Tedy Bruschi: A night to remember

When envisioning what would make "Tedy Bruschi Night" at Gillette Stadium special, the former Patriots great thought about the weather.

"It may be strange to say, but I hope it snows," he said.

Tedy Bruschi played some of his best football in the snow, whether it was the Snow Bowl against the Raiders in the playoffs after the 2001 season, when he jammed Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice's face into the fluffy white stuff, or his interception return for a touchdown against the Dolphins in 2003 that sent snowballs flying into the air.

Those are two top Bruschi moments, and at halftime of Monday's highly anticipated game against the rival New York Jets, the Patriots will honor the player who created them.

Bruschi will be joined by his wife, Heidi, and their sons Tedy Jr., Rex and Dante on the field during a ceremony. The rest of his family, including his brother and in-laws, also will be in town.

"As much family as I could bring in, they'll be here," said Bruschi, who says he would have loved sharing the moment with his late parents.

Bruschi, who works as an analyst for ESPN and ESPNBoston.com, said Tuesday that nerves have been building and he's unsure what his emotions will be when it's time to address the crowd.

"I don't know, because I've never done this before. I've always had the helmet and shoulder pads on in front of that crowd, on that field," he said. "Just like last year, the 50th anniversary team, it was different for me. To receive all the cheers, I appreciate it, I very much do. Throughout the course of my career, I've worn that helmet and people could never really see my facial expressions, but I smiled a lot. It was because of all the support they gave me, all the cheers."

Bruschi said Monday night could bring a greater sense of closure for him since his retirement prior to the 2009 season by giving him a chance to say goodbye and thank the fans personally.

"To be there and say it in front of all the season-ticket holders is very important to me," he said. "One of the things fans would come up to me and say is, 'I'm a season-ticket holder.' I would always ask, 'What section?' and then I'd know exactly where they are -- by the lighthouse, by the end zone ... "

One aspect that defined Bruschi's career with the Patriots was his connection with the fans, many of whom could relate to his "full time, full tilt" approach.

"I think it was the way my career started -- being drafted as a defensive lineman and then playing linebacker and not really knowing what I was doing. But I just worked hard and played hard and I think they appreciated that," Bruschi said when asked where he thought that connection originated. "I realized that off the bat; fans here just want to see effort sometimes. They want to see you play hard. They want to see you give your all, whether it's a winning or losing result. I always made sure I was that guy."

When Bruschi looks back on his career, and how he joined the club in 1996 as a third-round draft choice out of the University of Arizona, the trajectory mirrored that of the organization itself. As the team got better, so did Bruschi, which created a situation where he was growing with the organization while experiencing three Super Bowl championships and the opening of Gillette Stadium in 2002.

There was also the connection he made with fans while coming back from a stroke in 2005.

"I think a lot of fans lived that with me, it was so public, and whether I'd come back," he said. "Everyone had their opinion on whether I should or shouldn't, bringing my career into their homes on a different level, on whether football was important anymore or not. That's not a discussion that a lot of people have; usually it's a knee injury or something like that and there is no question the guy is going to come back. When you suffer a stroke and you think about coming back, it opens up a whole different bag of questions that you have to go through."

As for Monday's ceremony, one question that has been asked is whether Bruschi's No. 54 will be retired. That is not the plan, and while Bruschi said it would be an honor, he believes it's the right decision.

"I wouldn't mind seeing another linebacker wear 54, and see him perform well," he said. "I know there are a lot of Patriot numbers that are retired, but I think it would be nice to see all the numbers unretired. In football, you have a lot of players and there aren't a lot of numbers to use, so I think unretiring the numbers and adding some nostalgia to the stadium with a Ring of Honor -- with names and numbers and years they played -- would be something great."

Bruschi, who will take part in an ESPN-sponsored luncheon Monday with Jets defensive lineman Kris Jenkins, was asked how he'd like to be remembered as a player.

"I hear a lot of adjectives on how people describe careers and accolades. They talk about Pro Bowls, individual statistics, but the only statistic that I care about in my career is the number three -- and that's how many championships we won," Bruschi said.

"I just wanted to make myself into a championship football player. To say you were part of something special is all I ever wanted in my entire football career -- high school, college and pro. To be a part of it three times, I shake my head. Being retired and starting to talk to a lot of retired players, there are a lot of them out there that can't even say they have one.

"To have those three championships is how I define my career. To say that I was a championship player is the biggest compliment anyone can give me."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.