Thursday, April 12, 2007

So long, Drew, and thanks for the memories

After 14 seasons and over 44,000 passing yards quarterback Drew Bledsoe decides to call it a career.

The Numbers:
-6, 717 pass attempts (5th all time)
-3,839 completions (5th)
-44, 611 pass yards (7th)
251 TDs (13th)

The Records:
-Passing attempts in a game (70, 1994)
-Pass attempts, season (641, 1994)
-Completions in a game (45, 1994)

Bledsoe was your prototypical NFL gunslinger: big, strong-armed and immobile

Ironically if you take a look at Drew Bledsoe's long and prolific NFL career you can trace the beginning and the end of it to one man...
...and they call him Tuna.

It was Bill Parcells who brought Bledsoe into the NFL in 1993 (not that he wasn't going to get in anyway, he was the No. 1 pick) and it was Parcells who helped show him the way out; as Cowboys coach his benching of Drew during a game in October was the last time Bledsoe would see action on an NFL field.

In between Bledsoe piled up numbers that are comparable with some of the all time-greats to ever play the position. He may not have won a championship while on the field (he did receive a ring for being a member of the Pats' 2001 championship team), but he went to two Super Bowls, 4 Pro Bowls and threw for more yards than all but 7 other quarterbacks in NFL history.

He was a gangly-but athletic kid coming out of Walla Walla, Washington when he enrolled at nearby Washington State, but by the time he ended his career at WSU he had set a number of school and Pac-10 records and was good enough to be taken number one overall in the draft. Parcells and the Pats chose Bledsoe over Notre Dame prospect Rick Mirer, a move that will go down as one of the greatest draft day decisions of all time.

After a couple of seasons in New England Drew had shown a propensity to be able to get the ball downfield and had taken the Pats from the laughingstock of the league (2-14) in 1992 to 10-6 and the playoffs two years later. By his fourth year in Foxboro he had the Pats back in the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade, although they would lose Super Bowl XXXI to Brett Favre and the Packers, 35-21.

It didn't matter; Drew was the king in Boston, like another Bird or Clemens, a sports icon that crossed all cultural lines who was genuinely liked by players, coaches and fans alike. He was on top of the world, and it looked certain that multiple championships and a Hall of Fame career was in the cards for the affable big guy.

Unfortunately a career that began with so much promise took a near-tragic turn that ultimately altered its course forever. In the second game of the 2001 season, Bledsoe was hit with a devastating tackle by the New York Jets' Mo Lewis after completing a pass, knocking him out of the game with an unknown injury. It was later discovered that the hit had sheared an artery in his stomach, which led to some serious internal bleeding, and if he hadn't received swift & proper medical treatment, he could have died that day.

But instead of Bledsoe the man suffering the ultimate loss it was merely Bledsoe the football player that lost everything he had worked so hard for. Stepping in to replace the Pats' field general was a little-known 6th round draft pick out of Michigan named Tom Brady. Faster than you could say Wally Pipp, Bledsoe would never see the field as a starter for New England again, and we all know what Brady has done with the chance he was given.

The rest of Bledsoe's career had some high points, but it was mostly filled with low expectations and disappointment over what might have been. He spent 3 seasons in Buffalo and another two with Dallas before he lost his starting role to Tony Romo last October. After the season the Cowboys cut the 35-year-old vet, and rather than try and pick up the pieces again and attempt to earn a Super Bowl ring on the field he decided the time was right to step down. The league is full of young, strong, fast and mobile QBs and Bledsoe is none of those things, so he wisely opted to get out of the way and let the new breed take over.

I will always have fond memories of Bledsoe from his days in New England. He was fun to watch, a class guy, and a true role model for kids and other athletes as well. Some people (a.k.a. my wife) have hinted that I had such a man-crush on him that I named my son after him, to which I say absolutely untrue.

Just because my son's name is Drew, and he was born in 1997, and I'm from Boston, and I own one of these...
... doesn't mean I'd name my child after him!

Thanks for the memories, Drew. See you at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in five years.

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