Three things you might not know about Tedy Bruschi:
1. After Bruschi’s senior season at Roseville High School, the hometown newspaper selected Aaron McDonald as the area’s football Player of the Year. McDonald, of Bakersfield High School, is the father of UA All-America point guard Aari McDonald.
2. Bruschi’s father, Tony Bruschi, was a football coach at San Francisco’s Balboa High School and Poly High School, who named his second son after his father, Theodorico.
3. Bruschi’s only scholarship offers were from BYU, Washington State, San Jose State and Arizona. Most of the Pac-10 powers of the day considered Bruschi too short — 6 feet 1 inch — to play on the defensive line. Bruschi declined BYU’s offer to be an inside linebacker. The leading recruit of Arizona’s Class of 1991 was considered to be lineman Warner Smith of San Manuel High School.
The first time I became aware of Bruschi was early in Arizona’s Camp Cochise in mid-August, 1991. At lunch one day, UA coach Dick Tomey walked through the cafeteria line and joined three reporters at a nearby table.
Someone asked what player got Tomey’s attention during the morning practice.
“Tedy Bruschi,” said Tomey. “He’s got a motor that just goes and goes. He’s going to play right away.”
Indeed, two weeks later, Bruschi was listed as a starting defensive lineman for Arizona’s season opener at Ohio State. But Bruschi suffered nerve damage in his neck, and his college debut was delayed until Game 4, against Long Beach State. He came off the bench and made seven tackles.
A star was born.
Bruschi, who is No. 31 on our list of Tucson’s Top 100 Sports Figures of the last 100 years, is now in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was a two-time consensus All-American, tied the career NCAA record for sacks (55) and went on to play in the NFL Pro Bowl and help the New England Patriots win three Super Bowls.
If anyone saw that coming, or even close, it might have been Tomey and his assistant coach, Marc Lunsford, who was assigned to recruit the allegedly too-short, too-small lineman from Roseville, California.
When the Sacramento Bee newspaper published a feature story about Bruschi during the 1990 high school playoffs, it wrote that Lunsford sent Bruschi a postcard in the summer of '90 with a simple message:
“Be a Wildcat and be a star.”
“The thing with Tedy and a lot of football players is, you can’t measure their heart and desire,” Tomey told me when Bruschi was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013. “The year we recruited Tedy, we brought 63 players to campus. You just wondered if he could play as hard, as often, at this level, as he did in high school. He did. He had such great ball-awareness. You can’t teach that.”
Bruschi became the face of Tomey’s “Desert Swarm” era, the personality of what was, over three seasons, 1992-94, probably the leading defense in college football. In the 1994 issue of Sports Illustrated that featured Arizona on its cover — “Rock Solid,” it wrote — Bruschi was pictured inside riding a small scooter on campus.
It wasn’t a staged photo. For two years, Bruschi got from class to class riding a cheap scooter, emblematic of his blue-collar approach to football.
After he became famous, Bruschi ditched the scooter, but not for a shiny new sports car paid for by his parents or via a loan based on potential NFL earnings. He began to drive a dark blue 1967 Buick that his brother, Tony, had given him. It was the most famous car on campus.
That was Bruschi, who gave Tucson as much as he took. He even married Sahuaro High School grad Heidi Bomberger, who was a standout on the UA volleyball team.
Years later, when I asked Lunsford what he saw in Bruschi that Top 25 programs did not see, Lunsford said “quickness, football sense and balance. I went to one of his high school track meets and he was the most coordinated shot putter and discus thrower on the field. He put all of his energy into it. You could see how much it mattered to him. He was such a winner.”
Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @ghansen711