Bledsoe's History Could Put Him In The Hall

Former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe is a finalist for the team's Hall of Fame. In part 3 of 3, Kevin Saleeba takes a look back at how things changed in New England once Bledsoe arrived, and eventually departed.

 Patriots Hall Finalists
  Houston Antwine
  Bill Parcells
  Drew Bledsoe

  Patriots Hall Official Site
     Patriots rookie quarterback Drew Bledsoe stood poised in the pocket in overtime against division rival Miami. The Dolphins blitzed when Bledsoe spotted receiver Michael Timpson sprinting down the right side of the field. Bledsoe was hit just as he released a perfectly arch spiral toward the end zone.

      "I didn't see Timpson real clearly when I threw it, but I saw the defensive back trailing him," said the young Bledsoe following the January 2, 1994 game. "I saw the ball coming down and then I was on the ground."

     The ball came down right in the arms of Timpson just as Bledsoe hit the turf to score the game-winning touchdown. As he lay on the Foxboro Stadium field, Bledsoe said he "heard the crowd go crazy." Although New England finished that season 5-11, it was the fourth straight victory to end the season. The victory not only kept the Dolphins out of the playoffs, it also helped catapult a new sense of winning in New England.

     Bledsoe would help resurrect a franchise that once was the laughing stock of the league. It's fitting Bledsoe is nominated for enshrinement into the Patriots Hall of Fame this month along with former defensive end Houston Antwine and Coach Bill Parcells. "It's a great honor to be considered for the Patriots Hall of Fame," Bledsoe told the New England media during a recent conference call following his nomination for induction.

     Bledsoe was the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft by then first year coach Parcells. "You've got the small town kid from Walla Walla (Washington) moving across the country and being installed as a figurehead of an organization," said Bledsoe.  "It was pretty heady times."

Bledsoe and Parcells
Bledsoe was Parcells' guy afte rbeing piecked in the first round.
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
     Bill Parcells remembered the top two quarterbacks in the draft were Bledsoe and Rick Mirer. "Drew was a young man, 20 years old at the time, coming out from Washington State," said Parcells to the New England media recently. "He had been a terrific passer in the Pac-10. Rick Mirer of course was at Notre Dame, the level of competition just a little bit better, but he was 23 years old. And a lot of my thought process and our thought process in the scouting there was, 'Well, Drew can make all the throws and he's a little bit younger and certainly not as mature as Mirer, but where is he going to be when he's 23 years old? And he's got a three year window to certainly get pro football into his system and learn about it.'

     "Of course, I personally was very happy that we picked him," Parcells said. "And he really had a very, very, good career and came in and really helped get the franchise established. He really was thrown to the wolves a little bit, and he survived that and was able to get himself grounded and did a terrific job for New England for a long time."

     In nine seasons with the Patriots, he would break the Patriots' career passing records for attempts, completions and yards. He had 2,544 completions on 4,518 attempts for 29,657 yards. These records have since been broken by Tom Brady, but this should not diminish Bledsoe's contribution to an organization that could have been easily moved to St. Louis following his rookie season. Instead, with new life and hope pumped into the franchise, just 19 days after the Patriots thrilling overtime victory over the Dolphins, Robert Kraft became the Patriots fourth owner in the club's then 35-year history with an agreement to buy the team from James Orthwein, finally giving the franchise stability.

     "That rookie year, I've said a number of times that it was a little bit like sticking your head in a popcorn machine; everything was happening so fast," said Bledsoe. "To finish that first season winning four in a row and to beat the Dolphins on the last play of the season to knock them out of the playoffs, that was a memory that certainly clearly stands out."

     The Patriots had a combined record of 9 wins and 39 losses with six different quarterbacks the previous three seasons prior to Bledsoe's arrival in New England. Bledsoe gave the Patriots stability at the quarterback position and eventually helped lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl in just his fourth season.

     One of Bledsoe's best moments with the Patriots came in a November home game in 1994 against Warren Moon and the Vikings. Bledsoe entered the game with the Patriots in last place with a 3-6 record. Moon and the Vikings had a 20-0 lead in the first half. Coach Bill Parcells then decided to let Bledsoe take over the game toward the end of the half allowing him to run the two-minute drill the rest of the game. The future of the franchise was in Drew's hands.
Bledsoe and Brady
Bledsoe mentored Brady as the Pats marched toward their first  Super Bowl  victory.
(John Mottern/FFP/Getty)
     In one of the best come-from-behind games ever by a quarterback, Bledsoe threw an NFL record 70 passes and completed a record 45. He was never intercepted. He led his team to 20 unanswered points, tying the game with only 14 seconds left. In overtime, Bledsoe drove the Patriots down field, winning the game on a 14-yard touchdown pass that landed majestically in the arms of fullback Kevin Turner in the back of the end zone. Bledsoe finished with three touchdown passes in the game.

     The victory also sparked a seven game win streak for the Patriots and a playoff berth, the first in eight seasons for the once downtrodden franchise. Since then, the football culture in New England went from one of losing, to an expectation to win.

     Bledsoe still holds Patriots' single-season passing records for attempts with 691 and completions with 400. He is the only player in team history to pass for 400 yards in a game four times. In his 124 regular season games with the Patriots, he is third on the team's all-time list with 166 touchdown passes.

     Bledsoe, a three time pro bowler with the Patriots, would eventually show diminished production toward the end of his Patriots career. Then Mo Lewis of the Jets hit Bledsoe during the second game of the 2001 season severing an artery in his lung. The injury was potentially life-threatening, but as he recovered, he lost his job as the face of the franchise to future NFL MVP Brady.

     Bledsoe was clear at the time he did not think it was fair he lost his job as the starting quarterback due to the injury. He also said he looked forward to the "opportunity" to win his job back. History proved that never would happen. It was Brady's team now.

     Bledsoe was able to briefly reprise his role as the Patriots quarterback in the AFC Championship game against the Steelers when Brady sprained his ankle in the game. Bledsoe entered the game with the Patriots driving to the Steelers 40-yard line. He threw three straight completions, ending with an 11-yard touchdown throw to David Patten.

Bledsoe and Patten
Bledsoe and Patten celbrate their game-winning TD vs the Steelers in January of 2002.
(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
     Before the final play of the AFC Championship game and the Patriots leading 24-17, Bledsoe gritted his teeth in the Patriots huddle as the emotion of the moment was visibly welling up behind his face mask. Bledsoe knew this game meant more than just helping the Patriots get back to the Super Bowl.

    It was "certainly one (moment) that will always be ingrained in my mind," Bledsoe said. "When I got to finally come back in and play against the Steelers in the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh when Tommy sprained his ankle, that's a memory that I will take with me forever and ever."

     Bledsoe took the final snap on the Steelers' 35-yard line and knelt on the Heinz Field turf to run out the clock. As the Patriots celebrated around Bledsoe, he remained frozen on his knee for a few moments before collapsing to the ground in tears. It was his final snap as the quarterback of the New England Patriots.

     "To be able to come back in after not playing and to help our team to win that game to get to another Super Bowl, (it) is a memory that will always stick with me," he said. Bledsoe was traded to the Bills in the offseason.

     The young kid from Walla Walla, Washington did well in New England. He came to the Patriots when it was a losing franchise and left a Super Bowl Champion.

Fans can vote for their favorite Patriots Hall of Fame finalist at the team's official website. Voting ends May 15th

Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin (here. )

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