Yesterday, a group of journalists that cover the Patriots, as well as former players, met to discuss which players should be on the ballot for the Patriots Hall of Fame. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, who was part of the committee that met, gave an insider’s view of the the top names that were discussed, which included:
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe; coaches Bill Parcells, Raymond Berry and Chuck Fairbanks; defensive linemen Houston Antwine and Julius Adams; center Jon Morris; offensive tackle Leon Gray; cornerback Raymond Clayborn; wide receiver Irving Fryar; tight end Russ Francis; and running back Curtis Martin
There’s only one player, in my opinion, who is a slam dunk to make it on his first opportunity from this group: QB Drew Bledsoe.
Drew Bledsoe was the Patriots’ first pick, and was the first pick overall, in the 1993 draft. He, along with coach Bill Parcells, was part of the big turn around for the Patriots franchise. After Bledsoe’s arrival, the team was no longer a laughing matter, and haven’t been since. Bledsoe was a prolific pocket passer, something he was sometimes criticized for, who could make all of the big throws and relished having the team ride his strong right arm at crunch time. He was not the most mobile QB, but given the time, he could pick a defense apart.
At the time Drew left after the 2001 season and the Patriots’ first Super Bowl title, he held the franchise records for pass attempts (4,518), completions (2,544), and yards (29,657), and was only 17 touchdowns away from Steve Grogan’s record of 182 (since broken by Tom Brady). He likely would have broken Grogan’s record had it not been for a severe chest injury that gave Tom Brady the reigns at QB permanently.
Personally, Drew Bledsoe was my football hero growing up. Coincidentally, I started really paying attention to football around the time that Bledsoe was drafted. He quickly became my favorite player on my favorite team, and still holds a place in my heart as one of my all-time favorite players. I always wore Bledsoe jerseys and t-shirts to school to show my Patriots pride. I remember one shirt in particular made Bledsoe’s arm look somewhat like a rocket launcher and read, “Patriot Missile.”
Bledsoe certainly gave Patriots fans plenty of memories on the football field. In 1996, he led the team to an AFC Championship and its second Super Bowl, which it lost to Green Bay. Bledsoe had many exciting two-minute drill comebacks in his career, none more exciting than in back-to-back games against division rivals Buffalo and Miami in 1998. With a broken index finger on his throwing hand, he became the first QB in NFL history to throw game-winning touchdowns in the last 30 seconds of two consecutive games.
One of my favorite all-time Bledsoe memories, and one that often seems lost to Patriots fans, is when Brady and Bledsoe had a role reversal in the 2002 AFC Championship Game. Brady went down early with an ankle injury, and in came the forgotten Bledsoe. On his first series since his injury during the second game of the season, Bledsoe led the team to its first offensive touchdown of the game with a beautiful pass to David Patten in the back of the end zone. Every time I watch the DVD of that season, I get chills when Bledsoe comes into the game to lead the Pats to their third Super Bowl.
One thing that I admired about Bledsoe off the field was how he conducted himself. He was always a team-first guy and was a family man. You never heard Drew bad mouth a fellow player or blame the loss on somebody else, though he certainly could have during the Pete Carroll years when the offensive line deteriorated and the team lost its running game. However, he always took full responsibility for a loss and went about his business. When the team decided to go with Tom Brady at QB when Bledsoe recovered from his injury, he continued to support the team as best he could and did not create a distraction in the media or the locker room that would have divided a united team.
If (when) Bledsoe is inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame, you can bet I’ll be there, as should a throng of thankful Patriots fans for everything Drew Bledsoe, #11, did during his time here to resurrect a dead franchise. The candidates will be announced April 15th, and fans will have one month to vote for the winner.