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Big men with broken minds: The largely forgotten faces of the Patriots franchise

Outside Memphis, John “Bull’’ Bramlett, a former Patriots linebacker once feared as “the meanest man in football,’’ turned to his wife, Nancy, in their home of 20 years and said, “This is a beautiful house. Who lives here?’’

In East Walpole, Dr. Bill Lenkaitis, once a bruising Patriots lineman who doubled as the National Football League’s only practicing dentist, was slowed by depression and early dementia, struggling to comprehend simple correspondence.

In Kawkawlin, Mich., on the shore of Lake Huron, former Patriots defensive end Dennis Wirgowski, who tackled the likes of O.J. Simpson, shoveled the overnight snow, told his wife, Bethany, that he loved her, and went looking for a gun to turn on himself.

In death — Bramlett at 73, Lenkaitis at 70, Wirgowski at 66 — they are largely forgotten faces of a Patriots franchise that for all its 21st-century grandeur shares the NFL’s legacy of infirmity: countless former players suffering — and in many cases dying — from debilitating brain damage.

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