With the fan voting for the Patriots Hall of Fame wrapping up yesterday, and Drew Bledsoe almost assured to become a first-ballot inductee, it got me thinking about which players from the Patriots' Super Bowl teams would one day be enshrined. Those teams were composed of a multitude of worthy players and will certainly lead to some great debates as the time for their eligibility for the hall draws near. Given that the Hall only inducts one recent player per year and that a lot of the dynasty-era players will retire around the same time, there is bound to be some healthy competition for the spot each season. What's a voter to do when faced with the choice of Troy Brown vs. Willie McGinest vs. Rodney Harrison vs. Matt Light vs. Ty Law vs. Mike Vrabel vs. Kevin Faulk? Chances are, by the time Tom Brady does retire, there will still be some of his early-day counterparts still waiting to receive their spot in the Hall.
However, out of that long list of legendary Patriots, there's one player that I have no doubt will be a first-ballot inductee. That player, is Tedy Bruschi. What's amazing about Tedy is that he probably wasn't as good of a player as many of the guys I just listed above. He didn't have the stats, or big flashy plays, or iconic Super Bowl moments that many of those other did. However, Tedy Bruschi had something much more meaningful and enduring – a connection with the fans of Foxboro.
That photo above is from 2003. The Patriots were locked in a 3-0 battle in the 4th quarter against the Miami Dolphins. A win would wrap up the AFC East title for New England and send them back to the playoffs after just missing out in '02. Bruschi picked off a Jay Fiedler pass and took it home to paydirt, putting the Pats up 9-0 and all but clinching the game. Afterwards, Tedy Bruschi engaged in a snowball fight with the rowdy fans. It was a classic moment that forever endeared him to the Patriots faithful.
That bond between Bruschi and the fans would grow even deeper when news broke during the 2005 off-season that Tedy had suffered a mild stroke. After needing to undergo surgery to repair a hole in his heart, many thought that Bruschi would retire. After all, what was there really left to accomplish after three Super Bowl championships and earning his first-ever Pro Bowl nod? Why take the risk of stepping back on the football field? Bruschi, however, was far from done. He still had that fire burning within him to go out and play for the fans each week. His return in Week 8 that year was one of the most riveting moments in Patriots history. Bruschi recorded two tackles on Buffalo's opening drive and forced them to punt. His emotional leadership sparked the Patriots to a hard-fought 21-16 win over the Bills and kept New England atop the AFC East standings.
Over the final years of his career, Tedy Bruschi continued to be the heart and soul of the New England defense. When he finally hung up his cleats in 2009, he had played in five Super Bowls, won three, made two Pro Bowl appearances, won the Comeback Player of the Year award, twice won the Ed Block Courage Award, and made an indellible impression upon millions of New England Patriots fans. That last accomplishment is the reason why a likeness of Bruschi sits atop the banner of this site. There were three Super Bowl victories, and thus three spots. Brady and Belichick were the obvious selections. The third spot, by most people's standards, could have probably been up for grabs.
Not for me. There was no doubt in my mind that Tedy Bruschi was the player who deserved to be enshrined atop this blog. Today, in what I'm sure is a much bigger accomplishment on his part, Tedy Bruschi will be standing atop something else – Mt. Kilamanjaro. As I'm sitting in my living room typing this piece, Bruschi is in make his final ascent during a five day trip up the mountain. He's partaking in the climb as part of the Wounded Warriors Project, whose goal is to help re-assimliate wounded veterans into society. I have a feeling that when Bruschi reaches the summit, he'll look out and realize that this is just one of many times that he's been "on top of the world". Thankfully for us Patriots fans, he's been kind enough to take us along on the trip with him.