BOSTON -- Tedy Bruschi began the first day of his post-football life by taking out the trash.
"I'm real life," he said, "I'm just regular."
Bruschi is that unique player who won three Super Bowls, spent a long career with just one team and got Bill Belichick to drop his stoic persona on Monday and, in a voice shaking with emotion, call Bruschi "a perfect player."
And one more thing:
"The thought of playing professional football after experiencing a stroke. I mean, is that a statement you hear everyday?" Bruschi said. "It's not."
After all that, and more, the inside linebacker and father of three whose sons stayed home Monday because they "would rather play with their Transformers than come and sit in the front row" next to his wife, announced his retirement after 13 seasons with the New England Patriots.
Smiling and never expressing regrets or shedding a tear, the longtime leader of the Patriots defense had a simple explanation for retiring now.
Bruschi, who had missed much of training camp and one preseason game with an undisclosed injury, said he was simply too old and found his "body doesn't heal as quickly."
He also had accomplished all his goals except "winning a fourth championship," he said. "Knowing I have three previous ones, I think I'll let that one go.
"I feel great about myself right now."
Just 4½ years ago, Bruschi walked unsteadily out of Massachusetts General Hospital with his wife Heidi. He had been admitted two days earlier, on Feb. 16, 2005, three days after playing in his only Pro Bowl and 10 days after his final championship.
He had felt numbness in his left arm and left leg and had blurry vision. The diagnosis: a mild stroke.
Bruschi had surgery for a hole in his heart, but made it back for the seventh game of the season.
"I was retired," he said. "I didn't think it was possible."
In that game, he had 10 tackles against the Buffalo Bills. He led the team in tackles for the first time in 2006 despite surgery for a broken wrist a month before the season. He was the Patriots' leading tackler again in 2007.
His performance declined last year, and rookie Jerod Mayo, the Defensive Rookie of the Year, emerged as his successor as the leader in the middle of the defense.
"He kind of took me under his wing when I first came here," Mayo said. "He told me then that one day he would pass the torch on to me and the rest of the team and I guess today's that day."
Bruschi's retirement leaves running back Kevin Faulk, who joined the team in 1999, as the longest-tenured Patriot.
"When you talk about Tedy, you talk about leadership, inspiration," Faulk said.
Bruschi was a third-round draft choice from Arizona in 1996 who tied the Division I-A career sack record. The Patriots switched him from defensive end, where he would have been undersized in the NFL, to linebacker and he had to learn to cover receivers.
"We (didn't) really know what to do with him," said Belichick, who also joined the Patriots in 1996 as assistant head coach to Bill Parcells. "All along the way he heard, 'too small,' 'too slow,' 'too this,' 'too that,' and just kept getting better and better and working harder and outworking and out-competing pretty much everybody that he faced."
Belichick spoke nonstop for 8½ minutes, about Bruschi's passion, instincts and optimism, his knack for always doing "the right thing," and being "the epitome of everything you want in a football player."
As his coach left the podium and Bruschi approached it, they embraced.
Wearing a beige suit and light blue shirt with an open collar, Bruschi stood in front of two dark blue jerseys with his name and number 54 hanging on either side of a video screen that had played career highlights -- Bruschi sliding on his knees as he scored on an interception, dumping the contents of an orange Gatorade bucket on Belichick, raising the Super Bowl trophy in his right hand.
"There isn't one moment and I'll never have just one moment," Bruschi said. "I'm very fortunate to have so many."
Bruschi was proud to play with one team.
"I think people want to move, to change teams because they want to fix their problems an easy way," he said. "I'd rather right the ship than jump ship."
Bruschi played in 189 regular-season games, more than any linebacker in club history. His 631 total tackles over the past six seasons were the most on the team.
For his career, he had 1,134 tackles, 30.5 sacks and 12 interceptions, four of them touchdowns.
"Tedy embodies everything we want the Patriot brand to stand for," owner Robert Kraft said. "Hard work, perseverance, overachievement, and selfless commitment to team first."
Bruschi isn't sure what's next.
What if Belichick calls in November, asking him to come back?
"Bill and I had a great conversation (Sunday) and I don't know if my answer to that was, 'Don't call me,"' Bruschi said. "If there was more I wanted to achieve, to come back and do more, then I would welcome that."
But he made sure he took advantage of his opportunities so when his career was over he wouldn't wish he had done more.
"There were the highest of highs and the lowest of lows," Bruschi said. "I did my job for 13 years and now my job is done. My job's done, Bill. I'm looking forward to living the rest of my life."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press