Fans worship Bruschi for his unselfish, all-out style -- and he appreciates them, too
FOXBOROUGH -- Even before he arrived here, Tedy Bruschi decided that, if left up to him, he would stay.
A native Californian, Bruschi declared New England his new home the day the Patriots made him the 86th overall selection of the 1996 draft. After eight seasons, and having recently signed an extension through 2007, there's a good chance that Bruschi, provided he continues to play at or near his current level, will achieve what has become rare in professional sports --spend a career with one organization.
"That means a lot to me," Bruschi said after a training camp workout and post-practice autograph session. "I remember vividly the day I got drafted. The first thing I said to my girlfriend, Heidi -- who's now my wife -- I said, `I'm going to play out this contract with the Patriots and keep signing back with them. They're the ones I want to finish with because they're the ones I'm going to start with.' And that's before I knew anything about New England, the area, the fans. It was just a bond, a loyalty I had."
Bruschi, who played almost everywhere along the front seven earlier in his career before settling in as an inside linebacker three years ago, has become one of the more popular players on, depending on the day, the region's most popular team. He is Mr. Patriot, Mr. "Full Tilt, Full Time" because of his whatever-it-takes style of play. He comes across as someone who sincerely appreciates the privilege of playing pro football.
He has a special connection with the fans here because, he says, he relates to them. "I think I'm just one of them out there playing football," he said. "They're just normal people out there, and I consider myself a normal guy.
"I'm so normal," said Bruschi, a saxophonist who enjoys a night at a jazz club or an evening at a fancy restaurant. He's also as devoted to his family as he is his team. "My big project this year was blowing back my backyard. I brought in some people, took out some trees, took out rocks, leveled the backyard. I wanted a yard for my kids [Tedy Jr. and Rex]. Better the lives for my kids, that's what I do when I'm not around here."
Those times when he is, Bruschi approaches every practice and every meeting with the same enthusiasm he brings into a Dolphins game in December. He is a leader and a team captain who understands how important it is for a leader to also know how to follow. Young players following his example should have few problems in their careers.
"He loves football. He loves the game," said linebackers coach Dean Pees. "He brings that kind of passion to the game when he plays it but he brings a passion to the classroom, too. Passion doesn't always necessarily mean I'm jumping up and down, I'm screaming, I'm yelling, but it means you take it very seriously, you understand it, you really try to do everything you can do to prepare yourself and make yourself a better football player. And I think that's the passion he brings to the game."
Rodney Harrison said Bruschi reminds him of another contemporary linebacker who personifies passion.
"His consistency, his professionalism, his heart, his commitment to the game, not once have you ever heard Tedy complain about anything or say anything bad," Harrison said. "He's like a Junior Seau. Always working, always doing the little things. Junior is Junior, and Junior's going to be in the Hall of Fame. But [Bruschi] is the same type of guy. That's what I see in him. I see Junior Seau all day when I watch Tedy Bruschi. He's very unselfish. Committed. Willing to sacrifice." If it means playing weak-side, strong-side, and middle linebacker, so be it. Special teams? Coaches don't have to ask Bruschi twice. He's the type, if a coach says, "Jump," he will reply, "How high?"
He just punches in, does his job, and punches out; one could imagine him wearing a hard hat to work if he weren't wearing a helmet. On the field Bruschi is able to wear so many hats well, Pees says, because he not only understands his responsibilities as the team's "Mike" (middle) linebacker, but those of the other 10 positions.
"I've worked with a lot of linebackers who were very intelligent at their position, but I don't know if I've worked with anybody that's as intelligent about the whole defense," Pees said. "He knows what everybody's doing, and that makes him special. I haven't seen or been around someone who took it to quite his level."
"Everything I try to do is just based on winning football games," Bruschi said. "That's all. Whatever sacrifice I need to make, whatever I need to do, I will do to help the team win. Coming in playing special teams -- where do I line up? Third down -- what do you want me to do? You want me to play Mike, Wil [weak-side], Sam [strong-side], whatever it is. That's the attitude I have. I've never gone up to a coach and said this is where I want to play. They've always put me where they felt was best and I've always accepted it as, I trust them and that's where I need to be and I need to do my best to help the team win."
Compared to what he may have commanded as an unrestricted free agent following another strong season (he was an alternate for the Pro Bowl last year after posting 137 tackles, three forced fumbles, and returning two of three interceptions for touchdowns), Bruschi, who represents himself in negotiations, didn't appear to come out on top in June when he signed a four-year, $8.1 million deal that included a $3.5 million signing bonus. But he did, because there are things more valuable to him than money.
Like loyalty. He is making good on his promises to remain faithful to the franchise that, in his words, took a chance on a 6-foot-1-inch defensive end out of Arizona (it didn't hurt that he tied the NCAA Division 1-A career sack record with 52). Since becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first (and, to this point, only) time in February 2000, Bruschi shook hands on a deal three more times with the Patriots.
"To go to another team and have all those fans who bought that No. 54 jersey with my name on the back, which to me is the biggest compliment they could give me, for me to look up and see someone wearing the 54, for me to know that they'd have to see me wearing a 54 with another team's colors, I wouldn't like that," he said. "That would be painful to me and I wouldn't want to do that to any of them."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.