The Interview: Tedy Bruschi

At the dawn of a new NFL season, the retired linebacker opens up about the stroke that nearly ended his life, the lunacy of Deflategate, and why his beloved Patriots are likely to struggle this year.

 New York, NY - January 27, 2014 - Herald Square: Analyst Tedy Bruschi shows his Super Bowl ring on the set of NFL Live.(Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Photograph by ESPN

He has three Super Bowl wins, a plum gig at ESPN, and a head of hair that would make a Ken doll envious. But in February 2005, Tedy Bruschi was in bed, dreaming about a tackle he’d made on Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis in the AFC Championship Game, when he suddenly woke up with a piercing headache. “I was like, ‘What’s wrong?’” Bruschi recalls. Turned out he was suffering from a life-threatening stroke. Against all odds, Bruschi was back on the field the very next season, disrupting offenses in front of his fans. In a sport where dramatic comebacks are weekly story lines, Bruschi’s return remains a singular feat. We caught up with the legendary linebacker to talk about the Pats, then and now.

It looks like the Patriots won’t have Tom Brady for their first four games. What’s your take on the start of the season?

It’s going to be a struggle. You see, the Patriots still consider September an extension of the preseason. And I don’t think the coaches are 100 percent sure of what type of team they have yet. They continue to evaluate through September and into October to try to find what they’re good at and what they’re not good at. Without having Brady to give them a picture of the offense flowing the way it should be, it’s going to be hard to judge the entire team and figure out who they are.

Are you surprised that the Deflategate saga continues to drag on?

I don’t want to say I’m surprised that it’s gone this long when you have an organization like the NFL that has a commissioner who really feels strongly about a certain Article 46—that he has the right to determine the integrity of the game. This type of legal fight isn’t about the deflation of footballs anymore—it’s about the commissioner and his ability to do whatever he pleases. When you have to go through the court system like this, it usually takes this long. Do I want it over just like everyone else? Absolutely. But still, I want to see Tom and the Patriots fight.

Roger Goodell took over as commissioner in 2006, and you didn’t retire until 2009. Did you see the game change direction in those early years of his tenure?

Player safety and the conduct of players off the field were big for him, and that was evident right off the bat. Certain ways you would approach a collision were talked about; taking the head out of the equation in terms of hitting—it was evident in the beginning that was where he was going. You could kind of gauge in the locker room that it was important to this commissioner to, I guess, clean up the game and its players.

Do you think he’s doing a good job of that?

I can see his goal, but the inconsistencies are obvious in terms of how he’s trying to achieve it.

Does it blow your mind that Brady is almost 40 and looks as sharp as he does?

If the game was where it was maybe 10 years ago, then maybe I’d be shocked. But once again, it’s another effect of Goodell’s focus on player safety. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Brady’s longevity has benefited from the protection of the quarterback. It was explained in such detail when I was playing where you could hit the quarterback, where you couldn’t hit the quarterback; what you could do and what you couldn’t do after he released the ball. Is the preservation of the quarterback a result of Goodell’s influence? You could say it possibly is.

What would leave you in worse shape on a Monday morning at this stage in your life: playing one NFL game or spending one weekend partying with Gronk?

I still think it would be one NFL game. Partying with Gronk—I don’t think I’m gonna get knocked around too much. I may be a little old, but I could still hang with the young kids.

You have a great head of hair. What’s your secret?

Filipino and Italian genes. My mom was Filipino and she had big black hair, and my father was Italian and he didn’t lose a hair on his head to the day he died. He was starting to get some salt and pepper, and my mom had some gray hair. And now I’m starting to get a bit of gray, right at my part—in the same streak where my mother had a gray streak for so long—and I can’t wait until it grows in.

I’ve heard if you go to dinner with Bill Belichick and have a glass of wine, it can be one of the funniest and smartest conversations you’ll ever have. True?

If someone tells you that he’s one of the funniest people they’ve ever met, they’re lying to you [laughs]. There isn’t much difference in terms of who you see in front of the camera at press conferences. When you’re a player for him, it’s all about football. There’s no small talk about families, there’s no, “What are you doing, let’s go grab a beer.” Nothing like that. During the season, it’s just about your job and what game you have to win. That’s okay for most players. It was always okay for me because if I wanted any type of companionship, I was going home to my wife and kids.