A True Patriot: Tedy Bruschi Retires

Driving in his car on Tuesday, New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi must have prepared himself for his arrival to Gillette Stadium differently than most other days. Wearing a simple blue oxford shirt and brown blazer, Bruschi would not be asked to shed a block or blitz a gap. His newest task was even more daunting.

After 13 years with the Patriots, Bruschi faced the day that athletes spend a career dreading. The under-sized and often doubted middle linebacker made up for his physical ailments and shortcomings with intense, diligent preparation. Bruschi’s hard work allowed him to walk with a certain swagger of readiness throughout his career. On Tuesday, despite preparing for a whole new type of obstacle, his confidence showed once again.

“I worked so hard to have this day more of like a celebration. Because this would be so much harder for me if there were more that I wanted to accomplish. I think of every goal that I wanted to achieve in this game, and I was able to achieve those goals.”

A deep breath. A short pause. No tears. No breakdowns.

“I feel great about myself right now,” Bruschi said.

Sports need more role models like this guy.

Too often, immaturity has become the norm for athletes after the game. Fans ignore LeBron James’ refusal to shake hands after a Game Six, season-ending loss to the Orlando Magic. They brush aside Tiger Woods’ off the cuff remarks regarding his being the first to win 14 of 15 times going into the last day of a major tournaments after losing a week before at Hazeltine. They even feel sorry for Rich Rodriguez, who openly wept at a press conference in Ann Arbor on Monday, responding to allegations of NCAA violations.

Instead, it feels better to feel good about Bruschi.

Thirteen years ago, the 6″1 linebacker was drafted out of Arizona in the third round by the New England Patriots. Taken 86th overall, there were concerns that the 240 lb. Bruschi might be too small to play inside linebacker for the Patriots. He spent the majority of his first season in New England as a special teams player, proving his worth by recording 17 tackles.

From there, the two-time All American’s career took off. Starting at inside linebacker for the Patriots, he was voted defensive captain of his team and won three Super Bowls with the Patriots between 2002 and 2005. But the most devastating and inspiring part of Bruschi’s career was still to come.

On February 16, 2005, only weeks after winning his third Super Bowl title in four years, the leader of the Patriots’ defense was admitted to the hospital after having a stroke.

An extended hospital stay; partial paralysis; a near death experience, but a far cry from the end of a career. In 2005, Bruschi worked as hard as ever, rehabilitating from his ailment. Then, inexplicably, he returned to the Patriots in 2006. After sitting out the first game, Bruschi played fourteen games in 2006 and led the team in tackles. For his incredible return to the NFL, Bruschi was named the Comeback Player of the Year.

After all that, Bruschi capped off his career with a brief and humbled speech that reflected the cool composure and confidence that he had displayed over his long and accomplished career. When asked if there was any chance that he might return at some point this season, Bruschi remained determined. There would be no Brett Favre crocodile tears in Foxboro.

What if the Patriots called and asked him to play in December?

He asked them not to.

His decision made, Bruschi commented, “I did my job for 13 years and now my job is done. My job’s done Bill [Belichik]. I’m looking forward to living the rest of my life.”

Patriots’ fans will certainly be sad to see their middle linebacker go. A seasoned veteran, Bruschi had become an anchor in the middle of a formidable defense in recent years. But when it was time to go, Bruschi did it the right way.

At the end of his career, Bruschi’s defensive statistics tapered off slightly. Although he recorded 78 tackles in the 2008 season, only 38 were solo, compared to his teammate and fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo’s 128 totale tackles and 100 solo tackles.

But despite his slight dip in production, Bruschi was still the undisputed leader of the Patriots’ defense. On Tuesday, he showed why.