Teammates are ready to run with the torch

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / September 1, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Tedy Bruschi’s locker remained intact at Gillette Stadium yesterday, even after he announced his retirement after 13 seasons with the Patriots. Bruschi’s stuff may still be in the locker room for a little bit longer, but his locker room leadership is gone.

A seven-time defensive captain, Bruschi was a selfless symbol of the Patriots’ Super Bowl success this decade. Even as his skills diminished, the respect his teammates and coaches had for him did not.

“I’ve had the privilege of coaching a lot of great players and leaders in the National Football League, and I’ll just put Tedy up there with all of them and above all of them,’’ said coach Bill Belichick.

Echoing the words of President Kennedy, the torch has been passed to a new generation. Teammates said they are ready to take the torch from Bruschi, but that no player will be able to replace him as the team’s torchbearer.

“I don’t think you can fill that void by one person,’’ said linebacker Adalius Thomas. “I think you have to use numerous people to fill a void such as that because he’s been here so long.

“I think that you can’t replace a person like Tedy in here because he has seen so much, been through so many things, so you just come in and other people fill that void with whatever it is that they do, but it has to be more than one person.’’

Bruschi’s likely successor as standard-bearer is second-year linebacker Jerod Mayo, the preseason defensive captain.

Bruschi gave Mayo his imprimatur as the next defensive leader earlier in training camp.

Mayo said Bruschi, who has served as Mayo’s mentor, called him Sunday to tell him he was retiring.

“It really hurt me, but I just let him know how much he meant to me as far as being a player and a person,’’ said Mayo.

Mayo said he is grateful for all that Bruschi taught him.

“I came in hearing all horror stories about rookies coming in and things like that, but Tedy Bruschi broke all those stories,’’ said Mayo. “He’s a great guy. He kind of took me under his wing when I first came here. He told me that one day he would pass the torch on to me and the rest of the team and I guess today is that day.’’

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork said there are enough veterans remaining to provide leadership.

“Leadership was always a key with that guy,’’ said Wilfork. “You knew exactly what you had when you were on the field.

“It’s going to be tough, but at the same time I think we have enough veterans on this team that that we can all rally together and try to put together what those guys like Troy Brown and Tedy started. Now, they’re basically passing it to us to keep it rolling. I think that with the group of guys we have in here we’ll continue.’’

Although the Patriots had begun the process of replacing Bruschi on the field, mixing in second-year linebacker Gary Guyton and reducing Bruschi’s snaps, Wilfork, a teammate of Bruschi’s since 2004, said no one should forget what a playmaker Bruschi was.

Bruschi finished his career with 1,134 tackles, 30.5 sacks, and 12 interceptions.

“The plays he made around here were unbelievable and to come from a defensive lineman and move to a linebacker that’s a pretty interesting story, but he did it,’’ said Wilfork. “That just shows you the dedication he had to play. Whenever we needed a play . . . he had the caliber that he could go out and pull one off for us.

“All that stuff is going to be missed, so now we’re going to have to pick up the slack. Like I said he passed the torch to us, so we have to run with it.’’

Teammates like Stephen Neal and Kevin Faulk watched Bruschi’s retirement news conference in the locker room and said it was a pleasure to play with him. Faulk mentioned Bruschi was a source of inspiration.

Patriots players mentioned they were happy to see Bruschi go out on his own terms.

“He played the game the way it needed to be played, and I respect him for that and I’m glad he’s going out basically on top,’’ said Wilfork. “He has a beautiful family. He will enjoy them. He’s in high spirits and nothing but big-time respect for him as a person and as one of his teammates, he’ll really be missed around here.’’

Bruschi retires

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