FOXBORO, Mass. (Nov. 19, 2000) - New England Patriots offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong has heard it all before. He has seen the Patriots in good times, like the 11-5 1996 campaign that ended with an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI. Yet he has also seen seasons like 1990's 1-15 year, in which the team was booed by the home crowd.
Despite the fact that the Patriots record is 3-8, there were no boos after the Patriots 16-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The atmosphere seemed more like a Bruce Springsteen concert, with Glory Days playing over the speaker system, and the crowd chanting "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce!"
It was not The Boss that the fans were cheering for, it was for Patriots offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong. The veteran, in his 14th season out of Louisville, set a frachise record for career games played by starting his 207th game, although for Amstrong it seems like more.
"Some days it does. Some days it feels like many, many more than that. It's been a long-time coming," said Armstrong.
The record put him in impressive company, as only Bruce Matthews, Jerry Rice, and Darrell Green have played more games with one team, but Armstrong was more concerned about the win over the Bengals.
"It will probably mean more to me another day," said Armstrong. "I'm just really and truly glad we won the football game. It'slike (offensive coordinator) Charlie (Weis) said earlier in the season: 'The wins are great, but the losses are much, much harder to take in this league. It wears on you, so I'm just glad we won the football game first and foremost. I feel good about it."
When the Patriots win, it can change Armstrong's perception and make it seem like less than 207 games.
"When you win, it does," said Armstrong, who has gone to six Pro Bowls. "When you win, you fool yourself, and you say 'Okay, I'm at the halfway point.' After every loss you say, 'Okay, I can't be doing this, this is not fun.' I'm happy we won the football game. I've been here long enough to achieve something like this."
After spending his first six seasons blocking for nine different quarterbacks, Armstrong has spent the last eight blocking mainly for quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
"When I came into the league, I had the privilege of playing with Steve Grogan," said Armstrong. "To play the position that I play, the way I play it, you take your job personally. I do. I feel like, for him to do his job, I have to do mine. I watched this kid (Bledsoe) come in and helped him to do the things that he has done to become the player that he has become, and I take solace in it. When I'm at home, and I'm thinking about him, I feel good. I feel good about how his career has gone. I feel like I had a hand in it. I have a great relationship with him."
The feeling is mutual.
"I don't know if I can ever say enough about Bruce," said Bledsoe. "The record is a tribute to him and his attitude towards the game. He always finds a way to stay on the field. I don't know what it is like to not have him over there. I respect Bruce more than I can say."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was just as grateful.
"We gave Bruce the game ball after the game," said Belichick. "That is a tremendous accomplishment, particularly at the position he plays, left tackle. To play that position for as long as he has and as well as he has through the years, and the contributions and what he has meant to this organization, are just exemplary. I am really happy that in breaking his record today that we could do it with a win because I know how important that is to him. Bruce is about winning and I am glad we got one today for him."
Armstrong broke Julius Adams' record of 206, which he set in 1987, Armstrong's rookie year. He is glad to be moving on.
"I knew this day was coming, and people wanted to talk about it earlier in the week, but I didn't want to talk about it," said Armstrong. "We play on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in Detroit, and that's about it. That's how I've approached it every year. That's how I'm going to continue to think."