Curran: Bruschi one-of-a-kind in Pats locker room

Curran: Bruschi one-of-a-kind in Pats locker room
July 29, 2013, 2:45 pm
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FOXBORO -- Tedy Bruschi has this verbal tic where he always says things twice. Call him Tedy Two Times.
He took that to an extreme with me. I first met him in 1997 when he was in his second year on the team and I was at the MetroWest Daily News in my first year on the beat.
“Who are you?” Bruschi asked me the first time I approached him in the Foxboro Stadium locker room.
“Tom Curran, MetroWest Daily News.”
Next time I approached him, same thing.
And the next time.
Finally, I said to him, “You ask me that every single time I come over here. What’s the deal?”
I also decided to let him in on something he probably didn’t know.
“You know, most everyone covering the team thinks you’re an ass****. I’m actually one of the ones who doesn’t.”
At that point, the relevant things I knew of Tedy Bruschi was that he was a beast in college where he was the heart-and-soul of Arizona’s Desert Swarm defense and that he’d dropped a pass from Tom Tupa out in Denver on November 17, 1996 when the Patriots were trying to show they belonged on the same field as the Broncos.
For those who didn’t experience the Boston Drought that began in 1987 and ran until Bruschi and the Patriots snapped it with their Super Bowl win in 2001, every Boston team was in a constant state of proving it belonged. And usually, they didn’t.
So when the Patriots went to Denver in 1996, there was hope that Bill Parcells could will his team to a win at Mile High but a creeping suspicion that the Patriots would be spanked. The Patriots got the ball first and, after three plays, faced fourth-and-1 at their 32. Parcells called for punter Tom Tupa -- a backup quarterback as well -- to run a fake punt. Bruschi was wide open in the middle of the field. The pass hit him in the gut and fell incomplete. The Broncos scored, Bledsoe got picked off on the first play of the next drive and the Patriots lost 34-8.
Bruschi was a bit player on the Patriots team that went to the Super Bowl that year, a guy trying to carve a niche as an undersized defensive end or rush-linebacker.
In 1997, with Parcells gone, he was still trying to carve a niche. And -- to my eyes -- it was that of enforcer. Seeming to understand he was on the end of the roster, Bruschi clubbed anything that moved.
In the Patriots second game of the 1997 season, Bruschi picked up two penalties in the final three minutes of the half -- one on a kickoff return, the other on a late hit applied to Jim Harbaugh. The Patriots won easily but I remembered thinking then that Bruschi played like a little bit of a moron.
But Pete Carroll -- who took over for Parcells in 1997 -- did wonders for Bruschi’s career because Carroll’s attacking defensive style was right up Bruschi’s alley. Bruschi needed to have his energy channeled to a responsibility and that responsibility became being a utility guy and playmaker.
As the seasons passed and the Patriots swooned under Carroll, the team got worse but Bruschi got better and smarter. He wasn’t lacking discipline or effort -- though he could be a pain-in-the-ass in the locker room back then -- and when Bill Belichick took over, a second godsend had arrived.
Belichick famously told his personnel people to tell him what a player could do, not what he could not. With Bruschi, a player who hadn’t been able to get it done at defensive end with great regularity because of his size, Belichick looked past that and found a kid who could read plays, could use quickness and agility at the second level, could play with nuance and go off-the-script without compromising the rest of the defense.
He also believed Bruschi was tough enough to play middle linebacker in his 4-3 defense when Ted Johnson went down during the 2001 season. And that was the position Bruschi played for the Patriots when they won their first Super Bowl that year.
In December of 1997, my second of three sons was born. He came the day the Patriots lost a killer to the Steelers, 24-21. (Bledsoe picked off by a NOSE TACKLE Keven Henry with two minutes left?!) I didn’t make it to the game. In a funereal locker room after that game, the writer sent in my place, went up to Bruschi’s locker.
“Who are you?” Bruschi asked.
“John Tomase, MetroWest Daily News,” my friend answered.
“Where’s Tom?” Bruschi asked.
“His wife had a baby today.”
“Awww,” Bruschi said, softening. “Tell him congratulations.”