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Patriots star linebacker Tedy Bruschi and his wife, Heidi, with two of their sons, Tedy Jr. (L) and Rex, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough last year.
Patriots star linebacker Tedy Bruschi and his wife, Heidi, with two of their sons, Tedy Jr. (L) and Rex, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough last year. (Photo/ David Silverman)

Bruschi has battled on, off field

LB tackled alcohol, QBs

NORTH ATTLEBORO -- He is two men. At game time, New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi is the lunatic who prowls the football field and hunts down anyone who dares to advance the football. One hour later, he is the doting father who takes newborn son Dante in his arms and serenades him with gentle strokes and sweet whispers.

Bruschi's journey to separate one man from the other has been challenging, heart-wrenching, and immensely satisfying.

It has meant learning how to keep all of his football energy confined to the field.

It has also meant learning how to leave alcohol behind.

''All the wives say the same thing," Heidi Bruschi noted. ''They all say, 'Tedy is so shy. He is so soft-spoken. But he is so crazy on the field.' "

''I'm a Gemini," Tedy Bruschi said. ''I'm a split personality.

''I was crazy on the field, and I was crazy off it," he said. ''Everyone has their own speed. Mine was very high."

There was no one particular moment that led to one of the most significant decisions of his life. It was a gradual realization that he was losing control at all the wrong times.

"I got to a point where I realized whenever there was a problem in my life, whether I was getting into trouble or having trouble in my marriage, alcohol was involved," Bruschi said. "It was an accumulation of events. I was about 24 or 25 years old. Heidi and I were having one of our arguments, because I had taken it too far one more time. "I looked at it and I said, `I'm tired of this.' So I quit drinking."

At the time, Bruschi was married with a young son. Nearly six years later, he has three boys and two Super Bowl rings. His team continues its quest for a third championship today against the Indianapolis Colts with Bruschi as the undisputed leader of a shorthanded defense that will be facing its most significant challenge in three years.

The aggression has roiled inside him for as long as he can remember. Bruschi can't say for sure why. Maybe it's from growing up in a part of San Francisco where the tourists never go, a place where the streets, as Bruschi recalls, "were not so favorable." Maybe it's because his parents divorced when he was young. It certainly intensified when the family moved to Roseville, just outside of Sacramento, and began measuring themselves against nearby Oakmont. Nobody at Oakmont wore hand-me-down clothes. They drove new cars. They had more, but they were not content with that. The Oakmont kids liked to rub it in. They liked to remind the Roseville guys of what they didn't have -- of what they would never have. They liked to watch the Roseville kids burn.

"I'll never forget one of our high school practices," said Bruschi's former teammate, John Drinkwater. "We had this kid that had transferred over from Oakmont named Eric Tennison. We're doing a walk-through on punt returns. Eric had the ball. Tedy absolutely drilled the kid, then stood over him shouting, `That's sticking it to you, Oakmont!' We had to pull him away and say, `Hey, Tedy, back off, man. It's just a walk- through.' "

No. There were no walk-throughs in Tedy Bruschi's life. It was full speed ahead, all the time, whether it was on the field, in class, at home, or in best friend Josh Tindall's 1979 Corolla. Bruschi couldn't turn off the intensity as if it were some kind of switch. It coursed through him. It defined him.

Bruschi is ready. He always has been. His drinking, he insists, never affected his play, only his off-field decision-making.

"I still go out with the guys from the team, but I haven't had a drink in a long, long time," Bruschi said. "The guys know. Sometimes when we're in the tent [for the postgame celebration] after the game, Jen Vrabel will bring me an O'Doul's."

Tindall, who grew up with Bruschi and played football at Roseville with him, said he would never characterize Bruschi's drinking as a problem, but added, "That's typical Tedy. If something is getting in the way of his life, he's going to trim the fat."

Yet Bruschi does not minimize what became a potentially explosive issue for him and his family.

"I think the reason anyone quits drinking is because they have a problem," Bruschi said. "You better man up to it. When I drank, I couldn't stop. It had to be all out, just like on the football field. One beer wasn't enough.

"I'm not ashamed of myself. I'm not afraid to stand here and say I made a mistake."

A leader emerges On Larry Cunha's first day at Roseville High as a new football coach and a World Studies teacher, he took roll call.

"Tedy Brush-key?" he inquired.

"No, coach, that's Tedy Brew-ski," answered the young student. "As in, have another."

"He was only a sophomore at the time," Cunha said. "But he was already a leader."

Everyone in Roseville knew Tedy. He was bright, humble, and loyal. He was also a superb athlete who starred in football, track and field, and wrestling. When he and Tindall went to watch the Roseville-Oakmont basketball games, they'd hold up signs with disparaging remarks about the Oakmont football team. When the Oakmont cheerleaders took center court for their halftime routine, they would have to compete with Bruschi, who was under the basket leaping into the air and doing toe touches.

The Oakmont kids -- "the fancies" as Cunha called them -- got under Bruschi's skin.

"Did you ever see the movie `The Outsiders'? " Bruschi asked. "Well, the Oakmont kids were the Socs. We were the greasers."

He rattled around town with Tindall in his beat-up Toyota, which they nicknamed the Batmobile, and confided in each other about their fears, their wishes. In Bruschi's case, he wished his brothers paid more attention to him. He wished his father wasn't so tough on him. He wished his mother's life wasn't so hard.

"He didn't exactly grow up in the Cosby family," Tindall said.

"I had a chip on my shoulder the size of a boulder," Bruschi said. "I suppose it comes from growing up hard. I can't fully explain it. All I know is it seemed like I was angry a lot when I played football."

Bruschi quickly developed a reputation as a hard-hitting two-way player who spared no one from his fury -- not even teammates.

"According to our punt coverage, Tedy would be responsible for the third guy over," said Tindall. "We'd start counting off in practice. We'd get to three, see our tight end Jeff Johnson, then say, `Aw, old Jeff is going to get it.' Then we'd sit back and watch Tedy loop around and just level the poor guy.

"It got so bad that midway through Tedy's junior season, the coach called it off. We couldn't practice it anymore. Too many of our own guys were taking a beating."

Roseville wrestling coach Casey Griffin drooled over Bruschi's aggression, athleticism, and instincts, and began badgering him to join the team. Bruschi finally agreed in his junior season. The biggest match, naturally, was against Oakmont. An anticipated close contest quickly became one-sided as Roseville enjoyed a couple of lucky breaks in the lower weight classes. By the time they got to the heavyweight class, the match had been decided. Even so, Oakmont's top wrestler, state qualifier Bodie Loutzenheiser, decided to forfeit his match in the 190-pound weight class and go up one class to face the novice Bruschi.

"They start the match, and Bodie takes Tedy down," Griffin said. "You should have seen Tedy's face. It was like someone had placed his hands on a hot iron. His eyes got to be the size of silver dollars. He jumped up off that mat, drove Bodie backward, and pinned him. The place just went crazy."

"The head of the Oakmont wrestling team was a football coach," Bruschi said. "Bodie was a football player. I think he moved the kid up so he could say he got Bruschi. Well, I wasn't going to allow that to happen."

Bruschi protected his friends with the same fervor with which he protected his reputation. He didn't walk away from much. One night he was home from college and out with the boys celebrating Drinkwater's 21st birthday at a local spot called Bobby McGee's, where another group of guys began harassing a waitress. Bruschi's friend told them to stop. The haranguing continued. Bruschi smoldered as he watched.

"That was always a mistake with Tedy, to get on someone less fortunate than you," Tindall explained. "It's wrong to gloat. It's wrong to enjoy someone else's misfortune. He just hated that."

When Bruschi and his friends left the bar, the other group was waiting for them in the parking lot. One of them started trading insults with Bruschi's brother.

"They wanted to fight us," Tindall said. "Tedy told them to take off. He told them very calmly. He told them more times than I would have. Then he turned to me and said, `JT, open the door.'

"The other guys were driving a Mustang convertible," Drinkwater said. "Out of nowhere, here comes Tedy. He levels this guy, who is about 6-4, 240 pounds. He just flattens him right into the back of the convertible."

Lifestyle decision There were more nights like Bobby McGee's. Too many of them. By then, Bruschi had met Heidi, who was a softball player at Arizona. He was taken with her. The only time they were at odds was when he went out with the boys and lost track of the time, the beers, and the promises to come home.

"There comes a time in every person's life when you have to take a good look at yourself," Bruschi said. "I wanted to be a good husband. I wanted to be a good father. I decided I couldn't act the same way that I acted on the football field anymore."

He did not make a grand pronouncement about his lifestyle change. He simply trusted his friends, teammates, and family to quietly note the difference.

"The last time I saw him take a drink was his second year in the league," Tindall said. "They played Green Bay on `Monday Night Football' and I went out to Foxborough for the game. Tedy had the next night off. We went out and got pretty liquored up. He was crying because I was leaving the next day. He kept saying, `JT, man, you gotta stay.' He was in one of his happy moods. Sometimes when we drank, we weren't always so happy."

There are no more nights like that. Bruschi has trimmed the fat. He has pared down his life to his family and his game.

"He's matured," offered Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "I think we have a lot of players who are very aggressive on the field, but have a very different personal life off the field. Maybe football is the way they release their aggression."

Funny how that aggression no longer roils inside of Bruschi. He is successful and well-respected. He was fourth in the All-Pro voting at inside linebacker. He is recognized as one of the more charitable athletes in New England. He is immensely popular with his coaches, his teammates, and the fans.

"As my career has gotten longer and longer, the chip on my shoulder has gotten smaller," Bruschi said. "My motivation has changed. I'm no longer motivated to prove something to somebody. My motivation now is to go out and make my family proud."

There are times when the intensity flares and his emotions overtake him, although those incidents have become rare. In fact, when it was first discovered that Bruschi had drawn an unsportsmanlike penalty in the Baltimore game in November, more than one observer in the press box wondered whether there had been a mistake.

"No, it was me," Bruschi said. "They got Matt Chatham for a facemask penalty and I got so mad I kicked the flag. They got 30 yards and 3 points on that. The only points of the game. That's on me."

On the day of New England's victory over the Ravens, both Tindall and Drinkwater watched their friend, as they do each Sunday, from their Roseville homes. JT is a police officer now. Drinkwater is a businessman and a part-time coach for their old high school team. They live vicariously through their friend, through the lunatic on their television screen who is still leveling everyone in his path.

"You've got to channel intensity like that," Tindall said. "You've got to surgically pinpoint when to use it. If you don't apply it the right way, it's wasted."

The two men who make up Tedy Bruschi understand that. The linebacker and the father approach their jobs with a clear-headed resolve. There is room in Bruschi's life for both of them. His journey has led each of them to their own separate peace.

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