At least, not yet, anyway.
I remain open to the possibility that I may one day become accustomed to not seeing No. 54 flying around the field (or, at least, not a No. 54 with the name "Bruschi" attached)--but maybe not.
You may have noticed a distinct lack of Patriots-related blogging in this space so far this year. This is due in part to the fact that, as a divided sports fan, I cope by becoming fully immersed in one season or another, and so I am still fully in Red Sox addict mode of late.
But if we're being honest, I think it's because I remain in denial about Tedy. And I remain avoidant of all things Patriots because they remind me that Tedy's gone.
Melodramatic? Maybe. But it's not like I decided I'd act this way. I had actually been wondering what my problem was for a week or so now--it's only been when I've really thought about things with brutal honesty that I've realized that grief over Tedy might actually be at the root of it.
Now, grief, that's a word you have to be careful with, especially with recent events being what they are. I'm not talking about grief in terms of an actual loved one leaving or dying. Or even a pet. But it's a stage above crying-at-a-movie sadness, more personal...and while even I think it's silly, when I contemplate the opening of the '05-'06 season, I feel a sadness shocking in its weight mixed in with my usual excitement.
I've been through this before, after all; Lawyer Milloy's departure from the Pats, and then Nomar's from the Sox (followed by Pedro and Ty Law) were a lesson in choosing to follow a team rather than a player. I learned the fine art of embracing a player while he was wearing the correct uniform, and then letting him go when he took it off--and doing both wholeheartedly, without equivocation.
But losing Tedy is different. For one thing, unlike Pedro, Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy, he didn't leave for more money. Unlike Nomar, he was perfectly happy, perfectly ensconced and loved to an unspeakable extent by his team and his coaches and his fans. Tedy, unlike those other guys, was ripped away from his career suddenly, without warning, and in his prime as a veteran Patriot.
But it's more than that.
Being a Patriots fan has become a large part of my identity over the past four years. Tedy Bruschi, meanwhile, had come to embody the identity of the Patriots - tough, balls-out, blue-collar, team guys who overcame naysayers. Where the two intersected--where Tedy, even more than Tom Brady, believe it or not, had come to symbolize all the values the Patriots represent in my life, that's where I feel a hole that isn't going away.
It's not because we've lost Tedy as a role-player on the field (although it will be a tough transition for the defense to be without him and several of his fellow veterans, at least to start). It's because we've lost that full tilt, full time, fire-breathing, interception-nabbing firebrand that made us proud to say, "That's our team. That's what we stand for."
I may not be alone in this, of course. Ted Johnson was on my morning show today, and many Pats fans called to wish him well, but one guy, his voice cracking, told him, "If you see Tedy Bruschi, be sure to give him our love." The way you'd say that to someone seeing one of your long-lost relatives or friends. Not give him our thanks, or tell him we wish him well, or anything lukewarm like that. "Give him our love." And the guy meant it. You get the sense that most Pats fans would hug Tedy Bruschi fiercely if they ever met him, whether or not the guy knows us from Adam.
Which leads me to the second difficult fact about this loss: in addition to being a linchpin of the team, Tedy also had a connection with the fans none of his fellow players ever attained. Game after game, he'd be sure to visit his fan section (the ones with the FTFT sign hung over the wall) before hitting the locker room. He could most often be seen on the Jumbo-Tron waving his arms and hollering to get the fans psyched up. He was the beating heart not only of the team on the field, but the twelfth man off it. I don't think I've ever seen an athlete who so fully occupied both positions, on any team, in any sport, period.
And so despite all the training I thought I had in remaining team-focused, it appears my attachment to Tedy is more stubborn than I've trained myself to let a player-fan relationship become. Somewhere around 2003, watching his frozen breath billow out like smoke from a dragon's mouth on the big screen at Gillette, I handed over my heart to Tedy Bruschi, no questions asked.
The problem with giving your heart away, of course, is that you can lose it. For good, sometimes. I'm not saying I'll never get it back, but I know it'll never be the same.