Hometown Report

Tedy Bruschi reflects on dream career and the Patriots’ ‘perfect storm of greatness’

Former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, center, celebrates with teammate Troy Brown and team owner Robert Kraft during a 2016 celebration of the 2001-02 team in Foxborough, Mass. That Patriots team won the franchise’s first Super Bowl by beating the St. Louis Rams. Now 17 years later, the teams will meet again in Super Bowl LIII.
Former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, center, celebrates with teammate Troy Brown and team owner Robert Kraft during a 2016 celebration of the 2001-02 team in Foxborough, Mass. That Patriots team won the franchise’s first Super Bowl by beating the St. Louis Rams. Now 17 years later, the teams will meet again in Super Bowl LIII. AP

Tedy Bruschi is in Atlanta this week, his hotel room so close to the College Football Hall of Fame that he can feel the energy and the history.

Yet a man known for energy has run out of time to hustle over for a tour.

And Bruschi, he of deep Placer County roots, will be involved in another Super Bowl, as an analyst for ESPN and an unapologetic fan and follower of the New England Patriots.

“I’m in this room,” Bruschi said by phone Thursday, “virtually across from the college hall, the Patriots are playing the Rams again in the Super Bowl ... it feels very nostalgic. I love it.”

The Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday in Atlanta. It comes 17 years after New England won its first championship, a 20-17 triumph of the then-St. Louis Rams.

Bruschi was in the middle of all of it then, as he was for five Super Bowls, three of them victories. He talks football for a living now but inside, he still lives it.

Bruschi fed off of football as much as the sport embraced him. His was a career dreams are made of.

He ransacked backfields as a defensive end at Roseville High School, a mane of jet-black hair snaking out the back of his helmet. He turned games with sacks, ball pursuit, blocked kicks and leadership, plays that altered postseason games and ended seasons of unbeaten powers. It led me to name him as The Bee’s greatest high school football player in regional history in a 2000 publication.

Bruschi never slowed down. He set NCAA sack records at Arizona with the famed “Desert Swarm” defense in the 1990s, ultimately landing him in the College Football Hall of Fame.

He was drafted in the third round by the Patriots in 1996, switched to linebacker and and found his groove as an instinctive, thinking-man’s tackling terror.

Bruschi offers a unique perspective on the inner workings of the Patriots from his 13 seasons charging up and down the field in a No. 54 jersey. This Super Bowl is a rematch of the 2002 contest with only two hold-over faces in the Patriots quarterback and coach.

And Bruschi knows Tom Brady and Bill Belichick well. Brady once called Bruschi franchise’s “unsung star.” Bruschi was once deemed by Belichick as “the perfect player.”

Seven times Bruschi was anointed a Patriots team captain, perhaps his most telling honor in football. There is no greater compliment than to be called a great teammate.

So, yeah. Bruschi is up to his shoulder pads in nostalgia.

“I got to experience the Patriots dynasty through living it, then through covering it in the media and now by watching my three sons enjoy it,” said Bruschi, who lives in the New England area. “Watching the AFC championship game, watching my boys screaming excitedly for the Patriots, to experience that with them ... it was a moment that was fantastic.”

Bruschi understands that a good part of the football country is tired of the Patriots, of Brady doing his thing in No. 12, of Belichick doing his with a hoodie and frown.

This Super Bowl marks the ninth time Brady and Belichick have reached the football summit. They seek their sixth championship together. Bruschi said the time is now to appreciate greatness. What New England has done is unfathomable in football: staying power in a sport of change.

“For so many years, people want to bring the Patriots down, just want to see them disappear, go away,” Bruschi said. “But sometimes in these rare situations, we have to now that this is something we may never see again, this legacy. You’re talking 18 years of success. They’ve been the perfect storm of greatness.”

Bruschi marvels at Brady, who isn’t the best athlete on the field but tends to make the best reads, the best throws and leads the best teams.

“I’m so proud of Tom,” Bruschi said. “I got to see him in the beginning. I was drafted in ’96 and he was drafted in 2000. I got to see him from the ground up, the work ethic, the slow steady process of getting better.

“I’ve seen a lot of Tom in phases – the great teams, the tough losses, when he got hurt (missing the 2008 season with a blown knee). I know all the work he’s put in.”

Bruschi said Belichick is as demanding as he looks, a perfectionist who fumes at blown coverages and lack of effort, even in victories.

To be called “the perfect player” by Belichick still moves Bruschi.

“I don’t take compliments well, but that’s the greatest compliment, and to receive it from maybe the greatest football coach ever? Wow,” he said.

Bruschi said Brady and Belichick encouraged him during his road back from a stroke he suffered in January 2005, days after competing in the Pro Bowl and inching closer to retirement.

Bruschi didn’t want to retire on that note, so he recovered, rehabilitated and returned to action, earning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award following the 2005-06 season. He has since become a spokesman for stroke survivors.

In 2007, Bruschi was a team captain for a Patriots team that charged to an 18-0 start to the season but were stunned by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. That 17-14 loss still sticks, but not as much as the memories, including getting inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2013.

Now in his 10th season at ESPN, Bruschi can see himself talking the game for years to come. He’s a natural, in his element.

He thanks his mother, Juanita, for shaping him. She died in 2009. She urged Bruschi to get into music while growing up in San Francisco, so he was involved in the church choir and played clarinet and saxophone.

Bruschi moved to Roseville before high school, where he was drawn to football. But his mother resisted in getting him cleats, fearful of football injuries, so Bruschi’s first practice was in tennis shoes and a T-shirt.

Mom finally got the cleats and a career was born, ignited by the quest to compete. A freshman classmate who played basketball wondered what the big deal was with running up and down a football field.

“Told him, ‘Well, you’ve gotta pass me, that’s why,’” Bruschi said, laughing. “Football just worked. Every level I played, I loved it and had fun. That’s where the energy came from. I loved running around, playing in big victories over Cordova, Elk Grove, playing at Arizona with the Desert Swarm, all those Patriots years, those Super Bowls, all those great players.

“It’s all something I’m so proud of. Blessed is the word.”

Bruschi said his mother’s assessment of his over talking remains with him. He recalled rushing home after a Roseville practice to tell his mother that he had been interviewed by a local TV station on his football prowess. They watched the segment together.

“She said, ‘Yeah, that was good. You might be able to do broadcasting some day, but stop saying, ‘um” and ‘you know’ so much,’” Bruschi said. “For a 17-year old to get that from your mother, to clearly communicate, to express without pauses, that was mom with foresight. Ever since then, I’ve been careful not to say those things. It’s helped.”

Bruschi now gets to relieve more football fun. His oldest son with college sweetheart Heidi is a senior in high school who plays basketball. The middle son, Rex, is a football and lacrosse player in high school, and eighth-grader Dante plays hoops and is “chomping at the bit to play football in high school,” Bruschi said.

“None of my boys played football before high school because I wanted to make sure their bodies were more developed,” Bruschi said. “I didn’t start playing until I was a freshman. That’s a good time to start. At 14, you’re old enough to put on a helmet and get physical.

“I don’t have anything against Pop Warner football, and I made sure my boys could throw and catch growing up. Then when it’s high school, it’s time to start hitting.”

Spoken like a true linebacker.

Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: jdavidson@sacbee.com, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.