During my lunch break from work today, I was waiting at an intersection for a traffic cop to wave me forward when Dale and Numie announced that there was a very special guest on the show--newly re-signed Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
"TEDY!!!!!!!!!" I hollered from the driver's seat, loud enough to startle the traffic cop.
Then I realized I had yet to dedicate any space on this blog to New England's finest athlete.
I also realize that it is inviting controversy to select Tedy Bruschi as my favorite New England active athlete, but hear me out. First, I follow sports stars based on a murky combination of their abilities on the field and the overall tone they have as people and performers. As a former musician, I think I judge even football players not according to how often they field passes or make tackles but how they do it.
Sports in general, to me, is not about winning. I don't know if this is because I am female, or artistically inclined, or that I have a penchant for a really good, soul-deep, heartbreaking story regardless of the outcome, but the famous Vince Lombardi attitude that winning is the only thing is pretty much the antithesis of my mindset.
I'm not going to say winning isn't important. I wouldn't give back those two Patriots Super Bowls, and I'd give up just about anything to see the Red Sox win the World Series. But is it the only thing? If it is, then you should get a kick out of watching just any old team take the field and win. And there are some who do. But the vast majority of us have a team we call ours, and for a reason.
My reason is that the joy I get from watching athletes is similar to the joy I get from watching any other kind of performers in a drama. It's not about how well or how often but how. How off-the-field character fuels the performance. How historic feuds and matchups alter it. How each player plays his part like an instrument in an orchestra, a dancer in a corps de ballet, a color on a canvas.
And Tedy is the best. Tedy is everything.
He's not Ray Lewis. He's not Tom Brady. It sounds cliche, but he doesn't want that kind of attention. He doesn't seem to want all the money in the world, either, having just inked a contract with the Patriots that defines "hometown discount."
Today on the radio, he told Dale and Numie, "I've helped build something here. [Staying in New England] is a quality of life issue for me."
He didn't say any of those trite sound bites about the fans, though, either, though he still gushes about the "snow confetti" during a game against the Miami Dolphins last season. He didn't wax verbose about the coaches or offer any of the inarticulate, meaningless verbal diarrhea we're used to from athletes. It's about him, make no mistake. But it's not about how much.
It's about how.
How he plays--like a rabid animal. I'll never forget seeing his face on the jumbo-tron during a cold game in December, where his breath on the cold air made him look like he was breathing fire.
How he thinks--which is brilliantly and lightning-fast on the field. Every down, every play, every pass, every run, when the dust settles and the pile clears, look for No. 54 and you'll know where the ball ended up. That's why the sign hung out at the stadium for him says "FULL TILT, FULL TIME".
How he acts--he's the one who leads the "Awwwwwww YEAH!" cheer the team does in the locker room. He's the one who gracefully forbears members of the press and public on every last occasion--be it a request for an interview or a hug. He's the one who signed an autograph on a random piece of paper for my boyfriend while trying to spend time with his son at a bookstore because my boyfriend told him that "my girlfriend will castrate me if I don't get you to sign something." He's the one whose picture in the Globe commemorative book about the 2003 Patriots does not feature him wrapped around a quarterback or locked in on a pass, but roughousing gently with his little boy on the field.
Most importantly, with Tedy it comes down to a single mystery: How he can possibly separate the wild hyena on the field, whose bright red shoes frequently leave the ground to deliver a devastating hit or pick off a pass for a game-winning interception and touchdown, from the gentle guy with the blow-dried 'do who is most often seen with his tiny blonde toddler in his arms off the field.
So is he Ray Lewis? Is he Tom Brady? Is he Pedro Martinez?
No. He's better.
Meanwhile, Tedy's appearance on the radio today took some of the sting out of the past weekend for the Sox, which was probably the most frustrating of the season so far:
Interesting strategy to bench your best hitter, Manny Ramirez, against the National League's most dominating righthander, Jason Schmidt, in order to give him two days off in a row. Ramirez hadn't gotten a breather, manager Terry Francona said, since the day he flew American and became a US citizen. Just a guess here, but if it was incumbent for Everyday Manny to get an extended hiatus, many Sox fans would have voted that Francona give him tomorrow night off at home against struggling righthander Kyle Lohse (2-4, 5.38 ERA) of the Twins rather than against Schmidt, who yesterday pitched his second one-hitter in barely a month for the San Francisco Giants to close out the Sox, 4-0, at SBC Park. (Edes, Globe)
And, in other good news, I officially have a crush on Barry Zito after reading a Sports Illustrated piece on him this week.
First of all, he is just adorable:
When he's not playing guitar Zito is often reading (Walden and Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, recently). Though he owns a high-definition TV, it's used almost exclusively for viewing DVDs. He doesn't have cable or satellite service, which keeps him from catching up on his favorite show, SpongeBob SquarePants. "He watches it with my seven-year-old daughter -- at least, that's his excuse," laughs Bonnie Zito, his older sister by 13 years. "It's hard for me to think of him as a man; I mean, I still buy him toys as presents."
Yet for all his childlike verve, Zito, at his core, exudes the serenity of a man comfortable with his philosophical base. "I tell him he has an old soul," says Kathy Jacobson, Zito's publicist, "because he seems to have so many life lessons all figured out, like he's been here before." Among the subjects to which Zito has had to devote some thought is the heaviest one of all. "Everyone focuses on the earthly state, but how cool might death be," Zito says. "I believe in spiritual rebirth, and I can't wait to experience that."
Secondly, though he has been slumping lately, he appears to be approaching a Buddha state mentally, and many of the old axioms he holds dear dovetail nicely with some of our own this season with regard to positive thinking:
When things aren't going well on the mound, thoughts creep into Zito's head -- What if the batter's waiting on a changeup? What if he hits it out? -- that make him more tentative and less self-assured. It's the reason he can say with a straight face, "I wish I were a robot. It would be great to just be able to ignore everything and pitch to a spot, to suppress the intellect and let intuition take over. But we all bring the past into the present, and objectivity is the first thing that goes when you're struggling. Go to any Class A game and you'll see guys who have nastier stuff than Roger Clemens, but they never make it out because they second-guess themselves.
"There's something to be said for the 'dumb jock,' because his intelligence doesn't get in the way," Zito continues. "I think I'm aware of what goes on in my mind more than some guys, and for that reason I fight more battles. It's weird, because I don't have that problem outside of baseball. I kind of lie back and let life come to me."
Maybe what he needs for his ailing ERA is a change of scene. And as another old axiom goes, you can never have too much pitching. Already rumors are afloat that the Sox and Yankees are both pursuing Seattle's Freddy Garcia, but why not go after a lefty (they help in Yankee Stadium!) who three years ago went 11-1 with a 1.32 ERA--and if you believe the SI story, did it by force of will alone?
Who better to break a curse than a guy who also watched his mother beat cancer through positive visualization--twice?
I know, I know, he's under contract, he's Oakland's Special Boy, he won't leave California, blah blah blah.
But I can dream. You never know.