Tedy Bruschi has played in the NFL for a while. He's been through preseason games, regular season games, Super Bowls, and Pro Bowls.
But nothing quite like this.
Granted this is Bruschi's fifth Super Bowl. There was the loss to the Packers in 1996, and then the championships in 2001, 2003, and 2004.
This one, however, will be a little bit different.
It's Bruschi's "biggest game" since suffering a stroke.
On February 15th, 2005, Tedy Bruschi awoke with numbness in the left side of his body, a lack of balance, and the beginning stages of a headache.
Convinced it was nothing, Bruschi let the symptoms simmer, until a call to his father-in-law convinced he and his wife Heidi that something was seriously wrong with the Patriots linebacker.
Before calling 911, however, the symptoms began to get worse, as Bruschi's headache increased in its intensity, and his vision started to blur.
After a thirty-five minute ambulance ride to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston with his wife, and extensive hospital testing, it was determined that Tedy Bruschi had suffered a stroke.
A player who had gone head-to-head with 300-pound lineman was now at odds with himself; with his own health.
It was determined that Bruschi's stroke had been caused by a blood clot. A clot that was caused, by a "hole in his heart."
A condition that had been with him (unknown to anyone) since his birth, the hole (or Patent Foramen Ovale, or PFO) had opened between two ventricles, allowing blood to pass between then. A clot then formed, and traveled up to the right side of his brain. Fortunately for Bruschi, the clot never reached a larger trouble-area in his brain.
If that had happened, there's no telling what damage could have been done.
Bruschi returned home, where he would await surgery to mend his heart.
Until the surgery, Bruschi's life became a whirlwind of activity: awaiting his nurse (Debbie Reynolds) to administer his blood-thinners, injections of Framin (a drug that prevents clotting, injected into the stomach), and dealing with the business of his retirement from the National Football League.
On March 15th of that same year, Bruschi underwent surgery to repair his PFO. Through the femoral artery, a small device (described in his book as being "as thin as pencil lead") was sent through the bloodstream up to Bruschi's heart. Upon being released over the PFO, the device expanded to the size of a nickel, and the heart was allowed to heal overtop of the device sealing, the hole.
All that was left was the rehab.
The rehab process had actually begun in February, prior to Bruschi's surgery, with Anne Jacobson. Despite Bruschi's struggles and his pent-up frustration, Anne always found an improvement in Bruschi's performance to key on.
From learning to walk again, to running, to improving his motor skills, Anne always encouraged Tedy to keep working for it, to keep striving to get himself healthy again.
Bruschi had the ultimate goal of returning to a "normal life." Not the "normal life" of an NFL player, but the normal life of a father and husband.
Bruschi did eventually reach that point. But upon reaching that point, Tedy realised something else.
Tedy Bruschi felt that he was ready to resume his NFL career.
In a surprising move, Bruschi confronted Bill Belichick with a desire to play. This was the same Tedy Bruschi who retired from football "permanently" in March following his stroke. This was the same Tedy Bruschi who was preparing to accept a position within the Patriots organization in order to still be able to feed his family.
This is the same Tedy Bruschi, who just a few months earlier, turned down the idea of "just taking a year off."
For a while, after announcing his comeback, Bruschi said that he would, in fact, take the rest of the year off and come back in 2006. Well, Bruschi's mind had changed (again) by the inception of the 2005 season, and he began eyeing a Week 8 return.
After getting back into game shape-Bruschi was only six weeks behind his teammate's development wise—Bruschi was prepared for an October 30th contest against the Buffalo Bills.
From that first game of his comeback against the Bills, to the AFC Championship game a week ago against the Chargers, Tedy Bruschi has had a different outlook on the game of football, and the game of life.
You can say that the upcoming Super Bowl is big, but that probably doesn't make it any more meaningful than that first game back to Tedy Bruschi.
Maybe the Super Bowl is the most meaningful game of the Patriots season, but of Bruschi's career? Hell, it's just like every other game, because each game means the same thing.
It means he's back doing what he loves.
Bruschi realizes that he's lucky, but more-so, he realizes that he's a role model, and a success story that every stroke survivor can look up to and say "if Tedy can do it, why can't I?"
With that, Tedy, just go out there on Sunday, and give it your all.
Go out there and give it your all for Anne, Heidi, your sons, the doctors and everyone who supported you during your recovery.
Go out there and give it your all for every stroke survivor that your story gave a small glimmer of hope to.
Go out there and give it your all for my grandmother, Edith Agnes Willard, who died of a stroke in October of 2004, and everyone else who lost a family member to a stroke.
Go out and give it your all for Geoff Gignac and MaryLou Peters, two friends who are stuck in the recovery process, and everyone else forced to recover from such a potentially debilitating injury.
But most importantly, give it your all, not for 19-0, another ring, or a place in history—but because you love the game of football and your family so much, because you persevered when the going got tough, and because -in a time of so much negativity—you gave everyone a little glimmer of hope, as to what love—the love of a game, the love from the fans, or the love of your family can do.
Thank you Tedy Bruschi.