State Your Case: Was Tedy Bruschi's impact worthy of Hall Of Fame consideration?
Tedy Bruschi’s Hall of Fame credentials present a classic dilemma for voters. What do you do with a player whose value exceeds his statistics? That was Bruschi in a nutshell.
Bruschi played 13 years for the New England Patriots, most of them as a starter on teams that went to five Super Bowls, won three and posted a perfect 16-0 regular season and a nearly perfect 18-1 end to that season by losing Super Bowl XLII, 17-14. Obviously that loss was not a result of poor defensive play by Bruschi & Co., a unit that finished fourth in the league in points allowed in 2007 and continued its stinginess against the New York Giants in a season-ending losing effort.
Bruschi began his career as a pass rushing specialist under Bill Parcells after tying the all-time NCAA record with 51 career sacks while at Arizona and ended his career as a tackling machine and Yodi-like guru of Bill Belichick’s dynasty-building defenses. He was the glue and the mental acuity that held those defenses together, once being described by teammate Rodney Harrison as someone whose contributions could not be measured by statistics.
Perhaps so but what his career statistics say is that he went to only one Pro Bowl, was twice named second team All-Pro (but never first) and finished with 30 ½ sacks, 17 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions, returning four for touchdowns. He also made 1,074 tackles and, one must not forget, a remarkable comeback from a stroke three days after playing in that Pro Bowl.
After his February, 2005 stroke left him partially paralyzed for a time, he unexpectedly returned to play on Oct. 30, 2005 against the Buffalo Bills, he made seven tackles and played more than half the game. He played in the final nine games of the regular season and the playoffs, a performance that led to Bruschi being named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. A year later he would lead the team in tackles with 124 in the regular season and 24 in the post season.
He also retired tied for fourth in NFL history among linebackers with four interception returns for touchdowns and was the first player in NFL history to return four consecutive interceptions for touchdowns.
His post-season production was even more consistent. Bruschi played in 22 playoff games, five Super Bowls and finished with 119 tackles, 4 ½ sacks, two interceptions and a remarkable six fumble recoveries. In Super Bowl XXXI he had two sacks of Brett Favre. In Super Bowl XXXVI he had a fumble recovery. In Super Bowl XXXIX, he had nine tackles, a sack and an interception and in Super Bowl XLII he had eight tackles. His overall impact on great teams is clear but his raw numbers argue he is a classic “Hall of Very Good’’ player.
But was he more than that. Here’s what Bill Belichick has to say on the subject.
“He always did the right thing,’’ Belichick said of Bruschi at the end of his career. “I’ve had the privilege of coaching a lot of great players and great leaders in the NFL and I’ll just put Tedy up there with all of them and above all of them.’’
That would put him above a number of Hall of Fame players Belichick has coached but one might just write that off as the musings of a sentimental man, although it would be difficult to find a sentimental bone inside Bill Belichick’s body when it comes to football.
Belichick went on to say, “If you ask me to sum up how I feel about Tedy Bruschi in five seconds? He’s the perfect player.’’
Is there a place for the perfect player who lacks the perfect statistics in the Hall of Fame? One would think so but it’s a question the 48-person selection committee will be wrestling with if Bruschi’s name ever makes the list of finalists. What makes a Hall of Famer? A perfect statistical resume or an assessment by one of the greatest coaches in NFL history that someone without those perfect statistics was still “the perfect player?’’