FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For decades, “Teddy Ballgame” referred strictly to Ted Williams, baseball’s last .400 hitter. Then, amid New England’s march to three Super Bowl titles in the past four seasons, the sobriquet was altered to “Tedy Ballgame” and assigned to Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
That deference stemmed from Bruschi’s gift for making game-changing plays that personified New England’s attack in the same way Williams was defined to Boston Red Sox fans by his unerring batting stroke.
Now, if Bruschi meets his goal of being back on the field tomorrow night against the Buffalo Bills after he was medically cleared, the nickname will take on new, indelible meaning for a man who is all too familiar with the other definition of stroke.
Only eight months have passed since the nine-year NFL veteran went from being able to read Peyton Manning’s pass plays to losing vision in his left eye from a stroke. Just two days after his first Pro Bowl appearance, a blood clot slipped through a tiny hole in what many believe is the biggest of Patriot hearts, found its way to the 32-year-old’s brain and left the father of three sons barely able to walk.
Despite recovering quickly, Bruschi emphatically said in September that a comeback would have to wait until 2006. But last week he announced he had medical clearance to play and stressed his decision to return was neither rash nor life-threatening.
“Unanimously, every doctor and physician that’s seen me has given me clearance,” Bruschi said.
“This isn’t something you just go for. I mean, come on, I lost my sight. . . . It was a traumatic experience. It’s been a long road back. I’m not going to jump into something without being absolutely 100 percent positive, and I am.”
Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, director of the Duke Stroke Center and a spokesman for the American Stroke Association, says eight months is not an unusually short recovery period for a stroke survivor.
“The most rapid recovery period is over the first few weeks, and it continues rapidly for two to three months,” Goldstein says.
Bruschi was at home when his stroke hit, and his wife, Heidi, whose father is a physician’s assistant, quickly called 911.
“I’m not shocked that he’s back,” says fellow Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who fractured his hip in 2003 but makes no comparisons to his seasonlong recovery and what Bruschi has faced. “What I’ve seen him do, no, I’m not shocked.”
Like everyone in the Patriots’ locker room, Colvin addresses Bruschi’s return as inevitable, even though Bruschi has yet to be activated for tomorrow’s game.
Houston Astros pitcher J.R. Richard and New York Islanders’ player Brian Mullen, two former pro athletes, failed in their comebacks after strokes.
But rodeo star Stran Smith, a stroke victim in April 2003, was the PRCA world runner-up last year in tie-down roping, where he jumps off a horse that’s running at 20 mph and ties up and brings down a calf.
Talking from his 40-acre ranch in Childress, Texas, Smith says doctors initially “told me I needed to find another occupation.”
But Smith and his wife, Jennifer, kept consulting with doctors and decided the best course of action was surgery to have a pluglike device placed in the hole in his heart. Bruschi has confirmed having similar surgery in March.
Smith hasn’t spoken with Bruschi but says his advice is, “Go all out, get that first hit out of the way and go on. Let everybody know it, that, ‘I’m here. I’m back.’ “