Being a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots it goes without saying that one of my favorite players has always been Tedy Bruschi. In the era of free agency when so many players switch teams, players that have been with the Patriots for a while become household names in my house.
While it may seem silly or odd for a grown man, I remember when I first heard Bru had a stroke. I sat down and watched a tape of the New England win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl, at times teary eyed believing that Bru had seen his last snap on the football field. I thought there was no way he was going to be able to come back from a stroke. I consoled myself saying at least he got to play in four Super Bowls and was sitting on three Super Bowl rings on a team many consider a dynasty. Some great players, like Dan Marino, never won one. But I digress. Suffice it to say I am biased in this review. I am unabashedly a New England Patriots fan and an even bigger fan of Tedy Bruschi than I was before his stroke, if that’s even possible.
In this book Tedy tells his story the way he wants it told, unfiltered by the media. It’s about his stroke, the emotionally draining and frightening experience of his recovery, and his difficult decision to come back and play professional football. It’s not about the Xs and Os of the game or recounting a season, but there is plenty about football, the New England Patriots, and what it means to be a professional football player. This is a can’t miss read for any football fan.
This book is extremely well organized. While it is mainly about his recovery and return to football you learn a little about his childhood and growing up in a not quite impoverished, not quite middle-class, broken family in San Francisco. You learn a lot more about his home life and his wife and children and what it was like for them as he recovered from the stroke. And you learn a lot about what his teammates, the Patriots organization, and winning means to him.
Some of the highlights of the book include his impatience with his recovery and a bit of fear at ever regaining his vision and motor skills. It was clearly a tough road back. But the most revealing part of the book was his return to football. I was a fan who was totally jacked up that Bru was returning to the field and assumed that he and the Patriots organization did due diligence to ensure that there was no danger to him before taking the field. But one can never really know what an emotionally gut wrenching decision this was for his family, particularly his wife. Nor did I realize to just what lengths not only he, but his wife and Robert Kraft, went to to make sure it was the right decision.
He got multiple opinions from different doctors, not only at the insistence of his wife but the Patriots as well. Of course his wife didn’t want him debilitated on the football field because she loves him. And the Patriots didn’t either, and I’m sure they had his best interests in mind. But let’s face it, the liability and bad publicity for the team that would have ensued had something bad happened would have been a severely damaging blow to the entire organization.
And while I followed some of the negative press about Tedy’s return, I should have realized how that got to him and I never really knew that New England fans thought he was crazy and he got negative responses from Patriots fans as well. He tells, in great detail, just what an emotional, difficult road it was to get back on the football field.
I have screamed “Bru, Bru, Bru, Bru, Bru” in front of my television many, many times, but never so loud as I did when he returned to the field against the Buffalo Bills on a Sunday night in October 2005.
But the bottom line is that Tedy returned to football because he is a football player and that is what he does and it was clear from his doctors that he was in no significant danger. He also returned and felt pressure to perform well to be an inspiration to other stroke victims – not that everyone can necessarily fully recover from a stroke – some aren’t as lucky as Tedy. But as Tedy puts it, for stroke victims, “who they are now, not what they were or hoped to be, is okay” using the words of Trisha Meili, the Central Park Jogger who was brutally raped, beaten and left for dead, and is one of his inspirations.
For Bru it could have been “who I am now, a devoted father and family man working in the front of office of the New England Patriots but not a football player, not what I was or hoped to be, a football player fighting to win a fourth Super Bowl, is okay.” Bruschi realizes he was lucky in his recovery and sends out a message of hope, for those who aren’t so lucky, to fight through, saying “what you make of your life afterward” despite any impairments you suffer from, is what matters.
Tedy also talks about football and how much winning means to him. Getting back to normal for him was to not think about his stroke anymore but just go out and do his best to help his team win games. His coming full circle was not having the media or fans have a pity party for him. One of the best stories he relays in the book was several games after his comeback and after coach Bill Belichick lost his father, the coach said:
“You know what I’m tired of? I’m tired of all the feel good stories about the Patriots. Bruschi is part of it, and I guess I’m part of it too. Do you know what would be a great feel good story? If we go out on Sunday and beat the Jets.”
For the Patriots, and Tedy, that meant, “let’s get back to normal,” especially since they were, at least by the standards the Patriots as a team, struggling.
I could go on and on but I will end with two things. First, and least important, Tedy talks about how emotionally upset he was after the New England loss to Denver the year of his comeback, ending their two year run as Super Bowl champions and the chance to make history by winning three in a row. I’m glad he was upset because I was too. I was depressed, physically and mentally, for a week. I know it’s silly but luckily I have friends who are PATS fans who are the same way. I always tell myself I shouldn’t be upset because the players just go and cash their fat paychecks and don’t really care one way or the other. It’s good to know that it’s not true all the time.
Second, and more importantly, a big reason Bru wrote this book was to educate people about strokes, especially their early symptoms so they can be caught as soon as possible and do the least damage, and to provide some inspiration for people who have suffered from strokes.
Tedy is an inspiration to us all.