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Super Bowl XXXVIII

Intense or insane?

For Tedy Bruschi and Dan Morgan, either is high praise.

By JOHN ROMANO
Published January 29, 2004

HOUSTON - Here at the Super Bowl, words are chosen carefully. Inferences are considered and impact is weighed.

Take passion, for instance. Fine word, passion. Conjures up images of strength, desire, maybe even mystery.

As in, Tedy Bruschi has a passion for the game.

Or, Dan Morgan takes his passion onto the field.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Assigns a certain profound quality to their names. And it sounds so much better than the alternatives.

Such as, Tedy Bruschi plays like a freakin' lunatic.

Or, Dan Morgan is a real whack job on the field.

Either description's fine. You say passion, I say nuts. It isn't going to change the way Morgan and Bruschi approach the Super Bowl.

"Don't get me wrong, Dan's a really good guy," Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers said. "But he is a little crazy on the field. He'll throw his body in front of anything. A broken bone is not going to stop him."

"Tedy Bruschi is like a blind dog in a meat house," Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson said. "You can't stop him. He just loves playing the game."

In a Super Bowl that has both defenses above the marquee, Morgan and Bruschi are like the special effects. Collisions, high-speed chases, fallen running backs? These are your guys.

They play with one eye on the ballcarrier and the other, presumably, rolled up in the back of their heads. It could very well be their passion. Or it might just be they're possessed.

These are your middle linebackers in the Super Bowl. Maybe not as ferocious as Ray Lewis, or as popular as Zach Thomas, but essential just the same.

They're the ones who make the game look like a blast. Like something out of the neighborhood park. Maybe not the smoothest or biggest cats on the field, but the ones with the most bruises and cuts.

That, actually, has been Morgan's biggest problem. Three years into his career, he has spent nearly half his time on the sideline. Concussions, a broken leg, a shoulder injury and a hernia will do that to you.

When Carolina players talk of Morgan, they invariably start sentences the same way: If Dan could stay healthy ...

If Morgan could stay healthy, he could be the same guy who was chosen with the No. 11 pick in the 2001 draft. The University of Miami star who was the first player in NCAA history to win the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski awards in the same season.

Panthers coaches have lectured Morgan on taking it down a notch in practice. On protecting his body instead of hurling it around the field.

Morgan knows this. Understands it. He just has a difficult time following through with it. Linebackers, he said, have a few loose screws. And, in his case, the bolts aren't too secure, either.

He was raised to be reckless. To be tougher than the next guy. His father was a nightclub bouncer and Dan Marino's bodyguard for eight years.

When Morgan was 9 or 10, the family moved to a new neighborhood in Philadelphia. Some kids were picking on the new boy and Dan's father saw it.

"He told me, "If that happens to you again and you don't do anything about it, then you're going to get beat up by me,"' Morgan said. "I went out there and took care of business."

Took care of business?

"I beat them both up."

Bruschi came to crazy later in life. For his first 10 years in school, the only time he saw a football field was at halftime. An accomplished musician who has played alto sax at Symphony Hall in Boston, Bruschi was in choir and the marching band before discovering football in high school.

He was an instant success on the defensive line, but Bruschi spent the next half-dozen years proving he belonged. At a shade over 6 feet and on the lower end of a scale, Bruschi did not draw many offers at defensive tackle.

Arizona was one of the few schools with faith, and Bruschi rewarded the Wildcats by tying the NCAA record for career sacks with 52.

Still, the NFL was unconvinced. Then-New England assistant coaches Bill Belichick and Al Groh had to convince Bill Parcells that Bruschi was worth a third-round draft choice in 1996.

The Patriots knew he wasn't big enough to play defensive line and had to find ways to get him in the lineup. He began as an outside linebacker before moving inside. It was his fourth season before he became a full-time starter.

Now, he's the defensive captain and one of the top middle linebackers in the conference.

"Tedy has come about as far as a player could," Belichick.

He's also the heart of New England's defense. Bruschi has a knack for big plays - four interception returns for touchdowns the past two seasons - but is equally important as the player everyone rallies around.

"If he could go back in time and come back as somebody, it would be like somebody in the Corleone family or the Gambino family," Johnson said. "He just has this passion and love for everything. I don't like jazz much, but the way he talks about jazz makes me want to throw out my CDs and buy all jazz albums. That's Tedy. He's just passionate about life."

Morgan and Bruschi. Bruschi and Morgan.

One is too reckless. The other too small. Neither is close to being the most famous name in the game, but they do have one thing going for them.

And you can describe it any way you choose.

[Last modified January 29, 2004, 01:45:51]


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