Bruschi celebration puts future into focus

Bruschi celebration puts future into focus
July 30, 2013, 2:00 pm
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On Monday afternoon, Tedy Bruschi became the 19th player inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame, but only the third with any real connection to the franchise as we know it today.

Now, obviously I say that with the utmost respect for players like John Hannah, Gino Cappelletti, Andre Tippett, Bruce Armstrong and all the legends who have done the organization proud over the course of its 53-year history. In fact, as it is, those guys don’t get enough credit. Call it a casualty of the Pats sharing a home with three of the most iconic franchises in professional sports, combined with the insane levels of success that the team has experienced in recent years. But regardless, truth is that as time goes on, Patriots history will be analyzed and dissected through the lens two distinct eras: Before Bill Belichick/Tom Brady and after.

Drew Bledsoe was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 2011, and was the first to enter the ranks with a Patriots Super Bowl ring to his name. But of course, Bledsoe’s career in New England relates more to that previous time, and his ultimate legacy is the role he played in serving as the bridge from that era of relative irrelevance to the period of unimaginable success.

Last year, Troy Brown got the call and became the first inductee who was part of all three championships. In so many ways, Brown embodied what that run was all about: Selflessness, perseverance, versatility. And he did so in the most unassuming way possible. When you dial up memories of Troy Brown, almost all of them take place between lines: His overtime game-winner in Miami. His punt return and blocked field goal against Pittsburgh. His catch on the final drive against St. Louis. His forced fumble down the stretch against San Diego. His brief but productive stint in the secondary.

But outside of the action, whether it was a post-game celebration. Scenes from the huddle, sideline or locker room, the lasting memory of Troy Brown — and that’s not to say that he was without flare — was a quiet smile; there’s nothing else that really stands out. And of course, that was more than enough. They Patriots didn’t need anything else.

That’s thanks to guys like Tedy Bruschi.

Bruschi wasn’t the most talented linebacker to ever come through New England. After all, while playing an important role on that defense, he only made one Pro Bowl over his 13-year career. The Pats might have three LBs on the roster right now with more pure skill than what No. 54 brought to the table.

But since Bruschi walked away, there’s hasn’t been guy who can hold a candle to his relentless and unconditional flare, and ability to inspire a huddle, a locker room and/or an entire stadium of football fans. The way he broke down the team after every game. His place within some of the most iconic image in franchise history (most notably the snow ball fight against Miami). It’s almost impossible to encapsulate all he meant to that team, to that dynasty and all three Lombardi trophies on display at Patriot Place.

“The success that we had, that he was such a huge part of -- there’s no way that that could be understated,” Belichick said earlier this week. "To me, he’s one of the all-time greats that’s ever played here and that’s in large part because of the championships that were won while he was a part of it. There have been other great players but the team success that he was such a huge part of is really what it’s all about. His impact on that cannot be understated.”

As time goes by, we’ve all gained a greater appreciation for how essential players and personalities like Bruschi are to the sustained success of a football team. Also, sadly, we’ve realized how rare they are. So, while there’s so much joy to be found in celebrating Bruschi, Brown and the assembly line of teammates from that golden era that are sure to follow them into the Hall, it’s at least a little bitter sweet.

With each one that’s enshrined, we move a little farther away from that historic period, and closer to a time when the Pats will be forced to move beyond the Belichick/Brady era and into whatever comes next.

And knowing what came before it — while still respecting the Hall of Famers that made a name during those less relevant years — makes that anticipation all the more terrifying.