NEW YORK -- Christmas was a wonderful time at the Bruschi household. My wife, Heidi, and I were knee-deep in new bikes, Legos and Transformers our three sons had received from Santa Claus, and Santa was also good to me.
I received two tickets to see the play "Lombardi" in New York City. The show date was Jan. 5, and it worked out perfectly with my schedule. I was to be working at ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., on Jan. 4, so I was already halfway there. All Heidi had to do was join me there after I finished my work with "NFL Live" that day.
I don't think this was a coincidence. Heidi can put together a good game plan.
After Trey Wingo, Trent Dilfer, Chris Mortensen and I finished our show, Heidi made her way down to Bristol and we continued our trip to New York. The next day we met my uncle Mario, aunt Jini and cousin Adele for lunch at Isle de Capri, an old Bruschi family favorite.
My father was raised in New York along with his five brothers, and while enjoying my pasta funghi we revisited stories of my dad and uncles running the streets of the city. I've heard these stories many times, but they never, ever get old.
We arrived at Circle In The Square Theatre early; seating hadn't opened yet. While waiting in the lobby, I was approached by a 19-year-old aspiring sports broadcaster who said he enjoyed watching me on ESPN -- before mentioning that he was a New York Jets fan. I brought up the Jets' big, upcoming playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night and asked him to give me his analysis.
He said he thinks the Colts are short too many weapons and the Jets have a great chance. We had a great conversation talking Patriots and Jets, and as he left I looked at Heidi and said, "Not bad for a Jets fan."
It was time to make our way down an escalator to the theatre, where we saw a display telling patrons how some lucky members of the audience might be able to view the Lombardi Trophy from the 2007 Super Bowl. Needless to say, I walked by that quickly.
Before entering the theatre, patrons are able to see vintage NFL memorabilia, from old tickets and programs to pictures of Packers Super Bowl rings. Written there were details of how Lombardi was closely involved in creating the design of the Packers' Super Bowl rings. I thought of the Patriots' Super Bowl rings and how player input was taken into account, making them that much more special.
Of course, there was also a merchandise counter. I bought a T-shirt and a beanie anticipating a memorable performance.
The theatre was unique, almost like a miniature football stadium. The circular stage
was surrounded by stadium seating. We sat in the second row, as Heidi spared no expense. An usher made an announcement to the first row in front of us, saying to keep feet and knees off the stage. His exact words were, "This isn't a Jet game." I had no comment on that one.
After seeing the brilliant show, I had a lot of comments because it had me reliving moments of my career. It is rare that I have moments that I wish I was playing again. This was one of them.
The words of Vince Lombardi delivered by Dan Lauria, who we all
remember as the father in "The Wonder Years," had me wanting to go back and do it all over
again. I enjoyed the various scenes with actors Paul Hornung, Dave Robinson and Jim Taylor. It was great to see the way Lombardi pushed players and the way the players pushed him back and how they would be hanging out at the pool hall drinking beers and talking of winning championships and overcoming any obstacles.
I lived these scenes my entire football playing life, and it was enlightening to witness how other champions of the NFL lived their careers. They accomplished so much in different ways than our teams in New England did, but the essence of how they won was the same: playing for one another, putting the team first.
Everything they did was for one reason: to win a championship. When you win that championship, you are forever linked with that group of men.
After the performance, I thought of Bill Belichick and how lucky I was to be coached by him. Many might see differences between Lombardi and Belichick, but I thought of the endless similarities.
I saw the sacrifices both coaches made for the goals they wanted to achieve. I saw two men dedicated to one thing, above all else, and that's the game of football. The personality traits of the two might be different, but their passion and love for the sport and the men who played for them were identical.
When you play for a Lombardi or a Belichick, you know you have been coached by one of the greatest coaches there will ever be. And when you win a championship with them, you will forever be bonded with them in history. So many Green Bay Packers players had that with Lombardi. I was one of the fortunate ones in New England to have that with Belichick.
In the final monologue, Lombardi expresses his gratitude and love for his players' performances after they defeated the Chicago Bears in a big game. My eyes wandered from Lauria's character to the audience seated across from us. All eyes were locked on him, as those in attendance were hanging on his every word. All men had looks on their faces like they were ready to run through a brick wall. Some of the women had looks that said, "Now I know why my husband loves this game."
These are the moments I have lived with Belichick, and the play allows all who are lucky enough to see it to live these moments, too. After the play, one man turned to me, shook my hand and asked, "Just like Belichick?"
Exactly. I couldn't have agreed with him more.