|TEDY BRUSCHIPassion for game|
Last call for Bruschi tales
Linebacker’s career was one to savor
How about a few leftover Bruschis?
After all that was eloquently said last week at the first-class sendoff for Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, here are a few parts of his life and career that shouldn’t be left out:
Modest beginnings. Bruschi seldom discussed with reporters his early years, but when he did, it was clear how they shaped his identity. Born in San Francisco, he grew up in a rough-edged area of the city where there was no backyard, only a community circle of grass that was hardly big enough for pickup football games. Bruschi loved to play “street ball,’’ dodging would-be tacklers while also being careful not to trip or turn an ankle on the sprinkler heads that popped up from the ground. Last Monday, Bruschi spoke about how NFL game days were an “explosion of passion’’ for him, and that passion was born on that circle of grass.
East-West Game catapulted him into the NFL. Bruschi’s production at Arizona was impressive, his 52.5 sacks tying Derrick Thomas’s NCAA Division 1 record. Yet as NFL teams prepared for the 1996 draft, many had a hard time projecting him as a defensive end because of his size. The Patriots’ personnel department was led by Bobby Grier that year, and momentum started building to select Bruschi after the East-West all-star game, in which he shined. Bruschi and the Colorado State duo of Brady Smith and Sean Moran were part of the discussion, but Grier liked Bruschi, envisioning the Patriots integrating him into the mix with a “Bruschi package’’ that would initially have him on the field on third downs.
Football just sort of happened. After his family moved to the Sacramento suburb of Roseville when he was 13, Bruschi was attending freshman orientation and bumped into two classmates who urged him to try out for the football team. Everyone else showed up with cleats and other gear, while Bruschi had tennis shoes and a T-shirt. Classic Bruschi. Once practice started, Bruschi didn’t know where to go. Coach Don Hicks pointed to the linemen, and that’s how Bruschi found his position. The Sacramento Bee noted that Bruschi’s career almost never started, because his mother wanted him to remain in the school band (Bruschi still plays the saxophone). Now the weight room at Roseville High is named after Bruschi.
The initial phone call from the Patriots - short but sweet. Bruschi once laughed when reflecting on the call he got when he was drafted. Then-coach Bill Parcells kept it short, saying only: “Bruschi, we’re going to put you at linebacker. Here’s Al Groh.’’ Then the phone was handed to Groh, the linebackers coach, and Bruschi’s transition from defensive end to linebacker was under way. Bill Belichick later explained that Bruschi - who earned his lone Pro Bowl berth in 2004 - had come about as far as a player could in learning a new position and turning into the “perfect player.’’
A bond with his brother Tony. At the end of his opening remarks Monday, Bruschi saluted his older brother “who always gave those pushes when needed’’ while mentioning the similarities between them. The Bruschi brothers have always had each others’ backs, sharing in some of Tedy’s most thrilling highs as a player. Tony once recalled his brother crying at his last high school game and his last college game, because he didn’t know whether he’d play again. Then there was the great moment after the Super Bowl win over the Rams, when Bruschi looked at his brother and told him he’d made it. The power of his words, and the memory of the modest beginnings they shared, brought Tony to tears.
Negotiating his contracts. Unlike most players, Bruschi went through a handful of contract negotiations without an agent, negotiating the deals himself. He hired an agent, Boston-based Brad Blank, only after his stroke in 2005. Bruschi once explained his approach by saying he was comfortable to sit at the negotiating table and work things out because the Patriots treated him with respect. His intensity struck former Packers negotiator Andrew Brandt on a free agent visit in 2000, as did his honesty. Bruschi told Brandt that even if the Packers offered more money, he was unlikely to sign with them.
Stephens made an impressionFormer Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan remembers a practice early in 1988 when he handed the ball off to rookie running back John Stephens.
“I can still see it in my mind, him running over [safety] Fred Marion, and thinking to myself ‘I might be able to play another 10 years with this guy behind me,’ ’’ Grogan recalled.
Many had high hopes for Stephens after watching him during his rookie season in ’88, when he earned a Pro Bowl berth after rushing for 1,168 yards. But Stephens never duplicated the production again.
Stephens, 43, died in a one-car accident in Louisiana last Tuesday.
After digesting the somber news, Grogan focused on that terrific ’88 season and the dynamic Stephens brought to an offense that included receivers Irving Fryar and Stanley Morgan, and had up-and-coming Bruce Armstrong as a powerful presence at right tackle.
Stephens formed a 1-2 punch with Robert Perryman.
“They were a good, young backfield together - Perryman was more of a fullback-type inside power runner, and John was the guy with speed to run by people, but also the power to run over people,’’ Grogan said. “That was a formidable backfield.’’
Stephens was the team’s first-round draft choice out of
Last week, though, people just wanted to talk about his positive contributions.
“At first, I’m not sure anybody really knew who he was - you were looking at a running back out of a small school,’’ Grogan said. “But it didn’t take too many days with pads on to figure out he had a blend of power and speed combined that we hadn’t seen in quite some time.’’
Kiwanuka puts seven points on the boardSeven questions for Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka of Boston College:
What have been some of the differences with the Giants under new coordinator Bill Sheridan instead of Steve Spagnuolo?
“Steve’s presence, and the energy he brought to this team, is definitely going to be missed. When you’re talking about a guy like Bill Sheridan, the guy knows football. I had a chance to play for him as a linebacker last year and he knows the X’s and O’s and we’re excited to see what kind of things he is going to come up with.’’
How is this defense different?
“We have some new faces. We acquired Rocky [Bernard] and Chris Canty, so from a D-line perspective, we have all the firepower that we could ever need or ever ask for. It’s just a matter of putting it together.’’
You’ve rotated between linebacker and defensive end early in your NFL career. Are you in a more permanent spot now?
“I’m back at defensive end. I’ve done a lot of things in the past. This year, I’ll be a straight rush defensive end. Last year, I was a linebacker until the end of preseason when Osi [Umenyiora] went down, so it was a year and a half at linebacker.’’
Do you feel more of a comfort level at defensive end?
“Definitely. That’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been in high school. But just being on the field is my No. 1 goal, so I’m ready to do anything.’’
In what areas do you feel you’re a better player this year?
“Technique things. Going into last year, I was a linebacker until Week 1, so there were a lot of things I had to learn on the fly and get rehashed out. This year, having the entire offseason to work as a defensive end, it helped my technique and my reading of certain plays, which can be better.’’
Thoughts on your alma mater, Boston College?
“I’m always keeping tabs on them. The first thing is [Mark] Herzlich, and I feel deeply for his family and what he is going through. As far as the team goes, I’m just excited to see them get out there and get going.’’
What has been the part of NFL life that stands out to you over the last four years?
“How much fun it still is. You might think because you’re playing so long that it might get old, but every game is definitely a great atmosphere, and every practice is a challenge. It’s still exciting.’’
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.