Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi performs each weekend in front of stadiums packed to the rafters with thousands of screaming fans. He has been cheered, booed and everything in between. But playing football in front of people isn't something the eight-year NFL veteran gets nervous about anymore. Playing his saxophone in front of a crowd, however, is another story.
When Boston's Longy School of Music recruited Bruschi to perform live at Symphony Hall in 2002, he couldn't resist despite not having played his alto sax in front of people for a while. But after some convincing and some practice, Bruschi came through and performed Eubie Blake's famous "Fitzwater" piece as part of a quintet with students and a teacher from the Longy school. "It was great," Bruschi recalled. "I really had to practice a lot to do that. It's a lot different for me doing that in front of a lot of people compared to playing football."
Despite the time off from playing music live, Bruschi was able to work up the courage to go on stage and play the piece. While the butterflies may have been fluttering in his stomach, he was able to get through it unscathed. "It had been so long," he remembered. "When I was in junior high and high school I used to perform in front of people a lot. But then when I did the event a few years ago at Symphony Hall, it was something where I had some nerves but once I got out there and played the first note, I was fine."
As a result of that performance, Bruschi found himself playing his sax more frequently. "I was looking for an excuse to get back to playing often and that was it," he said. "It was a lot of fun and since then, I have started to play more often again."
Bruschi can't remember exactly how long he has been interested in music. But he does know that his love for it pre-dates his love for the gridiron. "I was playing the saxophone before I was playing football," he said. "I probably started when I was around 10 years old."
Bruschi was influenced by his mother, Juanita, to pick up a musical instrument. While most kids were getting pressured into playing football, baseball or basketball, Bruschi was being nudged towards music. "My mother never pushed sports, she pushed music instead," he recalled. "That was one thing that stuck with me. I started with the clarinet and then switched to the sax because it was a little more interesting of a sound to me."
As an adult, playing the saxophone provides a creative outlet and some relaxation from the rigors of life in the NFL. "I try to create when I play and I do it to relax," Bruschi explained. "It is really my number one interest after football."
While football hasn't been a part of his life as long as music has, the game has certainly provided plenty of challenges and rewards. After finishing his University of Arizona career tied with Derrick Thomas as the NCAA's all-time sack leader, Bruschi was forced to switch from defensive end to linebacker in order to play in the NFL. He calls the move, "the hardest thing I've ever done."
But he managed to absorb the nuances of linebacker over a period of time and the Patriots were patient and allowed him time to grow into the position. "I really didn't know what I was doing when I first came here and it took me three or four years to adapt to the linebacker position," Bruschi said. "But fortunately, I was still able to rush the passer, play third downs and play special teams as I was learning to play linebacker."
While he had to adjust to not chasing the quarterback on every play as a linebacker, Bruschi found chasing running backs could be just as much fun. "It wasn't hard as long as I was chasing the guy with the ball," he mused. "Now, I'm a full-time linebacker and I'm glad I made the transition."