|Veteran linebacker Tedy Bruschi walks off the field after helping the Patriots advance to another Super Bowl, the fifth of his career. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)|
FOXBOROUGH - Tedy Bruschi's résumé includes four Super Bowl appearances, three of them victories, as he went from the brash rookie who was ready to tackle the world when he came out of the University of Arizona in 1996 to savvy veteran. It includes the thrill of victory in 2001 when he was a key defensive contributor in the Patriots' 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. It includes back-to-back Super Bowl wins in 2003 and 2004 when the Patriots were establishing themselves as the NFL's dynastic force of the decade. And it included the bitterness of defeat a year ago in the AFC Championship game when the Indianapolis Colts rallied in the fourth quarter to end the Patriots' season.
And yesterday, on the coldest day of a season in which the Patriots have yet to feel the agony of defeat, Bruschi walked into the New England locker room with the warmest of feelings after a 21-12 win over the San Diego Chargers that sent the Patriots back to the Super Bowl.
"This feels great probably because it's my most special one yet," said Bruschi. "Larry [linebacker and special teamer Larry Izzo] and I were talking about that," said Bruschi, whose eight tackles and one key knockdown of a Philip Rivers pass at the goal line were crucial elements in a Patriot defense that bent but never broke in holding the Chargers to four field goals. "We were talking about how different it was when we were walking off that field [in Indianapolis] last year. Sometimes you have to experience the other side, too."
Bruschi, a third-round pick in the 1996 NFL draft, has been with the Patriots longer than anyone except wide receiver Troy Brown, who joined the team in 1993. He has seen the highs and lows on the field and off, a mild stroke in the winter of 2005 putting his career in jeopardy.
At 34, he is clearly in the winter of his career, but that perspective allows him to appreciate being part of the first perfect NFL regular season in 35 years and talk about it in a context that seems perfect for the moment in a season now down to its final game.
"If I felt any pressure this year it was before the Giant game [the final regular-season game]," Bruschi said, "when we realized the impossible could be achieved. It was history."
But just as quickly, Bruschi makes it clear he has left the regular season behind him. "We have been in the postseason so many times [we know] it's about winning the next game," he said. "We win the AFC Championship game and we can put that in the trophy case."
Bruschi said yesterday's win was as much about Patriot football as any game this season. "We have a good team," he said in an understatement. "Everyone wants to focus on one thing, but it's much more than that."
Then Bruschi looked back and talked about where he had been and what he had endured.
"Back in 2005 after we won the Super Bowl, I never thought I'd be a regular person again after I had a stroke," he said. "I didn't know if this was possible but I just kept working and here I am."
He got together with Brown as the clock ticked off the final seconds yesterday.
"We're the only ones still left from the 1996 team" said Bruschi of the squad that lost to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. "I told him, 'We're going back. We're going back again.' "
And it'll be nice to for Bruschi to play in a Super Bowl in a familiar setting, Glendale, Ariz.
"I have a lot of friends out there," he said. "That's where I played college football, at the University of Arizona. My wife is from there and she's got family. It's going to be a great finish for me to go out there and, hopefully, we can win this game and finish the year out. I've come a long way from thinking I was never going to play again to being here now.
"It's very satisfying."