Sunday February 14th, marked the 44th birthday of former NFL quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, who also happens to be one of my all-time favorite players.
I became a Patriots fan back in 1992, when they were the worst football team in the league, and yet, I liked them. They won two games that season with backup QB, Scott Zolak, filing in for the injured Hugh Millen.
Holding the No. 1 pick going into the offseason in 1993, the Pats made wholesale changes to the franchise. They brought in Bill Parcells as head coach, and got brand new uniforms.
They used their top pick on Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe over Rick Mirer from Notre Dame. The 6’5 gun slinger, was everything you wanted in a franchise QB, and his selection, ushered in a new generation for the New England Patriots.
Starting from Day 1, Bledsoe took the reigns of the franchise, and by 1994, proved to be one of the up-and-coming superstars in the league. Bledsoe started the season with three straight 400 yard passing games, and in Week 11 against Minnesota, Drew set an NFL record with 45 completions on 70 attempts (both records) as the Patriots came back to knock off the Vikings in OT.
For the first time in eight years, the Patriots were in the playoffs, with Bledsoe leading the charge. In 1996, New England made their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, playing another NFC Central Divisional foe at the Super Dome (Bears in 1985, Packers in 1996). Bledsoe fired two first quarter touchdown passes as the Patriots took a 14-10 lead into second quarter, but from there out, Green Bay took over the game, outscoring New England the rest of the game 25-7.
Still, the Patriots were riding high after the Super Bowl. After all, this was a young team loaded with talent, a good head coach, and a franchise QB, but 1996 proved to be the top of the mountain. Despite the departure of Bill Parcels, New England made the playoffs again in 1997 and 1998, but it wasn’t until 2001, when they finally got back to the Super Bowl, ironically enough because of Drew Bledsoe’s injury, which allowed Tom Brady to play. Despite returning from injury during the season, Bledsoe rode the bench behind Brady, while making little to no stink about it. Bledsoe came full circle that year, entering the AFC Championship game and tossing a touchdown pass before halftime. The score proved to be the difference as New England won by seven points, and returned to the Super Dome for a third time to play in the Super Bowl.
After winning the Super Bowl, Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo where he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2002. By 2005, Bledsoe was on his way to Dallas, playing for Bill Parcels once again. In 2006, Tony Romo took over for Bledsoe late in a game, and never relinquished the starting job.
Bledsoe retired after the season, ending a brilliant 14-year career, and I remember all of it, especially the Patriot years. I remember the day Bledsoe got drafted. I was always a huge fan of No. 11. I could even mimic his throwing motion, the patting of the football, everything he did. I remember Super Bowl 31 and how gut-wrenching it was to see Desmond Howard return a kickoff 99-yards after the Patriots had just climbed to within 27-21.
I also remember the turmoil of the Bledsoe vs. Brady arguments and the old adage of “starters don’t lose their jobs to injury”, which is a debate that will last forever. The best part of it all, was seeing Drew Bledsoe’s humility and being a good teammate, then seeing it all payoff when he entered the conference championship game, threw a touchdown pass, and led New England to the Super Bowl.
It was karma, but a good karma for Bledsoe coming full circle. It’s a good story to tell kids, that yes, the good guys can win.
So Happy belated Birthday Drew Bledsoe! You are one of my all-time favorite football players. May the good Lord bless you with many, many more.