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Bruschi: 'Today is my end'

Popular linebacker retires after 13 seasons

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / August 31, 2009

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After 13 seasons, three Super Bowl championships, one remarkable comeback, and roughly 800 memorable moments by coach Bill Belichick's estimate, Tedy Bruschi, the tough and inspirational linebacker, announced his retirement from the NFL today after spending his entire career with the Patriots.

"All the goals I ever had, I accomplished," said Bruschi, who was articulate, composed, and animated at a 10:45 a.m. press conference at Gillette Stadium confirming his decision. "Today is my end."

The retirement of the 36-year-old, who progressed from a role player early in his career to a full-time starter in 1999, was first reported by NBC last night. Bruschi made his lone Pro Bowl appearance in 2004, but his future was in limbo in 2005 after suffering a stroke in February, three days after the game. He was hospitalized after experiencing numbness in his left arm and left leg and blurry vision and was diagnosed with a mild stroke.

Just eight months after he was stricken, he recovered to play nine of the last 10 games that season and was named The AP Comeback Player of the Year. He remained a significant contributor to the defense through last season.

Bruschi said today that he hoped his retirement would be viewed as a celebration, because that's how he feels, noting that he accomplished all of his goals.

Well, except one.

"I wanted a fourth Super Bowl title, but settling for three isn't a bad thing," Bruschi laughed, noting that no one moment in his career sticks out because he has been fortunate to have so many.

He was selected by the Patriots out of the University of Arizona in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft. While he went on to become a beloved and iconic player during the most successful stretch in franchise history -- the team made the postseason in nine of his 13 seasons, and the image of him heaving snow in the air after returning an interception for a touchdown against the Dolphins in 2003 is an enduring moment from the championship run -- he arrived as an undersized defensive end who tied the NCAA career record for career sacks as a Wildcat who was converted to the unfamiliar position of linebacker with the Patriots.

The Patriots' assistant head coach during Bruschi's rookie season? Belichick, who was unusually emotional in discussing Bruschi's retirement this morning.

"I've coached a lot of great players, and Tedy is up there with all of them . . . above them," said Belichick, who remarked that Bruschi always did the right thing on and off the field. "He's the epitome of everything you would want in a football player . . . I don't think I've ever seen a player do what he's done.

"How do I sum it up? How do I feel about Tedy Bruschi in five seconds? He's a perfect player. He's helped create a tradition here we're all proud of. He's a perfect player. He's a perfect player."

“That’s something you’ll never hear during your career,” Bruschi said as he and Belichick laughed. “To have him say that to me is probably the best compliment he could ever give me.”

The admiration between Bruschi and his coach was clearly mutual.

"My coach, Bill Belichick, I hear him speak and I swear I think, 'That's the same thing I would say.' He turned me into a champion," Bruschi said.

Bruschi's impact went far beyond the hits he put on opposing ball carriers. After suffering his stroke in February 2005, he established “Tedy’s Team,” which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for stroke research while helping provide preventative information.

Bruschi, whose passionate and intense style made him a favorite before he had fully blossomed as a player -- his last name didn't hurt, either -- spoke of his deep appreciation for Patriots fans.

"I feel like my career was different than a lot of other players, and also different with my relationship with the fans," he said. "They saw me come in as an underdog. ... The fans took that journey with me. Thank you for that support."

Bruschi reflected on when he was first drafted by the Patriots and telling his girlfriend Heidi -- now his wife -- that he wanted to remain with the franchise his entire career.

"Being a Patriot my entire career is something I'm very proud of," he said.

Bruschi's playing time decreased last season with the emergence of young linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton, and while his instincts were as sharp as ever, he lacked the quickness of his heyday.

His 75 tackles last season were his fewest in six seasons, excluding 2005, when he made 65 tackles in nine games after returning from his stroke.

In the Patriots preseason game Friday at Washington, he was beaten for 73-yard reception by Redskins tight end Chris Cooley.

Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said he was glad to see Bruschi go out on his own terms.

"He played the game the way it needed to be played and I respect him for that and I'm glad he's going out basically on top," said Wilfork. :He has a beautiful family. He will enjoy them. I just saw him and said, 'Congrats and don't be calling me this offseason if you want to play golf because you might be a scratch golfer by the end.' He's in high spirits and nothing but big-time respect for him as a person and as one of his teammates, he'll really be missed around here."

In recent months, Bruschi has spoken openly about his career winding down, though he gave little indication that he would retire now.

"There is a sign when you come into this facility that says 'Do Your Job'. I did my job for 13 years. Now my job is done. My job is done," he said. "I'm looking forward to living the rest of my life."

Bruschi said he spoke to many teammates on Sunday to explain to them that he was going to retire. He said the word "fulfilled" kept finding its way into his conversations.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who opened the press conference with his remarks, reflected on Bruschi's hard work, perseverance, and team-first attitude, traits he said the franchise should stand for.

"He is a true iconic legend who will always be part of our family," Kraft said.

Bruschi, who indicated he would listen to what Belichick had to say if he called and told him he needed him during the season, said he plans to remain in New England with Heidi and their three boys.

"I told, Bill, Mr. Kraft, I'll be down the street," Bruschi said.

Bruschi's teammates said his leadership will be missed.

"[That] was always a key with that guy," said Wilfork, a teammate of Bruschi since 2004.

"You knew exactly what you had when you were on the field. We have a bunch of guys around here. It's going to be tough, but at the same time I think we have enough veterans on this that that we can all rally together and try to put together what those guys like Troy Brown and Tedy started. Now, they're basically passing it to us to keep it rolling. I think that with the group of guys we have in here we'll continue."

One of those players is second-year linebacker Jerod Mayo, whose talent and work ethic often drew Bruschi's praise.

Mayo said he is grateful for all that Bruschi taught him in their season-plus together.

"I came in hearing all horror stories about rookies coming in and things like that, but Tedy Bruschi broke all those stories and things like that," said Mayo. "He's a great guy. He kind of took me under his wing when I first came here. He told me that one day he would pass the torch on to me and the rest of the team and I guess today is that day."

Bruschi played in 189 regular-season games for the Patriots, more than any other linebacker in team history, third among all defensive players and sixth overall in team history. Bruschi played in 22 career playoff games, the highest total in Patriots history and tied for the second-highest total of any active player.

He compiled 1,134 total tackles, 30.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, including 4 returned for touchdowns, 62 passes defensed, 18 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, including one returned for a touchdown and 55 special teams tackles.

Bruschi averaged 105 tackles over the last six seasons. His 2003-2008 total of 631 stops are the most on the team over that span.

He is the only player in NFL history to return four consecutive interceptions for touchdowns and his career total of four picks returned for scores ranks second in Patriots history. He is tied for fourth in NFL history among linebackers, and Bruschi is the only Patriots linebacker to return multiple interceptions for scores in a single season (2002 and 2003).

Bruschi acknowledged that most players should be so lucky to retire with such a resume of winning and accomplishment.

"Goals achieved. Career fulfilled," Bruschi said. "I'm just regular. I'm a 36-year-old father of three."

Bruschi retires

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