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The Boston sports scene has changed drastically this decade. Before being considered a “Title-town”, Boston fans knew hardship like Ashton Kutcher’s agent knows a bad movie script.
(Excuse me, I was just coerced into watching No Strings Attached, which was as realistic as Inception and Avatar… COMBINED.)
The pre-cursor to Tom Terrific, KG, and Cowboy Up! always had a moribund atmosphere to it. Although gloom was seemingly always around the block, the era was known for the characters that burst onto the scene. Well – I shouldn’t say characters – because, in our deranged minds, they were saviors before we realized ineptitude was our destiny. I guess, consequently, they became characters.
ANYWAY each character is remembered differently. Grab a sixer, sit down with some buddies, and play word association with memorable athletes from yesteryear. Troy Brown: Humble. Mo Vaughn: Greed. Roger Clemens: Perfidy. Antoine Walker: Braggart. Carl Everett: Lunatic. Antoine Walker (post-career): Ignominy.
It’s a fun game. Those times – when we were going through our 15-year title drought – were full of optimism, despair, promise, and finally back to dejection. This cycle could happen over the course of one season (Patriots of the 90’s), 10 games (Red Sox of the 90’s), or 10 years (Celtics from 1992 – 2002). You started to get the feeling being a Boston sports fan was contingent on subscribing to masochism.
(Bruins fans are slowly nodding right about now)
The theme of the time was, above everything else, you cared about those guys – even though that care was only matched by the perplexity of their actions. You cursed the young secondary of the New England Patriots (Ty Law/Lawyer Milloy) for dancing after breaking up a deep ball down field, while the next play they were seen getting beat for a back-breaking touchdown. You knew everything about the “Walker Wiggle” was premature and – frankly – pompous. You ridiculed Red Sox ownership for not spending more money during the inception of the Pedro era because you knew we were wasting precious years of greatness, but then were confounded when Dan Duquette decided to break the piggy bank on Troy O’Leary. Meanwhile, you refused to acknowledge the Jacobs family existed.
Ughhhhh. Troy O’Leary. Dear God, Milt Palacio. Great scott, Shawn Jefferson.
That was then. It was a weird time for all of us.
Probably the most tragic figure of this time in Boston sports history was Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe came into our lives, and immediately was inserted as the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots. In his second season, the team started out with a record of 3-6. The Patriots met Warren Moon and the Minnesota Vikings, and Bledsoe gave us his first “chill moment” throwing over 70 pass attempts (a record) while completing 45 (ditto.) The team would go on to win the game after trailing 20-3. This ignited a 7 game winning streak that enabled the lowly Patriots to make a playoff appearance. Furthermore, Bledsoe was the youngest quarterback in the history of the league (at the time) to earn a Pro-Bowl selection.
New England would bow out in the first round to the Cleveland Browns and some guy named Belichik, but it was apparent the Patriots had found a franchise player.
After an off-year in 1995, Bledsoe would put together his best season in his Patriot tenure leading the team to a Super Bowl appearance. However, as with so many other teams during that era in Boston sports, fortunes took a turn when Coach Bill Parcells said, “They watch you do all the cooking. And they don’t let you shop for any of the groceries.”
The writing was on the wall, owner Robert Kraft replied with some terrible pun about having good “groceries” and that was that. Parcells and Curtis Martin fled to New York. We were stuck watching the unraveling of a Super Bowl contender under the Pete Carroll regime (*Note this was before Carroll
became a recruiting guru at USC started paying players at USC).
Three years. That’s all it took for Carroll to dismantle the AFC champion Patriots. By the 2000 season, the team was back where it started 8 years before, when Drew took the helm — behind the eight ball.
You know how this story ends though. Bledsoe was given a record 10-year $103 million contract, but got injured in the first game back from the resuming of play following the 9/11 tragedy by a fierce hit from Jets linebacker, Mo Lewis. A young guy named Tom Brady rose to prominence, a mythical game was played in the snow, and all of the sudden the same team Bledsoe had led to a dismal 0-2 start was one game away from the Super Bowl.
Bledsoe did have his swan song in a Patriots uniform, coming in relief of Brady, and playing a pivotal role in the New England AFC Championship victory — all-the-while creating a modicum QB controversy. But we all knew differently. We knew Drew was toast. We knew that over the years as announcers would rave, “Those aren’t ‘Boos’ you hear! The Foxboro faithful is chanting DREWWW,” that – in fact – a small minority had started to boo.
And why could we blame them?
We were frustrated. We knew what Drew meant to the organization, and we knew if he continued to play poorly what he would continue to mean. We wanted to think of the Minnesota game. Or, the time he led the Pats back from 22 at halftime in Giants stadium to victory, clinching a first round bye in ’96. But those days were gone. Just as we longed for Sox ownership to build around Pedro, we wanted Kraft to put his ego aside to capture the potential of Bledsoe.
At the time, Kraft wasn’t there yet. He’s expressed regrets, but as fans we don’t get a mulligan. Moreover, Bledsoe doesn’t get those prime years back.
Post-Patriot life to Bledsoe was just as volatile as his tenure in New England. He kept Buffalo relevant (even producing a Pro-Bowl appearance) and reunited with Parcells in Dallas, but both marriages ended unceremoniously and he was exiled.
His legacy will always be that of a true stand-in-there-I-know-I’m-taking-this-hit-but-I’m-a-gunslinger. I’m 68% convinced that Dennis Quaid’s character in Any Given Sunday is based off Drew. He threw 251 career touchdown passes and he’s one of only 8 QB’s to eclipse the 40,000 yard mark (the other 7 have been inducted into the HOF). Bledsoe’s enduring mark set here in New England is that he didn’t lead us to the pinnacle of the promised land, but he helped find shore.
Because before Gillette Stadium and
Disneyland Patriot Place, there was Foxboro Stadium and “The End Zone Bar”. And before Brady and Branch, there was Bledsoe — and…
Exactly. There was just Drew.