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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Drew Bledsoe: R.I.P.    

Godspeed, you white emperor. Goodnight, you king of Maine, you prince of New England. So long, and thanks for all the picks fish.

I'm actually pretty sad about this. I always liked Drew Bledsoe. He was the first legitimate hero to play for the Pats in my time as a fan (which does predate his arrival). His was the first Pats uniform I ever had. His Super Bowl run in 1996-97 was the first I was able to really enjoy.

For eight seasons, he was the face of the Patriots. He symbolized my team's newfound legitimacy. He shepherded the team from the very bottom to the verge of greatness. He was the personification of the Bill Parcells-led rise to annual respectability. He was the best thing the team had going for it during the Pete Carroll water-treading era. Two playoff appearances with that knucklehead Carroll, and both of them were due in large part to Bledsoe's leadership on the field.

And we wouldn't have won that first Super Bowl without his heroic performance in the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh. Tom Brady got hurt, and Bledsoe bailed him out, with a little help from his friends. No Bledsoe = we lose. We lose = no "dynasty." That's one of the footnotes that gets lost in the rush to stick Brady in Canton... none of what's happened since would have come true without Drew Bledsoe.

For that, I owe him a debt of gratitude.

I wish the rest of New England would realize that. Despite all that he accomplished for us, Bledsoe was a tragic figure in Boston. Never mind that a good 80% of the fans would never, ever have become Patriots fans if Bledsoe hadn't arrived. As a traditional pocket passer in an era where quarterbacks were becoming more mobile, he became an easy target for the fans. He was never good enough for them, and they always took such delight in nitpicking his style and performance.

He's so emotionless. He's not a real leader. He's not athletic like Mark Brunell and Kordell Stewart. He pats the ball.

Man, I haven't thought about that ridiculous ball-patting shit in years. That was the best thing about Bledsoe's departure (besides the Super Bowls)... never again having to endure that stupid shit from those stupid people about him patting the ball. Yeah, he patted the ball... right before throwing every single one of his touchdown passes, you fucking nitwits.

The point of all that is that he was treated worse than shit by the fans and media, but deserved pretty much none of it. He was a good quarterback. Not great, but definitely good enough.

What's so remarkable to me is that he was perceived as a failure despite having done pretty much as well as he could have. If he wasn't giving his best, that'd be one thing, but I don't think anyone with a brain for football can question his effort. Let's not forget that when Mo Lewis hit him in 2001, while running for a first down as so many people wished he'd do more often, he nearly DIED. Then he busted his ass to get back on the field as soon as he could. He wasn't a jerk. He wasn't mailing games in. He wasn't pulling goofy Manny Ramirez superstar shit on or off the field. He gave New England his best. And people still killed him, just because he didn't win a Super Bowl. That right there is some ignorant shit. Going to such extremes to blame a #1 overall pick for not bringing home a Super Bowl, like he's a big failure or something, just exposes how little the Boston media and fans understand football. Take him down a peg or two, sure. Cut him, go in a different direction. But don't shit on the guy. Don't be happy about his predicament.

Anyway, when Bledsoe was unceremoniously benched in favor of future Pro Bowler and sperm rocket Brady, and was subsequently traded out of town, he had every right to flip us all off on his way out of town. But instead, he handled it with class. He thanked Patriots fans graciously for their years of support, even though the vocal majority of fans had all but declared a state holiday in celebration of his benching and departure. And still he took the high road. I appreciate that.

I felt loyal to Bledsoe. Still do, as you can probably tell. After Brady's injury in that first playoff run, I felt that Bledsoe had earned the right to start the Super Bowl. I thought he'd been screwed out of his job, that an injured Brady would be a liability, and that benching a healthy player of Bledsoe's caliber in favor of an injured first-year starter was effectively an insult. I was wrong, of course, but I don't regret feeling that loyalty. Unlike the majority of Patriots fans, I always rooted for Bledsoe to succeed. Even in that Dallas uniform, I would have liked to see him do well. And I'm sad that he didn't.

That's not to say I wish he'd stayed. I'm glad his downward spiral happened elsewhere. But in my view, he never got the credit he deserved. He played a crucial role in the construction of the Patriots dynasty; I hope people recognize his achievements someday, once they're done polishing the bronze on Brady's Hall of Fame bust.* And I hope history is kinder to Drew Bledsoe than the present was.

* - Speaking of Canton, Bledsoe's numbers present an interesting Hall of Fame argument. He's #7 all-time in passing yards, and #5 in both completions and attempts, which if nothing else is a sign of persistent success. While I loathe that argument in baseball, you can't amass numbers like that if you're that bad. They don't say anything about greatness, but you definitely can't say he sucks. Ultimately I think he and another similar player in his area of the record books, Vinny Testaverde, are more likely to be left out, proving how little numbers matter when it comes to the football HOF. But the fact that there's an argument to be made is proof enough that his treatment and perception have been unfair.

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