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December 06, 2001

Bledsoe Tough
By Dan Patrick

Drew Bledsoe does not ruffle easily. That's a great quality for a New England Patriots quarterback. With the notoriously difficult Boston media, impatient fans and a talent-poor roster right now, it helps Bledsoe to keep an even keel. But that toughness, that unflappability, has also been valuable lately for Drew Bledsoe the husband, father and son.

When Jets linebacker Mo Lewis hit Bledsoe in Week 2 of this NFL season, Bledsoe suffered internal injuries that caused him to lose two liters of blood. If he had not been diagnosed properly on the sideline, he might have died. That can make even the toughest guy stop and think. Which I'm sure Bledsoe did. But he told me recently that he actually felt Lewis could have hit him harder. Despite the scary nature of it all, Bledsoe saw it in the context of his job as football player. He was almost matter of fact about it. He said, "You get hurt in football." He accepted it.

In the immediate aftermath of the hit, Bledsoe could not even pick up his children or wrestle with them.

In the immediate aftermath of the hit, Bledsoe could not even pick up his children or wrestle with them. And since his injuries were internal, there are no scars or huge bumps and bruises to show as a reminder of what happened. NFL quarterbacks often wear a red jersey in practice so they won't get hit during drills and scrimmages. Bledsoe could have used one in his living room for a while. "Don't touch Daddy. He's hurt right now." That has to make you think, no matter how tough you are.

At 29, Bledsoe is at a key point in his career. Did he miss his chance to be one of the all-time greats when the Patriots, led by Bledsoe and coach Bill Parcells, made it to the Super Bowl in 1997? He started out as the guy the Patriots drafted No. 1 over Notre Dame's Rick Mirer. It proved to be the right choice. But, just as Peyton Manning has his "rivalry" with Ryan Leaf, Bledsoe does not want that to be his legacy. He has won playoff games and been to the Super Bowl. He has passed for more than 3,000 yards in seven straight seasons, going over 4,000 twice. He has proven to be a talented and tough NFL quarterback.

But is that it? Will he be regarded as another Steve Grogan? A good quarterback who mostly played on fair-to-middling teams. A sympathetic figure. For most of Bledsoe's career, you looked at the Pats and saw 8-8 or maybe 9-7. They never really scared you. The Patriots usually have to do some convincing. They usually have something to prove rather than maintain. They did pull off that 11-5 Super Bowl year, but since Parcells left they've been in steady decline.
Drew Bledsoe
The future is uncertain for Drew Bledsoe.

Like Grogan, will the Patriots turn it around too late for Bledsoe? When they finally made the Super Bowl in 1986, Grogan was Tony Eason's backup. Surely this has occurred to Bledsoe. He knows where he is but he has to wonder where he's going. He has to at least be aware of what Ray Bourque did.

Blesoe has been caught between quarterback eras. He's not with the Steve Young, John Elway, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman group. He's certainly no Brett Favre. And he is not among the current young lions of Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper. Where does he fit? What lies ahead? Is there enough time left for Bledsoe to assert himself in the NFL? Will he ever play again with a running back as good as Curtis Martin? Will he ever have more than one or two wide receivers to throw to? Will he ever have a target as faithful and reliable as his former tight end, Ben Coates?

Right now, the quarterback controversy in New England is strictly a media creation. With three wins in his first four starts, Tom Brady appears to have a bright NFL future. But the Patriots are unlikely to hand over the quarterback job based on four starts. If Bledsoe had not been hurt, Brady would still be waiting for his chance -- as a rule, the starting quarterback gets his job back if he's out due to injury.

For now, Bledsoe has the headset and clipboard on game day. But he knows when his health returns, so will his status as the starter. And he'll fight it if the Patriots stay with Brady.

In the meantime, Bledsoe has plenty to think about.

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