Former Patriots quarterback and number one overall draft pick Drew Bledsoe retired recently, and, like his playing days when he was a Patriot, he seemed to get very little recognition upon his decision to hang it up. Bledsoe said he is physically able to play, and at the age of 35, probably still has a little left in the tank. But his desire to leave the game when he is still able to play should be respected and honored. Unfortunately for him, his playing days in New England were often anything but that.
Quite simply, Bledsoe is the main reason why the Patriots are still in New England. When he was drafted, owner James Orthwein was seriously considering moving the Patriots to his native St. Louis. Bledsoe, and head coach Bill Parcells, brought football respectability back to the Boston area in such a short time that Orthwein decided to sell the team to local businessman Robert Kraft. The team and the franchise has not been the same since.
I remember sitting in the stands during the last game of 1994, Bledsoe's rookie year. The Patriots were on a five game winning streak, and the Miami Dolphins had taken the hometown team to overtime. It was on the opening drive in the extra session that Bledsoe led the team to a game winning touchdown, a beautiful pass to Patriots wide receiver Micheal Timpson. When the game was over, every single one of the 60,000 fans at Foxboro Stadium refused to leave, because the state of the team at that point was still in a flux. They wanted to show their support to team owner James Orthwein. He apparently understood what the fans were saying. They stayed in Foxboro, and that is when Robert Kraft, a local guy living in Brookline who had been a fan since he was a kid, decided to purchase the team. And history was made.
Bledsoe was a highly touted rookie coming out of Washington State, and it took him no time to make his presence known. He brought a 1-15 team to the Super Bowl in only three years, only to lose to a superior Green Bay Packer team. It was at this point that the local fans and media knew they had someone special in Drew.
He was never appreciated here though. He had his critics, like any great player, and, despite many fantastic games, the critics would speak loudly about Bledsoe's faults ( and he has some of course ). Through his entire tenure in New England, Bledsoe had the Patriots in or in the playoff hunt, despite some mediocre coaching and bad personnel decisions. Drew never truly had a great, or even a very good team, surrounding him. Yet he consistently put up very good numbers and had the team in the playoffs on a fairly regular basis.
The coaching staff I am talking about is Pete Carroll. Though a great guy and a very good defensive coordinator, Carroll was never a good NFL head coach. He was here for three years, and, along with personnel coordinator Bobby Grier, never gave Bledsoe the support he needed. Several draft picks in this era never panned out, and Bledsoe never had a good running game (after Curtis Martin left) or very good wide receivers. As any NFL observer will tell you, an NFL team cannot win without an adequate running game (just ask John Elway). This is something Drew never had, yet he continued to put up very good numbers basically doing it all by himself. He had good wide receivers but not great, and never had another impact player on offense to help shoulder the load. Yet the Patriots were in virtually every game because of Bledsoe's talent.
In his book, former Patriots Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis said that Bledsoe was pretty much expected to win the game on his own. And, like just about any other quarterback in the league, it was the quarterback's great play when the team won, and the signal callers' fault if the team lost. For some reason, Drew was always remembered for the games he didn't win or made a bad pass, instead of the games he won with his ability.
He had his faults of course. His biggest downfall was his mobility. Though Drew was not slow, he too often depended on his arm to get him out of trouble, and sometimes it backfired. He would wait too long for a receiver to get open, instead of throwing the ball away or running for a couple of yards. And he did occasionally throw a bad interception at a critical time, but it would be very difficult to find any quarterback that did not do so.
Bledsoe's biggest downfall is something he had no control over. The Patriots drafted Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, and little did anybody know how good Brady would become. Had someone of Brady's caliber not been waiting in the wings, Bledsoe likely would have finished his career as a Patriot. When Drew got hurt against the New York Jets in 2001 that led the way for Brady to start performing his magic. Once Brady got on a roll, it was pretty known that Bledsoe's days in New England were numbered. However, he did play a crucial part in the playoffs, as he came in for an injured Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though his numbers weren't fantastic, Bledsoe did play very well in leading the team to victory. The Steelers said after the game that they honestly thought they would have won the game if Brady had stayed in, because they had their game plan centered on him. Bledsoe brought a different style and it caught the Steelers off guard. Perhaps Pittsburgh was just making an excuse, or, perhaps they were not. Regardless, it was a fitting way for Drew to end his career as a Patriot. It still amazes me to this day that some Patriots fans say that Bledsoe played lousy in that AFC Championship game and that he got lucky. I think we were lucky to have him as a quarterback.
One question now that Drew is retired is whether or not he is an NFL Hall of Famer. The answer is a simple one: yes. One must first look at his numbers as they are today. 44,611 yards passing, 251 touchdowns and 206 interceptions, to go with 3,839 completions. He holds many Patriots records, and some NFL records as well. Some of these numbers are among the best in NFL history He has a higher ranking in some categories then others, but many of his stats are just as good if not better then many of the quarterbacks already in the Hall. Does this automatically mean Drew is in the Hall of Fame? Of course not.
Many will argue not he never won a Super Bowl, though he does have two Super Bowl rings (Jim Kelly never won a Super Bowl, nor did Dan Marino or Dan Fouts). Fouts, as a matter of fact, has more career interceptions then touchdowns, as does Joe Namath (though Broadway Joe won a Super Bowl). Drew has 45 more touchdowns then interceptions, but yet doesn't get the recognition for that accomplishment. Bledsoe did appear in two Super Bowls, and even though he wasn't the starter on the winning team, he played an important role.
Other skeptics will say that a quarterback should not be in the Hall of Fame if he was replaced three times in his career by other players, and I can understand that argument. However, two of the three quarterbacks that replaced him stink (yes I am counting Tony Romo). J.P. Losman is still struggling in Buffalo, and even though Romo got off to a good start in Dallas, he faded drastically near the end of the year. Drew is still better then two of the quarterbacks that replaced him. So the argument he is better has some merit, but in reality it doesn't hold any water.
The sports web site Coldhardfootballfacts.com (CHFF) also wanted to throw their hat into the ring about Drew's Hall of Fame credentials. Their answer was a resounding "no" to the question of whether he belongs or not, but for some very curious reasons. Though their facts are certainly correct, they seem to want to compare Drew to some of the all time greats in the game. This really isn't fair. They are comparing Bledsoe to other "live ball era" quarterbacks. However, in this category are the likes of Joe Montana, Steve Young, Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly. Though Bledsoe's numbers in some of the stats do pale in comparison, that doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't a Hall of Famer. One thing they fail to mention is that most of the quarterbacks mentioned in the article had a great wide receiver and a very good to excellent running back at their disposal, something Bledsoe never had. If he did, one must wonder how good his stats really could have been. Bledsoe also suffered from not having a great defense, as many of the other quarterbacks on the list ahead of him did. CHFF also mentioned that Drew had a career record of 98-96 as a starter. Certainly not great, but one must remember that Bledsoe came into the league with a terrible team, and for part of his career had very poor coaching. It is a fun argument to have, and there is a case where sides make a very credible argument.
Bledsoe was the heart and soul of the New England Patriots for many, many years, and it is likely they will have some sort of ceremony this year to honor him at a game. There is talk about retiring his number or putting him in the "Patriots Hall of Fame", a place where he rightfully belongs. It would be nice to see his number retired with all of the other Patriot greats. Bledsoe was not a perfect quarterback, but he was very, very good. He brought a franchise out of the cellar, brought them respectability when it so badly needed it, and is very much responsible for allowing Gillette Stadium to be built. I think it is true that most fans, media members and other players recognize Bledsoe for the player he was. It is just too bad that not everybody sees what I see. Some people will forget, or have chosen to forget, what Bledsoe did for this city and for this team. I won't, and I hope many others never do either.
Jim Poore has been a long time contributor to Patriots insider with his weekly picks column. Let him know what you think. Email him here:
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