BOSTON — Tedy Bruschi began the first day of his post-football life by taking out the trash.

"I'm real life," he said, "I'm just regular."

Hardly.

Bruschi is a unique player who won three Super Bowls, spent a long career with one team and got coach Bill Belichick to drop his stoic persona on Monday and, in a voice shaking with emotion, call Bruschi "a perfect player."

And one more thing:

"The thought of playing professional football after experiencing a stroke. I mean, is that a statement you hear every day?" Bruschi said. "It's not."

After all that Bruschi, a third-round draft choice from the UA in 1996, announced his retirement after 13 seasons with the New England Patriots.

Smiling and never expressing regrets or shedding a tear, the longtime leader of the Patriots defense said he was simply too old and found his "body doesn't heal as quickly."

He also had accomplished all his goals except "winning a fourth championship," he said. "Knowing I have three previous ones, I think I'll let that one go.

"I feel great about myself right now."

In February 2005, Bruschi suffered a mild stroke and had surgery for a hole in his heart, but he made it back for the seventh game of the season.

"I was retired," he said. "I didn't think it was possible."

His performance declined last year, and rookie Jerod Mayo emerged as the leader in the middle of the defense.

"He kind of took me under his wing when I first came here," Mayo said. "He told me then that one day he would pass the torch on to me and the rest of the team, and I guess today's that day."