ before going on to utter the ultimate, calling him the “perfect player.’’
Most of all, he deserved to see his normally impassive coach come close to breaking down completely at least twice while discussing his appreciation and admiration for what Bruschi has meant to both him and the Patriots these past 13 years. Seeing Bill Belichick in that state is the greatest compliment of all.
No, no, no, we should be thanking Tedy Bruschi because, after listening to his owner and his coach pay tribute to him he stepped up and outdid them both, expressing his gratitude for the way things have turned out in a manner that places him in the top 1 percent of likeable athletes.
How refreshing it was to hear a player who has accomplished great things express himself in a manner that was both exuberant and dignified.
Far from this being a sad day, he explained, this was a joyous one. “Over my career,’’ he said, “I’ve worked so hard to have this day become a celebration. This would be so much harder if I had more goals to accomplish. The one word I would use to sum it all up is ‘fulfilled.’ It’s a celebration. I’m in a good place.’’
If he’s bitter, upset, or frustrated because he no longer has a viable role on the team, then he’s a spectacular actor. What he did say was that his time has come; that’s all.
“I’m 36,’’ he said. “I realize I’m getting old. But, like I said, this would be different if I had anything left to accomplish.’’
Think about his career. He was a 1996 third-round draftee out of Arizona, where he was a pass-rushing defensive end. He made the difficult conversion to linebacker. He made himself into an indispensable player on a team that would win three Super Bowls and play in two others. Reaching his peak as a Pro Bowl participant after the 2004 season, he suffered not a sprained ankle, not a concussion, not a torn ACL, but a stroke. He then came back to play four more seasons, two as the team’s leading tackler.
It was a unique NFL experience.
The fans knew the story. They knew, as Belichick said, he was always supposed to be “too small, too slow, too this, too that.’’ Fans invariably gravitate to perceived misfits who make something of themselves, and so Bruschi, though never the best player on the team, became its most beloved. That goes double for coaches, apparently.
“Whether it was faster backs, bigger linemen, or athletic tight ends,’’ Belichick declared, “he found a way to compete and, more importantly, to win in those matchups.’’
Belichick lauded Bruschi for his “instinctiveness and his passion.’’ Said the coach, “I don’t know how else to put it, other than to say he always did the right thing.’’
As unerring an instinct as Bruschi had to recognize and react properly to situations on the field, his off-the-field judgments were equally sound. Why, for example, is Bruschi retiring with the same team he began with? You don’t see that much nowadays.
“I was a free agent once, once or twice,’’ he said. “I even took a trip. I went to Seattle, Cleveland, and Green Bay. I saw that 1996 Super Bowl trophy in the [Packers’] case, and I knew I wasn’t going there,’’ he said with a laugh. “But the real reason [he didn’t leave New England] was that people want to change things to fix their problems the easy way. I learned that I’d rather stay in one place and fix the problem. I’d rather right the ship than jump ship.’’
Words to live by, huh?
Virtue, in this case, was clearly its own reward, as Bruschi has picked up three championship rings while becoming the Grand Old Man of what is recognized as the NFL’s premier franchise. But at no point has he acted like anything but the eager kid from Arizona who was just hoping to make the team.
As he progressed from a special-teamer into a playmaking, game-changing player rival offensive coordinators had to account for, he accumulated a big play/big moment résumé of such consequence that people now want him to select a highlight. Most of us will cite the interception runback on which he wound up kneeling in the end zone and triggering the snow-throwing to the “Hey!’’ in “Rock ’n Roll, Part 2’’ against Miami in 2003. Belichick is partial to an interception on Thanksgiving Day in 2002 because it emanated from the perfect reading of a complex situation.
Bruschi? He won’t say.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have more than one moment,’’ he explained. “I’ve had multiple moments. To talk about one is to cheapen the others.’’
There will be no more moments. There will be no Junior Seau-type November encore. He’s dotted all the I’s, crossed all the T’s, paid every due and crossed every bridge. It’s over. It’s done. It’s in the books. It’s in his head and in his heart.
He’s embodied all our ideals about what a pro athlete should be and can be, and now he wants to go home to his wife and kids. If ever any Boston athlete has earned our thanks, and our best wishes for a contented career/life, it is Tedy Bruschi.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.