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Bruschi is a hit

Pats LB: 'The end result is still hitting someone'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The kid always loved contact.

Tedy Bruschi's introduction to football came with a handful of pals on a small, weather-beaten patch of grass in a tough part of San Francisco. Come Sunday, he will step onto the biggest and best manicured stage the game has to offer. But the thing Bruschi loved most about it has never changed.

"The end result is still hitting someone," he said as the Patriots and Eagles moved into the stretch run for the Super Bowl. "But now I know there's a lot more to it."

How much more depends on how deep you want to dig. On one level, Bruschi is talking about learning his craft, about how a defensive lineman who relied on speed and power morphed into a linebacker who can decipher opposing offenses with unerring accuracy and cause as much havoc with his intelligence as his aggression.

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On another level, it was about learning how to control the anger that roiled inside Bruschi since childhood. After his parents divorced, he struggled to please a demanding father and felt helpless to lift the burdens his mother had to take on. Bruschi fought often and drank more than he should have. The horizon never stretched beyond what was in front of him.

"I had a chip on my shoulder the size of a boulder," he told the Boston Globe last month. "I suppose it comes from growing up hard. I can't fully explain it. All I know is it seemed like I was angry a lot when I played football."

Bruschi didn't play organized football until he was 14, but he made up for the lost time in a hurry. He ran track, wrestled and lettered in football his last two years at Roseville High near Sacramento, Calif., but didn't think about playing college ball until the recruiting letters began pouring in.

His development into one of the game's finest linebackers has been documented on highlight reels ever since. Bruschi served his apprenticeship as a part-time defender and special-teams marvel, getting in just enough licks to keep him satisfied. All the while, he patiently mastered coach Bill Belichick's intricate schemes, studying film endlessly and gaining the experience and confidence necessary to become more than a bit player.

With more responsibility came more and more plays. He ripped the ball away from running backs, separated it from receivers, stole perfectly good throws from quarterbacks and carried a few back to the end zone. That kind of versatility has become as crucial to the success of New England's punishing, opportunistic defense as the mad genius of a coach who draws it up.

"Intense, passionate, productive, smart, physical and now you can use the words 'Pro Bowler,' too, to describe Tedy," said Mike Vrabel, who plays alongside Bruschi, "which was long overdue as far as I'm concerned."

Jim Litke is a columnist for the Associated Press.

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