His goal at the outset, Tedy Bruschi said, wasn't to make it back into the New England Patriots' lineup or to be a Pro Bowl linebacker again. His first goal, he said, was far more basic than that.
"Would I ever see again? That was one of my biggest concerns," Bruschi said Monday at the news conference in which he announced that he plans to resume practicing with the Patriots on Wednesday, about eight months after suffering what his doctors told him was a mild stroke.
His vision returned to normal, Bruschi said, about six weeks after his stroke. And as he regained his health and became increasingly certain that he would be able to live a normal life off the field, Bruschi's thoughts gradually returned to football.
"There were times in my mind when I thought I was done: 'Come on, I can't see. I can't walk. How am I going to be able to play football again?' " he said. "To come from there to here . . . I'm very excited."
His initial plan didn't necessarily involve attempting to play this season. He knew he could make it back, he said, but it might not be until next season. Still, he and the Patriots left open the possibility of a quicker comeback by opting against placing him on the injured reserve list, which would have made him ineligible to play for the club this season. Bruschi called that a collective decision made by him and the team.
He watched the Patriots struggle in the early stages of the season without him and without cornerback Ty Law, who had been released in the offseason, and minus departed top assistant coaches Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis. He watched the club lose safety Rodney Harrison to a season-ending knee injury. But that, he maintained, did not influence his decision to try to return sooner rather than later. His health had to come first.
"I couldn't let how the team was doing affect my mindset on my rehabilitation," Bruschi said.
What did affect his decision, he said, was his ability to complete his workouts, to run and jump and lift weights as proficiently as he'd done before. Every doctor with whom he consulted told him that he was healthy enough to return to football, said Bruschi, who reportedly underwent surgery for the repair of a hole in his heart that is thought to have caused his stroke.
He stressed that, according to his doctors, he won't be at any greater risk than any other player on the field when he resumes playing. He and his wife Heidi made the decision for him to return this season when they stopped recently at one of their favorite breakfast spots on their way home from a doctor visit.
"It's been a long road back," said Bruschi, who has three sons. "I wouldn't jump in something without being 100 percent sure, and I am. . . . I don't have any reservations, and I can't. Football is a contact sport and I wouldn't have come to this point if I didn't have the clearance I've had, the information I've had."
He said he has no doubt in his mind that he will play in a game this season. But that is not a given. He must prove to Coach Bill Belichick that he's ready. Bruschi, 32, is on the Patriots' physically unable to perform list. Once he begins practicing, the club will have three weeks to place him on the active roster or put him on the IR list, ending his season. The defending champions have a bye this weekend before playing the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 30 at Gillette Stadium.
"This has been a step-by-step process," Bruschi said, refusing to set a goal publicly for when he'll play in a game. " . . . I'm going to let Bill decide that. . . . I'm another player on this team, and I will be evaluated by Coach Belichick and the other coaches."
He did, however, offer a warning to any player who lines up across from him and feels sympathy. "If they want to come at me a little differently," Bruschi said, "that's okay because I'll hit them the same way."
Bruschi said he hasn't signed any sort of waiver absolving the Patriots from legal liability if something goes wrong, but he acknowledged that's likely to happen before he plays in a game.
He suffered his stroke while he was at his professional pinnacle, just after helping the Patriots to their third Super Bowl title in four seasons and then playing in his first career Pro Bowl. He will return, if he returns, to a club that has a 3-3 record and is yet to win consecutive games this season. But Bruschi, who indicated that he has participated in every team meeting this season, said the Patriots' spirit is far from broken.
"I see fight," he said. "I see hard working. I see a lot of things that make me want to play with this team right now."
He received an outpouring of support, he said, and now he wants to be a beacon of hope for the young stroke victims who wrote to him and offered encouragement.
"The minute I was told I had a stroke, it was never, 'Woe is me,' " Bruschi said. "It was, 'What do I have to do to get better?' . . . I would hope I'm educating everyone about stroke. I feel like I'm the face of stroke."
Bucs Turn to Simms
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' promising season now is entrusted to Chris Simms, the talented but erratic third-year pro who has yet to demonstrate that he can add the necessary polish to his game to be a winning quarterback in the NFL.
The Buccaneers haven't made it official but it appears that the knee injury suffered by Brian Griese during Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins, which upped Tampa Bay's record to 5-1, will end his season. Griese apparently tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden said during his news conference Monday that the outlook wasn't particularly promising but the team would wait a day or two before making a final determination about Griese's status.
Simms, 25, was a third-round draft pick by the Buccaneers out of the University of Texas in 2003 and has played six games over the past two seasons, with two starts.
The Buccaneers also have Luke McCown on the roster and are considering adding a quarterback. They could re-sign rookie Jared Allen, who was with the team in training camp, or they could opt for a veteran from among a list of available quarterbacks that includes Shaun King, Chad Hutchinson, Tim Couch, Jesse Palmer, Doug Johnson and Jeff George. Another intriguing long-shot possibility is Rich Gannon, the former league most valuable player who played for Gruden in Oakland but retired after suffering a neck injury in a game last season against the Buccaneers.
Gruden said Monday that familiarity with the Buccaneers' offensive system wouldn't be the determining factor in which quarterback the team signs.
"My wife is familiar with our system," Gruden said, adding later: "We're not interested, Cindy."
More QB Shuffling
Cardinals Coach Dennis Green isn't disclosing yet whether Josh McCown or Kurt Warner will be the team's starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.
McCown started the last two games while Warner was sidelined by a groin injury, throwing for 783 yards and four touchdowns and engineering the Cardinals' only victory of the season. But he threw three interceptions in a loss to Carolina nine days ago. Warner managed only one touchdown pass and no wins while starting the first three games of the season. . . .
Quarterback Jeff Garcia has been cleared to practice with the Detroit Lions this week after suffering a broken leg and severely sprained ankle in the final preseason game. If he feels and looks good on the practice field this week, it's possible that he will supplant Joey Harrington as the Lions' starter for Sunday's game at Cleveland. Harrington is the league's lowest-rated passer and was booed by the home crowd at Ford Field during last Sunday's loss to the Panthers. . . .
The Panthers have a bye this weekend, and Coach John Fox has made it clear that Jake Delhomme will be the club's starting quarterback when it returns to play the Minnesota Vikings at home on Oct. 30. Chris Weinke led the Panthers to their winning touchdown against the Lions after Delhomme was knocked woozy by a blow to the head. . . .
Ben Roethlisberger is scheduled to return to Pittsburgh's lineup Sunday at Cincinnati. The second-year quarterback sat out last weekend's loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars because of a bruised and hyperextended knee. Since the beginning of last season, the Steelers have a 16-1 regular-season record with Roethlisberger as their starter and a 2-2 mark with Tommy Maddox in the lineup. . . .
Tennessee wideout Drew Bennett underwent thumb surgery Monday and likely will be sidelined two weeks. . . .
The status of Oakland wide receiver Randy Moss is not yet clear. He suffered bruised ribs, a strained groin muscle and a bruised pelvic bone in last Sunday's loss to San Diego.
The New Orleans Saints reportedly fired Arnold Fielkow as their executive vice president of administration. Fielkow had been heavily involved in the team's lease negotiations regarding the Superdome but became embroiled in controversy last month when a state senator in Louisiana said he'd been told by Fielkow that Saints owner Tom Benson wanted to move the franchise to San Antonio permanently.
Chargers Busy on Trade Front
San Diego made two deals before the league's trading deadline passed at 4 p.m. The Chargers sent guard Toniu Fonoti to Minnesota for a draft pick, and traded quarterback Cleo Lemon to Miami for quarterback A.J. Feeley and a draft choice.
Seahawks safety Ken Hamlin was in the intensive-care unit of a Seattle-area hospital after suffering head injuries in a fight with two men outside a nightclub around 2 a.m. Monday.
According to the Associated Press, Hamlin has a fractured skull, a small blood clot and bruising of the brain tissue. He was in serious but stable condition and was expected to remain in intensive care for a day or two. . . .
A torn triceps will sideline New York Jets center Kevin Mawae for the rest of the season. . . .
Left tackle Flozell Adams will miss the remainder of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in the Dallas Cowboys' victory Sunday over the New York Giants. The loss is a big one for the Cowboys, since they already were having problems at right tackle and Coach Bill Parcells has said repeatedly that his offense's ability to throw the ball effectively this season will depend on his offensive line's success in protecting immobile quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Torrin Tucker likely becomes the starter at left tackle unless the Cowboys make a trade, sign a veteran or move guard Larry Allen to tackle. Tucker lost the preseason competition for the right tackle job to Rob Petitti.
The sprained ankle suffered Sunday by Cowboys wide receiver Patrick Crayton is to keep him sidelined at least a month. That probably makes Peerless Price the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver behind starters Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson. Parcells originally had expressed fears that Crayton's ankle was broken. . . .
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jerome McDougle underwent emergency hernia surgery. McDougle, who was shot in the stomach by armed robbers in Miami before training camp, had adhesions and scar tissue from an earlier operation after the shooting removed. He is expected to be sidelined all season. . . .
Arizona defensive end Calvin Pace will miss the rest of the season after cutting his arm when he fell through a window at his home in Atlanta over the weekend, according to the team. The Cardinals had a bye last weekend.