"The Perfect Player"
Out-Takes is an NFL column, not one strictly focused on the Patriots, but this week that goes out the window. Because we would be remiss, and criminally negligent, if we didn't acknowledge and celebrate the end of an era for an iconic New Englander named Ted. No, we're not talking about SENATOR Teddy-with-two-d's KENNEDY, as great a fan of Boston sports as there was in public life, because, dammit, this is a football column, and besides, there've been way too many political references lately. (P.S. There's no such thing as Death Panels.)
To kick it off, we turn to a guy who once handed out dollar bills to partying freshman co-eds in hopes that they'd remember him. (They did - as "that random guy, who, like, gave me a dollar this one time at high-rise.") On the night word leaked of Bruschi's impending retirement, online media consultant STEVE SAFRAN, former NECN broadcaster and current Friend of Out-Takes (as far as we know - we didn't check with him about that dollar bill part), Facebooked it best: "For the second time in a week, New England thanks a legendary Ted."
Yes, TEDY BRUSCHI, beloved lifetime Patriot and chronic "How do we feel about a playoff victoreeeee?!" yeller, retired on Monday (perhaps you heard), leaving a trail blazed with indelible moments of leadership, production and attitude, an attitude best captured by his unofficial mantra, "Full Tilt, Full Time." After an emotional farewell from BILL BELICHICK, who summed up Bruschi in five seconds and four words - "he's the perfect player" - #54 showed folks young, old and Favre how to retire with class, dignity and a measure of finality. (That said, patsfans everywhere find themselves mumbling, quietly hopeful, a Rosebud-like "shadow roster, shadow roster...")
Bruschi's 13-year career was a testament to gutty, fierce determination, as the 3rd round pick transformed himself from record-breaking college defensive end into impact, playmaking Pro Bowl linebacker and three-time Super Bowl champ. Even as a developing pup fighting for playing time, Tedy stood out as a feisty special-teamer and situational pass rusher, an inspiring figure on and off the field. And never was he more inspiring than during his courageous comeback from a stroke in 2006. Which begs a quick, tangential question: Not that it was his fault or anything, but what color is the "shame drape" that STEVE "broken leg" SMITH uses to cover the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award he split with Bruschi that year?
Rather than go on and on, we feel it best to opt for a Mad Men-inspired "Kodak carousel" motif, since so much of #54's story can be told in images, moments and words we won't soon forget. (Especially if we write them down in a football column with an archive link.) We start with...
THE ROCKY ROAD: Tedy's despondence at the stunning '03 release of LAWYER MILLOY, and the route he took, in fits and starts, from disillusioned bitterness to doubled-down team leader.
THE PICK: Hiding behind the line of scrimmage "wash," then leaping in the air to snare a bullet - the best example of PEPPER JOHNSON's practice drill ever to transpire in a real game - and taking it to the end zone, sliding on his knees amid blizzard conditions, the Miami Dolphins and snow suddenly going in the wrong direction.
THE STRIP: Ripping the ball away from Colts running back DOMINIC RHODES in the 2004 AFC Divisional round. The embodiment of which team wanted it more, right there in one play.
THE SPEECH: Following that game, an answer that articulates, more succinctly than any other, the bedrock ethic of The Patriot Way: "We play, that's what we do. We don't talk, we play. You wanna say all you want, you wanna change the rules? Change 'em! We still play. And we win."
THE STUFF: 3rd and 1 on the Oakland 44, just under 2 ½ minutes to go, stacking up ZACK CROCKETT for no gain at a critical moment in the last game at snowy Foxboro Stadium and the first game of a Dynasty.
THE PITCH: Throwing out the first pitch on opening day at Fenway. Both times. (But especially the second one, which came mere weeks after his stroke, and brought together a pantheon of Boston sports, including some guys named RUSSELL and ORR.)
THE RECORD: Bruschi remains the only player in NFL history to return four straight interceptions for touchdowns. Add to that this tidbit from brdmaverick, a poster at patsfans.com: Each of those four INT returns came while wearing a different jersey. In white versus Oakland in 2002; later that year against Detroit, in classic red on Thanksgiving; in blue the following season against the Eagles and, as mentioned above, in the silver jersey against the Dolphins amidst twin snowstorms, one courtesy of Mother Nature, the other man-made.
Some of Tedy's off-field moments were equally memorable, including...
Just days after the stroke, being guided by wife HEIDI out of Mass General and gingerly back toward the long road ahead.
ESPN's "My Wish" segment where Tedy gave Patriots fan ANDREW GERACOULIS, a six-year old with a heart condition and a boundless spirit, the thrill of a hopefully very long lifetime.
"Gatorade-ing" coach Belichick and his father STEVE, seconds after the Dynasty was born.
And horsing around on the field with his own boys, TJ and REX, prior to Super Bowl XXXIX vs. the Eagles. (DANTE was yet to come.)
Obviously, impact plays and dramatic moments are all over Tedy Bruschi's resume, and sports fans on barstools will no doubt kick 'em around for years to come. What binds them all together is the hardworking, overachieving, underdog spirit personified by a player so revered that a typically stoic coach had to choke back tears during the farewell press conference. We'll give him the powerful last word, with an "Amen" in advance:
"There is no player that epitomizes more of what I believe a player should be - on the field, off the field - in every situation. Tedy always did the right thing. He always did the right thing."
~ Following his team's humiliating 45-7 loss to the Saints Saturday night, Bay Area Haymaker Aficionado - he also dabbles in being the Raiders head coach - TOM CABLE claimed to be "embarrassed," which is saying a lot. After all, given his (alleged) willingness to punch out assistant coaches and attempt to convince reporters that multiple sources are just saying he did, the guy has a pretty high threshold for embarrassment.
~ Hey, look, everyone - ANDRE SMITH won a race! (Then promptly broke his foot two days later.) The top-heavy rookie put his signature on the bottom line with Cincy, leaving 49ers WR MICHAEL CRABTREE as the sole first-year player still unsigned. While we hesitate to openly root against anybody not named Favre or Cutler, we're pretty sure it'd be better for the NFL if these two late to the party-types don't exactly light it up during their rookie years.
~ For those keeping track, we have now entered the "JAY CUTLER'S PUBLICIST FINALLY GOT AHOLD OF HIM" Era. While we acknowledge the (totally feigned) humility and Cutler's newfound tendency to "say all the right things," we're not buying. Instead, file Jay and his comments under "TLTL, W" which stands for "Too little, too late, word-that-BRIAN-URLACHER-denies-calling-you."
~ You know how we all have that one guy (or two or three) whom we claim to "have a feeling about" prior to the NFL draft? We want desperately for our team to take him, convinced he's going to hit it big. Then the last weekend in April comes and goes, your team doesn't select him and you complain for the next decade as the guy runs roughshod over the league. For Out-Takes that guy is Texans LB DEMECO RYANS. Last Monday, in addition to being an absolute monster, as usual, he kept hitting Brett Favre, and every time he did, we died a little inside.
~ If you had to do a blind, total shot in the dark police-sketch of that WAL-MART TODDLER-SLAPPING GUY, would you not have come extremely close to what he actually looks like? Right out of central casting. And - "Told you I'd shut her up" - he's got his lines memorized! Cut! Print!
~ San Diego special-teams ace KASSIM OSGOOD is this week's recipient of the FRED TAYLOR AWARD for Perspective & Straight Talk. Weighing in on the BRANDON MARSHALL fiasco, the Chargers wannabe wideout had this to say via Twitter: "In this league we got people throwing fits cuz they want more money. Shoot! I just want more playing time! Want more grass stains on my jerz."
No word yet on whether Osgood went with "jerz" to stay within Twitter's 140 characters or less mandate or simply because he thinks the lingo's cool, but either way, we like it. And finally...
"Go get the ball, Ted..."
Narrating a piece for NFL Network a few years back, Tedy Bruschi said, "Ya know what it is? It's my dad talking. 'Go get the ball, Ted.' That's what he would always tell me. You can tackle guys and you can hit guys as hard as you can, but what this game is all about is that ball that they're holding. What he said has stuck with me for a long time, and it turns out the old man was right."
Hearing it again today, we thought it was the perfect metaphor for a brass ring grabbed and a good life lived, and for what Tedy Bruschi seems to have, hard-wired and in spades. Best of luck, #54, and thanks for too many memories to count. As for whatever the next chapter promises - be it advocating for stroke victims, working in TV, coaching or just hanging with the family, playing Transformers and taking out the trash - listen to your dad, Tedy. Go get the ball.
- John Cockrell is a screenwriter, whose other work has run the gamut from "Sesame Street Parents Magazine" to Playboy TV's "The Weekend Flash." (He figures everything else is pretty much in-between.)"*