Tedy Bruschi, right, and Bill Belichick embrace. (AP)
FOXBOROUGH – Bill Belichick was emotional when speaking of Tedy Bruschi this morning, calling him the “perfect player.” At times, Belichick appeared as if he was choking up.
“I’ve had the privilege of coaching a lot of great players and a lot of great leaders in the National Football League, and I’ll just put Tedy up there with all of them, and above all of them. There is no player that epitomizes more of what I believe a player should be – on the field, off the field – in every situation,” Belichick said as he opened his remarks.
Belichick. (Bill Greene / Globe Staff)
“It’s funny, because Tedy’s first year here was my first year, in ’96. We drafted him in the third round out of Arizona. All-time Pac 10 sack leader. Coming into the NFL, we were going to make him a linebacker. We didn’t know what to do with him. We’d never seen him do anything but rush the passer. We didn’t really think he could do that, at [defensive end], in this league. So he became a player who transformed himself from a great, great college player into a great NFL player. It was completely different. That’s pretty unusual. That’s pretty rare. That’s pretty special. It takes a pretty special guy to do that.
“Of course, all along the way he heard ‘Too small, too slow, too this, too that.’ He just kept getting better and better. Working harder and outworking and outcompeting pretty much everyone he faced, it didn’t make a difference who it was – faster backs, bigger linemen, big tackles, athletic tight ends. He found a way to compete and more importantly win in those competitive matchups, in the kicking game and all areas of his defensive responsibility.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do what he’s done – to be as great of a college player as he was and to morph into a great professional player in so many different ways but still bringing the same qualities, it’s really remarkable. It’s really special. ...
“A couple of words I would use to describe Tedy, the epitome of everything you would want in a football player. The two things of all his strengths that really stand out to me are is instinctiveness and his passion. It didn’t matter what Tedy did – he had great passion for it – whether it was lifting weights, sprints, practice, watching film. Always upbeat, always positive, always working hard. He brought passion to the game that helped carry the rest of us, through some of the times where I want to step back a little bit, or things weren’t going the way we wanted it to go, especially the 2000 season. He was always positive. Instinctively, I don’t know how to put it, other than to say, he always did the right thing. …”
“Knew when to be serious. Knew when to laugh. Knew when to be tough. Knew when to back off and play smart. Knew when to scream. Knew when to strip the ball.
“One of the all-time classic plays … There is almost never a play that happens exactly the way you draw it up. But the interception in Detroit, on Thanksgiving [in 2002], was exactly the way it was drawn up. [Belichick turns and smiles at Bruschi]. There is never a play like that. Unbelievable. Especially defensively.
“Tedy and I have gone through a lot personally and professionally, and we’ve had a lot of man-on-man, heart-to-heart talks. Some good, some not so good. Very professional, very honest. What you see publicly, what you see in the media, is what we get every day. It’s awesome. Just awesome.
“When Tedy first came into the league, and was working his way into a role and eventually into a starting every-down linebacker, every-down player, a [Pro Bowl] player, he worked harder than everybody. When he was achieving success, he worked harder than everybody. We’ve all had to overcome something along the way – whether it be minor or major – and he always stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park. Doesn’t matter what the challenge was, what he had to do, who he had to cover, who was blocking him, he stepped up.
"There are so many great moments, you saw them all on the film. There are probably 800 plays you could choose from. You could go on and on. I think of the short-yardage play against Oakland, the interception in the Super Bowl, the Miami game, the Detroit game, and all the other plays, the plays nobody sees, the kickoff returns, the punt coverages, the checks on the line of scrimmage. Instinctively on the field and instinctively off the field, there is just no other way for me to describe it other than to say he always did the right thing. Whatever was the right thing at that moment, it seemed like he always hit it right on the head.
“Ultimately, when we won, and fortunately we’ve done a little of that, at the end of the game Tedy had the great presence to pull the team together as only he could do, to sum up everybody’s feelings at that moment. ‘How do you feel about winning on Monday night? How do we feel about winning on the road? How do we feel about going into the bye week with a big victory?’ How do we feel like where we were at that moment? He always captured it perfectly.
“If you ask me to sum it up, how do I feel about Tedy Bruschi, in five seconds? A perfect player. He’s a perfect player. He’s helped create a tradition here that we’re all proud of. The torch has been passed. We’ll try to carry it on. It’s a high standard. It’s a high standard [repeats himself]. I’m proud of everything he did and the path that he’s paved for all of us going forward.
“I don’t want to say we’re missing him, because I know he’s going to be here, he’s going to be around, and I know he’s always a part of us. We’ll still miss him.”