Tuesday, January 03, 2006

. . . and tack on another five

1) Just finished watching the "NFL Films Presents" episode on Tedy Bruschi, and let's just say I nearly needed Tito to get me a tissue on more than one occasion. My clunky words can't really do justice to the quality of the hour-long piece, in which Bruschi recounts, with typical candor, emotion and insight, his recovery and eventual return to football from a stroke. If you haven't seen this yet, I can't recommend it strongly enough. A few of the highlights:

• In the immediate days after the stroke, Bruschi was certain his career was over. "I thought I was done. I'm done. I can't see, I can't walk. I'm finished," he said. Yet doctors never told him a return to football was out of the realm of possibility, either because it seemed so apparent it wasn't worth stating, or because "they were scared of telling me," Bruschi said with a laugh.

• The footage of Bruschi leaving the hospital is chilling. We may have subconsciously denied it back in January, but watching him lean on his wife Heidi as he walks gingerly from the hospital to a waiting van, pained determination on his face as he tries to mask his true condition, you'd have hard time convincing yourself he'd ever set foot on a football field again as a participant.

• But it's striking how much healthier Bruschi looks at the Patriots' ring ceremony at the Krafts' house in June, and an impromptu speech he makes while admiring his ring articulates the sense of pure joy and accomplishment he and his teammates get from the game - and why he'd so desperately desire to come back:

"I look at this third one. I hear the crowd. I smell the grass. I feel the pain of every victory. (Phew.) Everything is encapsulated in this ring when I look at it."

• NFL Films does its usual stellar job of capturing the palpable emotion in the stadium during Bruschi's return against the Bills. It also takes us behind the scenes to the postgame Patriots' locker room, and catches that old softie Bill Belichick calling the team together and saying, "How great is it to have Tedy Bruschi back?" (The players answer with their trademark "Oh, yeahhhhhh!") There is also a sweetly personal moment between Bruschi and Tom Brady; the dialogue is barely audible, but the warm and genuine sentiment as Brady talks is obvious: Welcome back, old friend.

• After the loss to the Colts later in the season, Tony Dungy, ever so classy, goes out of his way to seek out Bruschi: "It's good to see you . . . it's good to see you out here," Dungy says. "Welcome back." Given the unthinkable recent tragedy in Dungy's life, the vignette resonates even more powerfully now.

• In the last minute or two of the program, this ironic bit of info scrolled across the ESPN Bottom Line ticker: Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi (calf) questionable for Saturday's game vs. Jacksonville. Funny, but something tells me a trivial little calf injury isn't going to keep Bruschi away.

2) After watching Randy Moss slog and dog his way through the Raiders/Giants game Saturday night, I can make this proclamation without a sliver of a second thought: If the object is to win football games rather than sell jerseys, I'll take David Givens over Moss 100 times out of 100. Deion Branch already goes without saying.

3) I was surprised to hear Tom Brady talking like a graduate of the Rodney Harrison School Of Imaginary Disrespect this morning during his weekly appearance on WEEI. Brady, who missteps verbally as rarely as he screws up on the football field, claimed that most people had given up on the Patriots, including "media, and our fans." It's a preposterous suggestion - the fans' mantra all season has been "just wait til we get healthy" and prominent national media folks such as Peter King have been praising the Patriots so much, you'd think the franchise has changed its name to the New England Favres. Brady should be above parroting such nonsense, though I suspect his opinion was shaped by listening to the ill-informed mouthbreathers on the very station he was appearing on.

4) Well, looks like our old friend Ty is one-and-done as a DB with the NYJ. Check out this interesting - and somewhat curious - snippet from yesterday's New York Daily News:

One of the most compelling figures in the Jets' season was cornerback Ty Law, the ballyhooed free-agent signing who intercepted a career-high 10 passes and made the Pro Bowl. But his sterling performance on the field was only one side of the story.

Turns out that Law was a major headache for the coaches. Apparently, he operated under the Ty Law Rules.

According to multiple sources, Law rarely practiced on Wednesdays, played overweight, argued with the strength-and-conditioning staff and hurt team chemistry with his attitude. His seat in the defensive meeting room was changed because the coaches didn't want him sitting next to promising rookie cornerback Justin Miller, said one source, claiming Law was a poor influence.

Ask me, there's something fishy here. Sure, Law has flaws. He has always owned a swollen opinion of his own abilities, he's never tried to hide the fact that money takes priority over loyalty, and he never should have given his cousin access to that duffel bag. But a bad influence? Based on watching him for the better part of 10 seasons in New England, I'd say he's exactly the kind of guy you want your younger players to emulate. He's fearless, smart, prepared, tough, believes in himself, plays his best in the biggest moments, and even when there is turmoil around him, he rises to the occasion. (I also remember him suggesting that Chris Canty couldn't play during training camp of Canty's rookie season, which immediately made him a better talent judge than Bobby Grier.) He was one of few veterans who didn't quit on Pete Carroll, and judging by his performance with the crashed-and-burned Jets this season, he didn't quit on Herm Edwards, either. I suspect someone in the Jets front office, fearing backlash when they don't pick up Law's option, planted this story in order to justify the impending decision. If you've got a better explanation, I'd like to hear it, because this just doesn't sound like Ty Law to me.

5) As for Today's Completely Random Football Card:

I can't argue with the fans' selection of Willie McGinest for the 12th player award. McGinest, a favorite of ours ever since he turned Tony Boselli into Max Lane during the '96 AFC title game, can clear space in his trophy case next to the plaque TATB gave him upon interviewing him in training camp many years ago: Largest Non-Fat Human We Have Ever Encountered. (Okay, we didn't really give him a plaque. But we might have, if we weren't too busy going all fetal and quivering in fear.) Our admission of admiration is not meant to suggest we would have cast our vote for McGinest, however. We would have dangled the ol' chad, so to speak, for Nick Kaczur, the rookie tackle who filled in so ably when Matt Light went down and managed to keep Tom Brady from being folded, spindled and mutilated from the blindside. Come to think of it, we also might have thrown our support to that other guy - you know, What's-His-Name, the linebacker - the dude who came back in the middle of the season from a freakin' stroke. Then again, the 12th player is about 11 spots lower than Tedy Bruschi's current ranking in the hearts of Patriots' fans.