Ray Duckler: Bruschi stops by to visit his friend

Last modified: 3/17/2015 11:45:59 PM
In 2005, Tedy Bruschi moved left, then went down, hard.

But unlike so many other times in his NFL career, there was no crunching block involved, no wallop from an offensive lineman the size of a condominium, or a running back with a bowling ball-like center of gravity.

And it didn’t happen on a football field, either.

It happened in Bruschi’s bedroom after a stroke, forcing the Patriots great to drag his numb body into the bathroom. That’s why Bruschi stopped by the Capital Club at O Steaks and Seafood last night.

He came to raise money and awareness for Tedy’s Team, a running club that has contributed more than $3 million to his cause, including about $500,000 last year.

Bruschi keeps his teams small, with 33 making the cut this year through an application process. They will compete in the Boston Marathon next month.

One member is Jeremy Woodward, who owns a local fitness club and is famous for his killer burpees.

Bruschi felt a kinship with Woodward, who’s survived two open heart surgeries to replace his aortic valve. Woodward asked Bruschi to make an appearance at his fundraiser to benefit the American Stroke Association.

Bruschi, who retired in 2008 after 13 seasons, all with New England, rushed north like a blitzing linebacker. He gave me 20 minutes upstairs, with a group of about 10 people and Concord’s modest skyline looking on.

“I want people like Jeremy on my team to provide that kind of example for everyone who is on it,” Bruschi told me before his meet-and-greet session. “My story is one story, but there are so many out there. That’s what makes Tedy’s Team so special.”

Bruschi was special around New England after helping the Patriots win three Super Bowl titles in four years. He was the captain, he was a star, he was handsome and he was young, just 31.

Then, two days after competing in the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s all-star game, Bruschi woke up in the middle of the night, around 2 a.m., he recalled last night.

His head ached and his left side was numb. That’s when he got out of bed, and that’s when he went down, his left leg unable to support his 250-pound body.

“I thought maybe it was the effects of a long season,” Bruschi told me. “In a perfect world, when you have a stroke you get to a hospital and there are various techniques they can use to help the symptoms dissipate, but I went back to sleep.”

Bruschi woke up at 10 a.m. One of his three sons, T.J., came into the room, on the left side of the bed. Bruschi couldn’t see him, not until T.J. moved to the other side of the bed.

With his field of vision to the left gone, Bruschi’s wife, Heidi, called 911. Seven hours after his initial discomfort, Bruschi learned he had a small hole in his heart, which led to the stroke. He saw the scarring on his brain, white spots where oxygen-carrying blood had failed to flow.

Later, Heidi drove him to Gillette Stadium, where Bruschi met with Coach Bill Belichick. Time to retire, he told the coach.

“I retired in my mind,” Bruschi said. “(Belichick) wanted me to think about it a little, but that’s where I was at that time.”

Getting off the couch and moving around his home wore Bruschi out, and he conceded that his stubborn streak made it difficult for him to ask Heidi or anyone else for help.

But a funny thing happened on the way to retirement. Bruschi’s rehab began to pay off. Mobility returned, as did his eyesight, although that took a few weeks longer.

But return to the NFL, with all those condominiums and bowling balls on offense, trying to pancake you?

Bruschi chose to give it a try.

“I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing,” he said. “I was running sprints to train for the season and my heart rate would get up and a new device was in my heart and I was nervous. Was I going too fast? Absolutely I had those concerns early on. But you do it again and again and nothing happens.”

Bruschi returned to practice on Oct. 19, 2005, just eight months after suffering the stroke. He played 11 days later against the Buffalo Bills.

The next season he intercepted a pass and mailed the football, signed, to his doctor, who had wondered if Bruschi would be well enough to follow the flight of a football.

“It was a tipped ball and I spotted it and caught the ball and signed it and sent it.” Bruschi said.

Two years later he retired. He had no idea how many tackles he’d made before his stroke, but he knew how many he had, 366, after returning. He works for ESPN now, dissecting NFL games. He’s considered a first-rate analyst, one of the best in the business.

His appreciation for what he has, where he’s been and what he’s overcome is obvious from his charitable endeavors and the trips he makes to meet those he’s chosen for his team.

Woodward told me beforehand that Bruschi was just a regular guy, and he was right.

The inspiration these two added to the room behind the O restaurant was thick, like the mac and cheese and dumplings served to a capacity crowd of about 150 people.

“Jeremy wanted me to come to New Hampshire,” Bruschi said, “and I was glad to do it.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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