The last time I spoke to Tedy Bruschi was just before the Super Bowl.
He boomed of typical good cheer, reflective, happy and at peace. We chatted over the phone, some 40 minutes of discussion of the staying power of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and his career in general - from football phenom who also dabbled in music at Roseville High School, his decorated 13-year career with the Patriots and his joy of the gift of gab as an ESPN studio analyst.
“I’ve had a great life, seen it all, overcome a lot, and feel so blessed,” Bruschi said then.
The 46-year-old Bruschi has another hurdle in front of him, and he’ll clear this one, too. He suffered a stroke Thursday, his second since 2005. The latest one was explained by his family as a transient ischemic attack, leading to his hospitalization, with a theme of optimism from a family statement that read in part, “Tedy had a stroke, known as a TIE. He recognized his warning signs immediately: arm weakness, face drooping and speech difficulties. Tedy is recovering well.”
Bruschi is beloved in New England. A linebacker, he played in 189 regular season games with 22 postseason contests in 13 seasons with the Patriots, punctuated by five Super Bowl appearances and three championships.
Following the 2004 season, Bruschi suffered a mild stroke. He missed the 2005 season and vowed to come back, telling me in January, “I had to come back on my terms, or I’d never really get over it.”
He returned, hardly missing a beat, and earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. He retired following the 2008 season.
Said Bruschi in January, “It was a hard thing to go through, scary, but it was great to return, to play again.”
The Patriots released a statement, signed by club chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, that read in part, “Since his full recovery from a stroke in 2005, Tedy Bruschi has provided inspiration to so many and positively impacted the lives of others by sharing his story and advocating for early detection of stroke symptoms.
“On behalf of the entire Patriots organization, we extend our love, thoughts and prayers to Tedy and the Bruschi family while we wish him godspeed in a complete recovery.”
Bruschi’s football story almost never got started.
His mother, Juanita, steered young Tedy toward church choir, the clarinet and saxophone.
“I wanted to play football but she wouldn’t buy me cleats,” Brushi recalled with a laugh in January. “So I went to my first workout in Avila tennis shoes and a T-shirt. She finally let me play. I got some high-top Pony cleats and loved it.”
Bruschi fell in love with the sport. He emerged as a terror in the trenches at Roseville, impossible to block as a charging defensive end or to deal with as a brutish thinking-man’s guard on offense.
He turned games by blocking kicks and punts, including in the playoffs in 1990. In 2000, we named Bruschi The Sacramento Bee’s all-time greatest area high school football player, based on prep feats alone, though his NCAA record-tying 58 career sacks at Arizona and his Patriots pedigree would have made him the greatest achiever had we factored in all levels of play.
Bruschi said he cherished the honor, his Roseville days and how he teases his three sons of how “cool I looked with the long hair coming out of my helmet. They can’t believe it was me!”
Bruschi always kept his saxophone nearby, but rarely played it once football and family started to consume his life. Boston’s Longy School of Music recruited Bruschi during his NFL days to perform live at Symphony Hall, performing Eubie Blake’s famous “Fitzwater” piece.
“Music,” Bruschi said, “never left me.”