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BOSTON (CBS) – Bill Belichick is not a man known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve. He’s a no-nonsense coach whose only catchphrase is simple: “Do your job.” There have not been many days in Belichick’s decade-plus in New England where he’s shown his human side, which is why Aug. 31, 2009, stands out among them all.
That was the day Tedy Bruschi announced his retirement, and that was the day Belichick held back tears when talking about one of the best players he ever had the privilege of coaching.
“There’s no player that I think epitomizes more of what I believe a player should be on the field, off the field, really, in every situation,” Belichick said that day. “I guess, if you ask me to sum up how I feel about Tedy Bruschi in five seconds: He’s the perfect player. Perfect player. He’s helped create a tradition here that we’re all proud of. The torch has been passed, and we’ll try to carry it on. It’s a high standard. It’s a high standard.”
That Belichick was so emotional that day in 2009 says everything that needs to be said about Bruschi’s career, which was celebrated Monday night at Gillette Stadium when he was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
“The goal on the teams that I played, the red jacket was never the goal. Free hats and T-shirts were. Free hats and T-shirts that said you did something,” Bruschi said. “We got to do that three times. I’m honored to be here and honored to accept this jacket.”
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Bruschi spent all of his 13 seasons in New England, racking up more than 1,000 tackles and 30 sacks. He also played in 22 postseason games, including five Super Bowls. In those five Super Bowls, he made three sacks, 26 tackles and one interception.
In a video prior to Bruschi’s speech, Tom Brady said he wishes he could play with 52 Tedy Bruschis, while Belichick said, “I’ll never forget Tedy Bruschi and it was an honor to coach Tedy.” Belichick later came out on stage to praise Bruschi and reiterate those same comments he made in 2009.
“When I look at the word football player in the dictionary, you just see Tedy Bruschi’s picture there,” Belichick said. “That’s the best way I could put it. … He’s the epitome of a football player.”
True to form, Bruschi spent the entirety of his 30-minute speech thanking others for getting him to where he got in his career, from his parents to teammates to coaches to owners to fans and to family.
He told a story of the first tackle he ever made, when he took down his father after he was told he was too young and too small to play with his brothers.
“My dad was on a breakaway and he was running away from my brothers and he was about to score a touchdown. Something inside of me just snapped. I got up from the picnic table, I ran to my father, caught up to him, wrapped him up by both ankles and he dropped like a tree,” Bruschi said. “I think at that point my father sort of knew, he might have slightly had an idea of what I would become.”
Bruschi said throughout high school and college, his father told him he should be playing linebacker. Yet Bruschi spent those eight years on the defensive line. However, when Bruschi was drafted by the Patriots, then-head coach Bill Parcells told him he’d be playing linebacker. Suffice it to say, the position worked out.
“My dad passed away in 2001 before we won our first Super Bowl,” Bruschi said, “and sometimes it’s hard for sons to tell their fathers this … Dad, you were right.”
Bruschi thanked Parcells for teaching him valuable lessons in his rookie season.
“I only had Bill Parcells for a year. I wish I had him more, but I only had him for a year. He helped me lay the foundation of how to be a professional football player. Not so much football knowledge, but football survival,” Bruschi said. “Football will give you a lot of things. You can buy a nice car, you can buy a nice house, it’ll get you some fame. But there are certain things that you gotta earn: you gotta earn respect, and you gotta earn championships. That’s what Bill Parcells taught me.”
Bruschi also thanked team owner Robert Kraft for going above and beyond what most owners would do for their players.
“I’d like to thank Mr. Robert Kraft for forming a relationship with me that went beyond employer and employee and owner and player,” Bruschi said. “Mr. Kraft, how do I put this … so many conversations that we had that were not football related that I remember. I remember talking about my wife. I remember him telling stories about Myra and how they related to me, and how when you got someone strong in your corner like Mrs. Kraft or like [my wife] Heidi, life’s gonna be all right.”
Bruschi’s career was nearly cut short after the 2004 season, when he suffered a stroke just 10 days after winning his third Super Bowl. He said he thought he was retired, but he was able to return to the field midway through the 2005 season, and he’d go on to play three more years after that.
“I remember the comeback game right here in this stadium,” Bruschi said of his first game back on the field in 2005. “If only you knew what was going on in my helmet in my brain at that time. I didn’t think I was doing the right thing. I did not know that this was going to work out. But I ended up playing four more years. I’m not a stat guy but one stat that sticks out is 366 – 366 tackles. That’s the number of tackles I made as a stroke survivor, and I’m proud of that.”
Bruschi also thanked the fans for not only their passion but also the pressure they put on the players to perform. He recalled a mistake he made early in his career when he dropped a pass on a fake punt and ended up on the front page of the paper in a less-than-glorious position.
“I remember you guys making me feel like a bum. I remember the article, the picture of me on the ground, the picture of me dropping the punt. And right there I didn’t know if I was cut out for this business,” Bruschi said. “I saved that article for the next 10 years and I looked at it occasionally and I told myself that I’d never be that guy again. I’d never be the guy who caused this team to lose, and I never was again.”