By: Rich Levine
Its not every day that you have a reason to talk about Drew Bledsoes legacy, but today I come bearing two:
1. Bledsoes on the verge of election into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
2. Its either that or we talk about the lockout.
So lets stick with Bledsoe, at least for now. Then its back to brainstorming ways to spend our Sundays this fall. (So far all I have is: Crawl into a hole and cry myself unconscious.)
Anyway, last Friday, the Patriots HOF committee began the process of selecting nominees for the Class of 2011, and while nothings official yet, its a pretty safe bet that when alls said and done (after the committee names its finalists, and the fans vote for their favorite) that Drew Bledsoe will be the last one standing.
The reasons are obvious.
At the end of the day (for all he was, and certainly all he wasnt), there are very few players whove impacted the Patriots organization quite like Bledsoe.
Beginning in 1993, he (along with Bill Parcells, whos also up for a spot but may have burned too many bridges on his private jet out of town) rescued the team from the darkest stretch in franchise history. Before Bledsoe, the Pats were all about bad jokes, black outs, and Dick MacPherson. In the four years before Bledsoe, the Pats won a total of 14 games. There was no leadership. No direction. No hope. The only time anything exciting happened, it involved Irving Fryar and the police.
But Bledsoeagain, and Parcellscame in and changed that. After his rookie season, the buzz around the team helped inspire Robert Kraft to make the leap into ownership. By Bledsoes second season, the Pats had a winning record and were back in the playoffs. By his fourth season, they were in the Super Bowl. In the meantime, at least until Nomar came along in the late-90s, Bledsoe became the most popular athlete in town. He was the star of a franchise that had gone forever without one, especially on offense. He put up big numbers. He had the golden arm. He won games like that famous comeback against the Vikings. After so many years a pathetic Patriot football, Bledsoe made passes like that game-winner to Kevin Turner, and, in the process, he made the Pats cool again. He made people believe that this franchise had a chance.
The truth is that right now, theres an entire generation of Patriot fans who exist because of Drew Bledsoe. That alone makes him worthy of the Hall, and its on those meritshes also second all-time in passing yards, and third all-time in wins and touchdownsthat hell see his number retired, either this August or whenever the season starts.
And when that happens, as hes up on the podium with his family and former teammates and all the Krafts, well give credit where credits dueto a guy who changed football in New England, and who, for eight seasons, meant a lot to a lot of people around here.
Well stand, and well applaud
And after, every single person in that stadiumfrom Kraft to Belichick to Brady to the super fan with tattoos all over his face, to the weird guys with the musketswill take a second and collectively have the same exact thought:
Man, thank God he got hurt.
And thats unbelievably strange. But its OK.
Because while it may feel wrong to stand and cheer for a guy, knowing that you still consider the day he was nearly killed on the field to be one of the greatest days in Patriots history, theres also this.
The injury wasnt only the best thing that ever happened to the Pats, it was the also best thing that ever happened to Drew Bledsoes legacy.
The truth is that if that injury never happens, things werent going to end well.
Not that his Patriot career had a storybook ending anyway, but this would have been worse.
Bledsoe stays healthy that year and more than likely flushes another season down the toilet. He continues to play in the shadow of a 100M extension that he couldn't live up to. At the time, Belichick was already unhappy. He didnt like Bledsoes game and it wasnt getting any better. His touchdown total had gone down in each of the four seasons since the Super Bowl; his decision-making was getting worse. He was as good as he was going to get, and it wasnt good enough. If Bledsoe stays healthy, maybe theres still a controversy; after all, Belichick wanted Brady running the show, but it would have been a mess. It wouldnt have been any sweeter than what happened, only this time the season would have already been lost. Maybe Brady never catches that initial lightning in a bottle, maybe the Pats never catch that mystique.
So many different things could have happened from Drew Bledsoe escaping Mo Lewis, but relative to what actually did happen, all of them would be negative. And Bledsoe wouldve been the target. He could have dodged Lewis, but his brand would have continued to take a hit with every Pats loss, and who knows where it would've gone from there. Bledsoe finished his Patriots career with a record of 163-160. If he doesnt get hurt, theres a very good chance he goes below .500. And again, it wasn't getting any better.
And then what do we make of his career? What happens to that legacy? Are people rushing to vote him the first time hes eligible for the Patriots Hall of Fame?
Thankfully, the answers dont really matter, because reality worked out so much better. In reality, the injury happened, and the Patriots future was saved.
As was that legacy.
Believe it or not, this September 23 will mark 10 years since Bledsoe last started a game for the Pats; it will be 10 years since he took that hit from Lewis, triggered a storybook season and one of the most dominant decades in NFL history.
And in the end, that injury, and that decade, are the reason we're now able to appreciate all that Bledsoe accomplished over his eight years here, and not get bogged down by what he didnt.
Its why even though New England once dreamed of seeing Bledsoes jersey on display in Canton, Ohio, well still be more than happy to settle for celebrating it in Foxboro.