Last call for Bruschi

By Craig Sanders

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Skateboarding down

Golden Gate

Street in San Francisco, a kid could travel around the city all day, a quarter for a trolley ticket taking him from Fisherman's Wharf with its biting cold ocean winds and lapping gray sea to Chinatown or Lombard Street.

Tedy Bruschi could go out with his friends every day and find a new challenge to satisfy his self-proclaimed reckless abandon. He could come home and fight with his sister Natalia or brother Tony or see if he could skateboard down a long set of stairs, the sound of the wheels knocking against the concrete.

When Bruschi moved to Roseville, Calif. a small city north of San Francisco and entered high school, it could easily have become a culture shock for the 14-year-old. The small town of Roseville lacked the San Francisco's flavor, but Bruschi soon found other distractions.

One day he walked into the cafeteria and saw his friends lined up, their cleats sitting on the floor next to them. He asked them what they were for.

"Football," one of them said. "There are tryouts today. You should come out."

"Heck, why not," Bruschi anwered.

He showed up for practice that afternoon, wearing an old pair of sneakers. The coach came out, whistle blowing, watching the boys line up in their chosen positions. Bruschi stood in the middle of the field and looked around as everyone else trotted off. He had played football before, on the long green lawns in a park in San Francisco, but it was like most children's games: throw the ball and tackle whoever catches it.

The coach looked over and saw Bruschi standing there.

"You, get over there with the defensive lineman," he said.

Fate made the first spin of its wheel. Bruschi never left the line.

Bruschi, 22, will play his last game at Arizona Stadium on Saturday against Oregon. It has been a long voyage for him with Arizona, five years in the making. He helped guide his teams to three straight winning seasons and the best record among Pacific 10 Conference teams in his four playing years with the Wildcats. He has 49.5 sacks in his career at Arizona, leaving him only 2.5 behind career sack leader Derrick Thomas (Alabama 1985-88). But for Bruschi, his final home game will bring far different feelings than any of those accomplishments.

"I've never been nervous about a home game before like I am about this one," Bruschi said. "I know it's my last home game. I know it's the last time I'll hear the fans go 'Bruuuschi.' Mostly I'm excited because it is an opportunity to win and get the team back in bowl contention"

Sitting in McKale Center, Bruschi, fifth-year communications senior, recounts how he has changed from that lost youth standing alone in the middle of the field to the all-time sack leader in Pac-10 Conference history.

A white cap was pulled backward over his shaggy black hair, his wide shoulders stretching his T-shirt. He told his story with a laugh, a smile, an occasional grim expression on his darkly tanned face that spoke of his half-Italian, half-Filipino heritage.

He had come into the Arizona program wearing that trademark black hair.

"He looked like Jesus when he got here," senior linebacker Charlie Camp said.

Bruschi has earned his share of awards. An All-America player, a two-time finalist for the Lombardi Trophy, given to college football's best defensive lineman, the top-rated defensive player in a number of college magazines they are all individual accomplishments he shares with his team.

"Everything I earn, everything I get, is just a reflection of what the team has accomplished," Bruschi said.

When he recorded three sacks Sept. 16 against Illinois, he broke the Pac-10 sack record. For the 6-foot-1, 243-pound defensive lineman, it was a moment when he entered the record books. Unfortunately, no matter what he accomplishes, the football world will always judge him on his size. At his weight, he is simply not a giant among defensive linemen.

"The thing that bothers me the most is that people would pay so much attention to a guy's physical attributes," Bruschi said. "It's not about that. They don't measure the desire to play the game."

It is Bruschi's reckless abandon on the football field that has characterized his play.

"He has a motor that never quits," Arizona head coach Dick Tomey said. "He has such an incredible intensity. Bruschi will do whatever it takes to win. He is also one of the best leaders that I have ever coached."

Bruschi has garnered respect from coaches and players around the league as one of the nation's premier pass rushers. His name and face have shown up everywhere from the front of Sports Illustrated to the inside of Playboy magazine in its college football issue to Bob Hope's Christmas special.

In the process, Bruschi has been transformed from a person to a name and face. Fans know him for the passion he shows on the field as he runs down quarterbacks, big number 68 turning around the edge of the offensive line and violently introducing himself. He is identified with his bushy hair, his interesting quotes, the way he seems to encompass the very heart of Arizona's Desert Swarm defense.

Yet there is more to Tedy Bruschi than that, just as there is more to any athlete. There is the Tedy Bruschi who walks from practice and signs autographs, or gives countless interviews or still can't beat his brother Tony in arm wrestling. There is the Tedy Bruschi who wouldn't talk about himself to reporters as a freshman because he thought he hadn't done anything to deserve the recognition. There is the Tedy Bruschi who huddled around team members to offer them support after the death of teammate Damon Terrell.

"The biggest change I've undergone since coming here is that I've grown to be a man," Bruschi said. "I would tell anybody who wanted to come here, 'You're 18 years old when you get here. You'll be about 21, and you'll be a man when you leave.'"

His mother, Natalia, and stepfather, Ronald Sandys, supported Bruschi, though he says his mother didn't exactly understand the game at first. They helped him through high school, and when it came time to make a decision about college, it wasn't whether he could play collegiate ball, but whether he wanted to.

"Actually, the decision at the time was between playing football and playing the saxophone," Bruschi said. "I think I made the right decision."

Bruschi's change began when he first arrived on campus in 1991 as a recruit of UA running back coach Mark Lunsford. At the time, the defensive lineman had three options: He could have gone to Washington State, Brigham Young or Arizona. BYU wanted him to convert to linebacker, which he was unwilling to do at the time, and Washington State never got a chance. He fell in love with Tucson.

"The whole city just has a kind of atmosphere," Bruschi said. "When I visited colleges I asked myself if I could spend the next five years of my life there. When I came to Tucson, I knew I could."

Injuries among the Wildcat players that first season pushed Bruschi from practice squad member to second string to starter in short order. He played in three games that season, breaking his thumb and receiving a medical redshirt. At the time, Bruschi was disappointed, but he would unknowingly find himself thankful.

"It was just like the time the coach said, 'You, go over to the defensive line,'" Bruschi said. "I wouldn't be here right now if it hadn't been for that broken thumb."

Bruschi will leave Arizona Stadium forever after tomorrow's Homecoming game, shaking his black hair and walking from the field. He will most likely head to the NFL, to a big city with trolleys or a lapping gray sea.

Tedy Bruschi will be prepared for whatever challenges await. The five years at Arizona may have transformed him into a man, but Bruschi still attacks life with the same reckless abandon of his youth.

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