Listed in numerical order on page 155 of Arizona’s 1991 football media guide is No. 68, Tony Bruschi.
Freshman. Tackle. Nobody.
Now, all these years later, I climb the stairs of the Cherry Avenue parking garage. At the fourth floor, I can see over the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and into Arizona Stadium. A work crew has finished a football masterpiece.
In navy blue letters, Tedy Bruschi’s name and number have been placed into Wildcat football heaven. This time they got it right.
Someday, when there is more time to understand branding possibilities, the school will likely remove Bruschi’s name and number from its high-altitude position atop the press box and display it where it can be seen without climbing stairs or reaching for the binoculars.
Bruschi’s name is sandwiched by those of Darryll Lewis and Rob Waldrop, his 1990s contemporaries, smack in the middle of nine ex-Wildcats, the most exclusive club in Arizona football history.
A lot of people have worn No. 68 at Arizona. Brandon Phillips wore it for five seasons. Glenn Howell. Pete Mahoney. Mickey Baucus wears it now.
But as fellow No. 68 Paul Schmidt, a former Flowing Wells High School standout, an Arizona letterman from 1973-75, said on Monday, “I sure wasn’t in his class as an athlete.’’
Arizona isn’t retiring Bruschi’s number; with the exception of John Elway, whose old No. 7 will be retired at Stanford next month, almost nobody does that anymore.
But by putting 68 in the school’s Ring of Heaven, or whatever it’s called, Bruschi will come full circle on Saturday when he is to be honored at halftime of the Utah-Arizona game.
Nobody will call him Tony.
These days, everybody seems to want to get close to Tedy. He was inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame in July. He will be in Tucson this week primarily to be honored for his selection into the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The official induction ceremony will be in December.
He has been embraced by Wildcats of every rank, especially by Rich Rodriguez, who on Monday said:
“He was one of the first guys I talked to when I got here. He came and talked to the team this past spring. In 28 years of coaching, he gave one of the best motivational talks I’ve ever heard.
“He had everybody on the edge of their seat and I think if he could have suited up he would have. He’s everything you’d want to build a football program around. If you want to win championships, you need to have a Tedy Bruschi mentality.”
How’s that for an endorsement?
I remember sitting by former Arizona coach Dick Tomey at Camp Cochise, August, 1991, when few knew if it was “Tony Bruschi” or “Tedy Bruschi. “ He was a true freshman from Roseville, Calif., whose recruiting choices were BYU, Washington State and Arizona.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy with a motor like that,’’ Tomey said. “Don’t print this, but he’s impressed me more than any first-year player I’ve ever seen.’’
Now it can be printed.
Much of the reason the Southern Arizona Chapter of the National Football Foundation pursued and forwarded Bruschi’s selection to the Hall of Fame is because he has been exemplary and engaging. The UA would be wise to give Bruschi’s name, number and story wide circulation now and forever.
He became so popular in New England that the Boston Red Sox chose him to throw out an honorary first pitch on Opening Day, 2005, celebrating the long-
celebrated 2004 World Championship. But rather than wear his Patriots’ jersey No. 54, rather than celebrate himself, Bruschi wore jersey No. 47.
That was the jersey number of Red Sox manager Terry Francona, the UA’s most prominent baseball alumnus.
When asked by RichRod to speak to the team during April’s Spring Game, Bruschi typically went beyond. He doesn’t just give a speech. He rushes the quarterback.
“He was intense,’’ UA quarterback B. J. Denker said Monday. “He yelled and screamed and hit a couple of desks.’’
Arizona didn’t issue Bruschi’s No. 68 in 1996 or 1997, preferring to step back, absorb and honor his career the way it did with Hall of Famer Ricky Hunley’s ol’ No. 89.
In the summer of ’91, when the 18-year-old Bruschi arrived in Tucson, he discovered that no one had worn No. 68 the previous season. It was, in a football sense, an empty canvas.
On Saturday, his artwork will be on permanent display.