Tedy Bruschi, fans thank each other

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For 13 seasons, Tedy Bruschi was one of the most prepared members of the New England Patriots, poring over game plans week after week, which is one reason the inside linebacker was one of the game's best before retiring following the 2008 season.

But Monday night? For his speech to the sellout crowd at halftime on Tedy Bruschi Night at Gillette Stadium, when owner Robert Kraft and the rest of organization honored him for his stellar play, which helped the Pats rack up three Super Bowl titles?

"I don't have anything written," admitted Bruschi moments after the pregame coin toss Monday night.

"It's going to be off the top of my head. My family, a lot of my teammates I've already thanked personally, but to be here to thank the fans and of course Mr. Kraft, my coach [Bill Belichick]. I appreciate Mr. Kraft having a night for me. It's an honor," said Bruschi, who was called the "perfect player" by Belichick when he announced his retirement.

The time for Bruschi to do some quick thinking and speaking came at halftime, with the Patriots demolition of the Jets putting the fans in an especially giddy mood.

And the fans' euphoria increased when Bruschi was escorted to midfield, with the Kraft family leading the Bruschi family to a stage that was flanked by the Patriots' cheerleaders and the End Zone Militia.

Kraft opened the brief ceremony by ticking off some of Bruschi's accomplishments, calling him the "heart and soul" of the team. Then, much to the crowd's delight, Kraft asked if the fans wanted to see Bruschi in his home Patriots' jersey one more time.

The crowd's roar left no doubt as to its answer. A wide smile crossed Bruschi's face as Kraft pulled out a Bruschi jersey, with his number 54 on it, and handed it to his former All-Pro linebacker. Bruschi peeled off his heavy winter coat and his sports jacket and donned the jersey, with the fans loudly roaring their approval.

As Bruschi began to address the crowd, the fans broke out into a loud and prolonged chant of "Bruuuuu," just as they would do when Bruschi would make a big play for the Pats' defense.

"I'm proud to say I played for Bill Belichick," Bruschi said after exchanging a hug with Kraft.

"I'm also proud that I played for only one team and that team was the New England Patriots. When you play for the New England Patriots it's about winning championships and those banners.

"When you look at those banners marking those teams I want you to think of Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk, Joe Andruzzi, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Ted Johnson, Larry Izzo, Richard Seymour and so many more," Bruschi said, with each name eliciting a roar.

And with the crowd chanting "Tedy, Tedy, Tedy," Bruschi continued.

"When I look at those banners I will remember you -- the best fans in the world. I wasn't raised here but after playing here for 13 years I consider myself a New Englander. Thank you very much," Bruschi said.

When he finished, fireworks shot up from the other side of the field, one last salute to a core member of the Patriots' dynasty, which produced three Super Bowl championships in a four-year span from 2002-2005.

Despite suffering from a mild stroke only four weeks after the Patriots had vanquished the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl in 2005, Bruschi fought his way back to the field with his customary determination and hard work.

He was cleared to return to action on Oct. 30, 2006, and promptly racked up seven tackles in a 21-16 win over Buffalo his first week back, earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Little wonder he was a fan favorite.

Now, he has another job.

"I've moved pretty quickly into the next chapter. I'm an analyst with ESPN and that's something I enjoy. It keeps me in the game. I get to watch the game. It's fun for me," Bruschi said.

But nowhere near the fun he provided for the Pats' fans.

Even now, two years removed from suiting up for the Patriots, many fans at New England's games are spotted wearing Bruschi jerseys.

"I've always felt a special bond with the fans," Bruschi said. "I've always said that was the biggest compliment fans ever gave me, to wear my jersey on their back and my name on their back. I still see them once in a while and it's very flattering. It's a great honor to see that."

Rene Rancourt, the legendary national anthem singer of Boston Bruins games, paid homage to Bruschi. Rancourt sang the anthem on Monday night while wearing a blue Patriots jersey with Bruschi's number 54 and name on it, pointing to the number as he finished singing.

"He was the heart of the championship dynasty," said Randy "Zip" Pierce of Everett, Mass., who helped start the Tedy Bruschi Fan Club.

"And that's a big statement because this team had a lot of heart. That was their core," Pierce said prior to the game. "Part of that was because he came in as a rookie and developed entirely within, so he's always been a fundamental part [of the organization's success]. Tedy, start to finish, was always at the core of it.

"Class on and off the field. That's why the fans love him so much."