By: With Steve Grogan & R.R. Marshall
October 24, 2005

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Former Patriots rip NFL’s new anthem policy
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R.R. Marshall: Steve, the return of Tedy Bruschi has been the hot button topic in the news lately. What are your thoughts; is this something the former Pro Bowler really should be doing?

Steve Grogan: If you have been around the game long enough you know that these players are treated by some of the best doctors in the world and he's gotten checked by some of the foremost specialists in their field. If they have cleared him to go I would say it is a safe thing for him to do. It's hard to explain to people but when football is in your blood and you love it so much you have to keep playing if at all possible. Now if just one of the doctors told him he might be at risk because of his stroke I don't think you'd see him coming back. But they have all told him he has no more chance of having a problem by playing football than he does by wrestling with his kids. If that's the case then why not come back? How huge an impact he will make on the field is hard to say right now, but emotionally he'll bring back some of that leadership and fire that they need on that defense right now.

RRM: You suffered so many injuries during your career; did you have to consult with doctors about continuing to play in your last few seasons like Bruschi has?

SG: After I had my neck surgery in 1989 I consulted with a lot of doctors to see if I could continue to play without being at risk. I saw about four specialists that assured not only me but the Patriots as well that I was not taking any risks and that it was safe for me to go back out on the football field. I believe I had to sign a waiver indemnifying the Patriots if something were to happen. I'm sure I was just like Tedy Bruschi, I just loved to play football so much and I knew it was coming to an end and I wanted to make it last as long as possible. Now if one doctor has said I was really being foolish going back out there and that I was risking permanent damage, then I probably would have reconsidered. But I never got that assessment, and from everything I understand Tedy Bruschi never got that diagnosis either.

If a few of those doctors told him it wasn't safe to continue playing then he wouldn't be back out there, and the Patriots wouldn't let him back out there. I heard some people trying to compare this to the Reggie Lewis situation but to me there is no similarity here. Reggie Lewis had four doctors tell him that he shouldn't play basketball, and they found one that said it was okay and he started working out again and he died. In this instance all the specialists are giving Bruschi the okay, and I think you have to trust the medical opinions in this case.

RRM: With the media bombarding his teammates with endless questions about his return could this cause a major distraction for the team?

SG: I think for the most part the Patriots are a veteran team that will be able to handle it. In a way it might be a good thing because it will take away some of the attention from what's been going on with all the injuries and it will just allow them to heal up and get ready to play Buffalo.

RRM: Fans' expectations being what they are, do think too much will be expected from Bruschi when he does make his return?

SG: First of all he's not going to jump back into the starting line up and start playing every down. They will have to spot him when he first comes back and try to ease him back into playing. I really think anyone that knows the game knows that one guy isn't going to turn things around. But he will give them a bit of a lift and I know his teammates will be glad to have him back out there. He is the kind of player that will make the players around him better, and I'm sure a young linebacker like Monty Biesel will benefit and learn from him when he is on the field. The fans may believe he may be the difference between another Super Bowl and not, but the reality is he‘s not going to make the difference. Bottom line is they are going to have to get some guys healthy and they have to get them playing better.

RRM: Should we continue to hold out hope that the Patriots' linebacking corp and secondary can get their act together for the second half of the season?

SG: People talk about offensive lines and how they need to play with each other for awhile to be able to function as a cohesive unit, well the same thing is true for a set of linebackers or a secondary. The longer they play together the more they know where the other guys are going to be, and they just don't have that luxury right now. It's learning on the fly, but it will come with time.

RRM: There's been some speculation that the NFL rigged the schedule to give the Patriots as tough a first six games as they possible could to try and derail the two-time defending champions. What do you say to the conspiracy theorists?

SG: I really don't buy into the conspiracy theory. Actually I'd rather see the Patriots play those teams early in the year than the last six weeks of the season. Now they have that portion of their schedule out of the way and while things won't get that much easier at least their schedule won't have the same degree of difficulty as was the case with the first six weeks. They can get themselves right back in the hunt with a good stretch coming off the bye week and I'm sure that's what they are expecting to do.

RRM: The members of the national media has jumped on the bandwagon in a race to see who could be the first to predict the demise of the Patriots. Why is this team accorded so little respect after all they have accomplished over the last four years?

SG: I don't think this is caused by lack of respect but rather from jealousy. There are a lot of people that are jealous of the success the Patriots are having and are hoping that they are going to fall apart so some other team has a chance. It would give the national media another team to talk about because I imagine they are tired of trying to come up with fresh stories about the Patriots right about now.

RRM: As we now know Richard Seymour's knee injury came about not from a play on the defensive line but in his dual role as a fullback blocking in a short yardage situation in the San Diego game. Does this make you rethink Bill Belichicks' philosophy of using starting players in other roles on the field?

SG: It's just the chance you take when you use your personnel that way. If your philosophy is you're going to put your best players on the field you are going to lose some of them occasionally. Hopefully you have players that can step in and fill the void which has been one of the remarkable abilities of this team. They do have some depth at the defensive line position which will help them get through until Seymour is able to return to duty. I think you'll probably continue see Dan Klecko back in there at fullback doing that job instead of Seymour from now on. Klecko just has to learn to make sure to block some people, because he lost that job in the first place because he was whiffing a few too many times in that role!

RRM: It's been reported that individual 100-yard rushing games are down by around 15% through the first part of the season as compared to last year. From what you've observed around the league why do you think this is the case?

SG: Whenever you hear of some kind of trend like that developing in the game there usually isn't just one factor that changes things. I don't think there are as many elite running backs in the game as there used to be, but it looks to me like a lot of teams are becoming even more specialized. You have first down backs, third down backs, short yardage backs, you name it, and they are spreading the wealth around. Another reason is more and more teams are following the Patriots' example and substituting the short passing game for the running game. Twenty years ago very few quarterbacks completed over 60% of their passes, and anywhere between 52%-55% was considered good. Now if you don't complete 60% of your throws you can't play in the league.

RRM: Many feel the quality of officiating in the league hasn't been quite up to par this season. What's your take on the issue?

SG: I really don't know what the problem has been. There are several new faces out there so I don't know if that has anything to do with it. I haven't been very impressed with the way games are being called right now. Just like the Patriots need to improve let's hope the quality of the officiating improves over the second half of the season as well.

RRM: This has been a season of survival for the Patriots and interestingly enough on the reality show Survivor a former contemporary of yours, former NFL quarterback Gary Hogeboom (1980-89), is currently on the show. Why do you think he would subject himself to 114 degree temperatures in Guatemala for a game show?

SG: I couldn't even hazard a guess as to why Gary is subjecting himself to that. Maybe it's the competition or maybe it's about getting back in the limelight, I really have no idea. I can positively guarantee you that you will NOT ever see me on that show. I did my rock climbing adventure with Charlie Moore last October and that was enough for me. No more outdoor wildlife things for me. I'm done with celebrity television for good.

RRM: I know it's been only six games and not eight, but how about offering some ‘early' midterm grades for the Patriots?

SG: Right now this is a 3-3 team, and their play has reflected their record. They've been pretty average so I'll give them a C which is a pretty average grade. That's means there's plenty of room for improvement over the second half of the season. There are certain areas of the team that are playing pretty well and there are other areas that are just stinking up the joint. That's why you become an average football team, and to get past that you have to get everyone playing pretty well at the same time.

The good news is the Patriots' future is squarely in their own hands, and as a player that's exactly what you want. They have all six divisional games yet to play and they are very familiar with those teams and know how to play them. That should bode well for them, but we'll all find out together if that's the case when the Patriots get back to work against Buffalo on Sunday night.

Grogan's Midterm Grades:

Offense: C+
Defense: C
Overall: C

A veteran writer on the Boston sports scene, R. R. Marshall has written features for both local and national sports publications for more than a decade. His popular Q & A columns on the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston College Eagles appear year round in both the electronic and print media. He can be reached at [email protected]