The return to the field of New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who suffered a minor stroke eight months ago and then had surgery to correct a heart defect, has been the subject of considerable media debate. Although the best doctors have declared him completely healthy and at no additional risk, there are several pigskin "pundits" who continue to uphold their "hypocritic oath" by dispensing uninformed opinions and misguided advice. Bruschi's decision to resume playing has even been questioned by such medical authorities as Michael Irvin, a noted partyologist.
Here at Cold, Hard Football Facts.com, we're not doctors, and we don't play ones on TV. We'll put our faith in the medical experts. It's not like Bruschi went from specialist to specialist, hoping to find just one who would clear him to play. He has the unanimous support of every doctor who has examined him. That's good enough for us.
As always, we are chiefly concerned with player performance on the gridiron. The Cold, Hard Football Facts must hold the steely stethoscope of analysis to the pulsating heart of truth. And after a thorough examination, we have concluded that Bruschi is in excellent condition, seemingly getting stronger as each game goes on.
Besides having a last name that is slang for beer, Bruschi has also endeared himself to the fans of New England by routinely coming up with huge plays at crucial times in important games. Over his nine-year career with the Patriots, he has been part of four Super Bowl teams. Just five other players – receiver Troy Brown, fellow linebackers Willie McGinest and the now-retired Ted Johnson, kicker Adam Vinatieri and departed cornerback Ty Law – hold that distinction.
Since Bruschi's vital contributions are too numerous to recount in their entirety, we have limited our retrospective to the fourth quarters of games during the four Super Bowl seasons. What follows is a chronological Tedy Bruschi title-impact Top 10:
Oct. 6, 1996
During his rookie season, Bruschi was a designated pass rusher (he came out of college sharing the Division 1-A all-time sack record with Derrick Thomas) who played extensively on special teams. In a game at Baltimore, he alertly picked up the ball after teammate Larry Whigham had blocked Greg Montgomery's punt, returning it four yards for a score with 7:53 remaining. The play was especially significant for Bruschi. "I never have scored a touchdown in high school or college or anything," he said after the Patriots held on to beat the Ravens, 46-38.
Jan. 12, 1997
New England was hosting the AFC championship game for the first time, and Bruschi gave the home crowd reason to celebrate. A Mark Brunell pass that bounced off Jimmy Smith landed in Bruschi's hands, and he darted out of bounds with 1:52 to go. The interception sealed a 20-6 victory and sent the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI. Although the Packers would win by a score of 35-21, Bruschi had two sacks of Brett Favre in the title game.
Jan. 19, 2002
In one of the most famous playoff games in NFL history, the Patriots battled through a blizzard and benefited from the officials' interpretation of the "tuck rule," eventually defeating Oakland in overtime, 16-13. Bruschi recorded eight solo tackles and a sack on that snowy Saturday night in Foxboro, but his biggest moment came with 2:19 remaining. The Raiders, leading 13-10, needed just one more first down to ice the game, but Bruschi and Law combined to stop Zack Crockett for no gain on third-and-1 from the Oakland 44. The resulting punt was returned 27 yards by Brown, and Tom Brady then led New England down the field 26 more yards to the Oakland 28. Vinatieri kicked a tying 45-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in regulation and the 23-yard game-winner in OT. The stop on Crockett is a play that was forgotten amid the hype that surrounded the "tuck rule." But without that play by Bruschi and his teammates, New England never would have gotten the ball back and the "tuck rule" would still be little more than a figurative footnote in the NFL rule books.
Sept. 14, 2003
After being smacked around, 31-0, by Buffalo in the 2003 opener, the Patriots traveled to Philadelphia to take on an Eagles team that had been to the last two NFC championship games. By this time, Bruschi had developed a knack for interception-return touchdowns, having registered two of them the previous season. The opportunistic Bruschi made it a hat trick when he picked off Donovan McNabb and returned it 18 yards for a score with 5:02 remaining. The play cemented a convincing 31-10 win.
Nov. 16, 2003
Boasting the top-ranked defense in the league, Dallas coach Bill Parcells returned to Foxboro for a showdown with his former assistant, Bill Belichick. As usual, Bruschi rose to the occasion, recording eight tackles in the 12-0 victory. His defining play came with 9:21 left and the Cowboys trying for a first down on fourth-and-1 at midfield. Bruschi knifed through the line and dropped running back Troy Hambrick for a 2-yard loss. While his coach downplayed his feelings about the outcome, Bruschi acknowledged that winning the game probably had added meaning for Belichick: "If I worked for a coach at one time or was on that staff, I'd want to beat him, too." The shutout was the first one for the Patriots since blanking the Cardinals in 1996, Bruschi's third game as a professional.
Dec. 7, 2003
As New England prepared to host Miami, a Nor'easter dumped over two feet of snow in the area throughout the weekend. The field at Gillette Stadium had been protected, but the soft, muddy turf limited offensive production. With the Patriots clinging to a 3-0 lead, Bruschi picked off a Jay Fiedler pass and returned it 5 yards for a TD with 8:55 remaining. After the touchdown, the hearty fans memorably celebrated by tossing fistfuls of powdery snow into the air, timed to the beat of Gary Glitter's stadium anthem, "Rock and Roll, Part 2" (the "hey" song). The Bruschi-inspired celebration in the snow remains the enduring image of the NFL's 2003 season. It was Bruschi's fourth consecutive interception-return touchdown, making him the only player in NFL history to accomplish that feat. Adding a late safety for a 12-0 win, the Patriots logged their second shutout of the season and clinched the AFC East title.
Oct. 3, 2004
Heading into Buffalo, the defending-champion Patriots were riding a 17-game winning streak and approaching the unofficial NFL record of 18 straight (including postseason). Bruschi registered eight tackles on the day, including two sacks, and was pivotal in the game's decisive play. The Bills were trailing 24-17 and threatening to tie the game as they faced fourth-and-3 at the New England 17-yard line. The threat ended when Bruschi hit quarterback Drew Bledsoe, forced a fumble, and then had the presence of mind to quickly get up off the turf and block the nearest Buffalo player, springing teammate Richard Seymour for a 68-yard return for a touchdown with 2:59 left. The Patriots won, 31-17.
Nov. 28, 2004
Playing in inclement conditions against a Ravens squad allowing the fewest points in the league, the Patriots were held to three field goals through the first three quarters. To start the fourth, Corey Dillon ran for a TD and a two-point conversion, giving the home team a 17-3 lead. The New England defense then produced consecutive sacks. When Bruschi knocked the ball loose from Kyle Boller, it squirted into the end zone and was recovered by defensive end Jarvis Green with 14:15 to go. No points were scored the rest of the way, and the Patriots claimed a rain-soaked 24-3 victory.
Jan. 16, 2005
The Colts entered snowy Gillette Stadium with the fifth-highest scoring offense in NFL history but left with a familiar result: a humbling loss. Despite a new rules emphasis on illegal contact – largely the result of Indy's complaints that its receivers were manhandled in last year's AFC title game – this divisional playoff was dominated by the Patriots. In the second quarter, Bruschi ripped the ball away from running back Dominic Rhodes on a screen pass as the two tumbled to the ground, resulting in the first of his two fumble recoveries. His second one came when Rodney Harrison drilled wideout Reggie Wayne after a 12-yard reception. Bruschi pounced on the loose ball with 6:58 remaining and New England preserved a 20-3 win. "What rules do they want to change now?" Bruschi asked after the game. "I'm tired of hearing them complain. All I know is we took it away from them today."
(Bruschi does not limit his heroics to the fourth quarter in games against Indy. Along with his second-quarter strip of Rhodes in this playoff game, Bruschi made a game-changing first-quarter play in Week One of the 2004 season. As the Colts marched for a certain score on their first drive of the game, Bruschi ripped a Manning pass out of the air at his own 1-yard line. New England would go on to win, 27-24.)
Feb. 6, 2005
Attempting to win their third championship in four years, the Patriots played the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Bruschi sacked McNabb on the game's third play and had seven total tackles in the game. With Philly trailing 24-14 and facing a first-and-10 at the New England 36, Bruschi picked off a pass intended for L.J. Smith with 7:20 left. Holding on for a 24-21 victory, the Pats won their ninth consecutive playoff game, equaling the NFL record set by the Green Bay Packers under legendary coach Vince Lombardi. It seemed particularly fitting that Bruschi and his teammates would once again hoist the trophy that bears Lombardi's name.
The inside linebacker position in the NFL is all about diagnosing the offensive play and counteracting it. In code blue, when a game-saving procedure is needed, there is no greater expert than Tedy Bruschi. We therefore ask that he please report to the field – stat.