FOXBORO — Maybe more than anyone, Tedy Bruschi could appreciate just what it meant for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to leave practice to say a few words — check that — to gush about and heap praise upon a former player. In a surprise appearance, his first at a Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Belichick rushed onstage in front of the Hall at Patriot Place to speak about inductees Bruschi and Gil Santos, but he saved his most candid words for his former inside linebacker. Several minutes into his speech, Belichick zeroed in on a play Bruschi made during the 2001 AFC playoffs against the Oakland Raiders as the one he cherished most. Facing a second-and-3, the Raiders ran an off-tackle play. “We were in a bad defense, it wasn’t good, and there was a hole there, I’m telling you, it was as wide as this stage. That’s how big it was,” Belichick said. “And here comes (fullback) Jon Ritchie and here comes (running back) Charlie Garner with the ball right behind him, and we’ve got one guy, and that’s Bruschi. He stepped in there, he hit Ritchie, he tackled Garner and it was third-and-1. And I’m telling you, without that play, there wouldn’t have been a lot of other plays that happened that year (on the way to winning the Super Bowl). That was the biggest play of the season. He made a lot of the other ones, but that was one that I’ll never, ever forget.” Belichick’s speech was the most poignant, a rare bit of emotion from the coach when at a podium. It was not lost on Bruschi. “It reminded me of . . . I was surprised,” Bruschi said. “I didn’t know Bill would be out there. Bill’s busy, as you can see with the practice going on. And you’ve got to know coach Belichick for, to pull himself out of a competitive situation like a scrimmage type of situational practice, to come and do that . . .” Bruschi paused and put his right hand on the breast of his red Hall of Fame coat. “Humbling, and very grateful for it, because I know what it takes for him to take his mind away from football for just a split second,” he said.
We can all admit there are bigger Halls of Fame than the Patriots and there are more prestigious honors than being inducted into it. But no one ever got a tribute greater than the one Tedy Bruschi got last night. He could win an MVP, an SI Sportsman of the Year, a Nobel, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive all in the same day and it wouldn’t come close to having Bill Belichick skip a practice to come pay homage to you. The most hands-on, Type A, detail oriented coach of his era, leaving his minions to run the practice in front of 40,000 people and then losing his shit in public while he says how great you are? Damn right Tedy is humbled and grateful for it. And no player in Pats history was ever more deserving. I already blogged about Bruschi’s career highlights when he first got elected so instead this time I’ll just cite the stat he mentioned yesterday: 366. That’s the number of total tackles he made after surviving a stroke. Coming back from something like that takes the kind of heart and dedication that doesn’t come along except maybe once in a generation. And to a football lifer like Belichick, who grew up in locker rooms and understands the struggles and sacrifices these guys make to be great, standing alongside Tedy on that stage was the only place to be. So much for all the anti-Patriots jihadists who say he’s not human and doesn’t care about his players. Because it doesn’t get any more caring than this. @JerryThornton1