Tedy Bruschi had finished his interviews Friday after a luncheon in his honor when I slid in one more question.
“You remember the first interview you did at Arizona?” I asked.
“The one with my helmet on?” he answered.
Yep. That would be the one.
It sounds strange because of who he is, but the most reluctant interview subject I ever had was Tedy Bruschi, Arizona Wildcats fall camp, 1991. (Just typing that makes me feel old, but at least one of us has retained his boyish good looks.)
Bruschi, a true freshman defensive end at the time, declined to be photographed, refused to remove his helmet and delivered a series of quick, clipped answers after being coerced by the school’s sports information staff to do the interview.
That didn’t seem like the Tedy Bruschi that Tucson — and later legions of New England Patriots fans — came to love. On the other hand, it revealed exactly the Tedy Bruschi who became one of the most popular players to ever wear the cardinal and navy.
Bruschi, back on that fall day a long time ago, was trying to shy away from the spotlight because he hadn’t done anything yet, hadn’t played in a game, didn’t want to detract from the efforts of the upperclassmen on the team.
Now, 22 years later, as the Southern Arizona Chapter of the National Football Foundation honored Bruschi for his impending induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, he was, as then, trying to make it about the team.
“So many players made me better,” he said in front of more than 300 people at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.
“I’m being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and I’m a little conflicted by it, because I feel like I should be going in with so many more people, so many more of my teammates.
“I’m being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, but the Desert Swarm is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. I truly believe that.”
Bruschi was the face of the legendary Desert Swarm defenses, the terrorizing sack-master with the million-dollar smile. He made 74 tackles for loss, including 52 sacks, tied for the NCAA record.
“I played with heart,” he said. “I played with heart and desire and I was smart. I was intelligent and instinctive, and that’s stuff I really hang my hat on.”
Bruschi told the audience Friday he had an addiction to rushing the passer, joking (we think) that he sometimes breaks out an old pass-rushing move with his hands to get past his wife, Heidi, in the hallway.
“Rushing the passer is something I want to do in my sleep,” he said.
He is the fourth Arizona player to join the college Hall, following linebacker Ricky Hunley (also in attendance Friday), safety Chuck Cecil and former teammate Rob Waldrop, a defensive tackle.
The school will honor Bruschi at halftime of Saturday night’s game against Utah, retiring his jersey.
Here are highlights of an interview conducted after the luncheon by me, Steve Rivera of FoxSportsArizona.com and Luke Della of the Arizona Daily Wildcat:
On whether he would ever consider getting into coaching:
“Yes, I would, once my kids got older. Maybe when they get in high school. When they start playing football, I’ve already said I’m going to coach out in the East Coast, whether it’s on the high school level or something like that.
“I’m a football player. I can communicate football well. I know what I can do well. And I know I could be a good football coach. But I’ve seen coaches sleep in their offices, which right now — with (boys) 12, 11 and 8 — I have the luxury to say no. I don’t have to do that. I know a lot of these coaches have to grind like that. I worked hard and played 13 years in the NFL to be able to enter the coaching profession on my terms.”
On what he would have done if he hadn’t been a football player (perhaps played the saxophone professionally?):
“I always tell myself I would have been pumping gas somewhere. The majority of football players come from backgrounds that if you don’t have it, your life will take a big turn. I think it’s the same thing for me. It got me to college. Got a college education. I was able to play in the NFL. Would I have taken the saxophone further? I don’t play sax as well as I tackle, so I don’t know.”
On what would have been a reasonable career outcome when he arrived at Arizona:
“Man, I had zero expectations. I didn’t have any. It was even the way I was in high school. In high school, I just looked at my high school coach and said, “What position do you want me to play?’ So, I said, ‘Coach Tomey, what do we gotta do, and I’ll go do it.’ That’s basically what I was thinking. …
“My goal was probably to pass the conditioning test. That short-term focus is really what helped me. Even in high school. I got my first recruiting letter from UCLA when I was a junior and I asked my coach, ‘What is this?’ I had no idea what it was, because a scholarship wasn’t on my mind. Once I got the letter, I was like, ‘All right, now I need some more.’”
On joining his Desert Swarm teammate, Waldrop, in the College Football Hall of Fame:
“I’m telling you, playing defensive end and looking over there and seeing Rob Waldrop … so many times he would blow up the field and I just follow him behind and, boom, there’s a sack right there. To see him go (into the Hall) in front of me, I was so happy for him. We’re all defensive players — Ricky, Chuck, Rob and I — and it’s a defensive tradition we’ve established here. I’m proud Rob is in there with me. It adds more to the allure of Desert Swarm.”
On one game or moment that stands out from his UA career:
“I tell you, if there was one moment I could tell you, it wouldn’t have been a good career, you know what I mean. The fact that I can offer a bunch to you, from my freshman year to my senior year … and in between there is a lot, from the Fiesta Bowl and other victories. To say that one is the best would cheapen all the others. There isn’t just one. There’s a lot. And I think that’s the definition of a successful career.”
On the speech he gave to the Wildcats this spring, talking about “Football truth”:
“That was the offseason and my intent was to tell them how important that time is. I remember being a young player, thinking it wasn’t an important time. My junior and senior year, we had it figured out by then. But just trying to get them to realize how important a time it is right there — to train and prepare and have a mentality that what you’re doing right now is just as important as game days.”
Other Bruschi-related content:
From this week: Arizona Wildcats could use a Bruschi mentality
Bruschi is No. 4 in our countdown of the Top 50 Arizona players of all-time
From 2008: Spending Super Bowl Media Day with Tedy
From 2007: Bruschi’s book reveals his hero: His wife