Those Darn Pats!
by Mike W Lunsford
Hi guys, your editor-in-chief back again with some sports commentary. The NFL season has come to an end. That was one heck of a Super Bowl wasn't it? A goal line stand to end the game...wow. That will go down as one of the greatest game of all time!
Now, as I've stated in the pages of this website, I am a D.C. sports fan, but I am also a New England Patriots fan. Unless you're from Boston, this isn't a popular team to root on, because most other NFL fans can't say the name Patriots without having a curse word in front of it. I get it, watching a team succeed where so many others fail is frustrating. Trust me, I get it. Being a Washington sports fan has made me witness, first hand on many occasions, the agony of defeat. But my love for the Patriots is not some passing fancy. I'm no bandwagon hopper. Check me out in my skinny days rocking a Pats long sleeve t-shirt!
I was treated to 2 Super Bowls by Washington early on and then after 1992...they sucked. I was a young boy and in love with the game of football but didn't know where to turn...and that's when I stumbled upon an article in Sports Illustrated. They called Drew Bledsoe, the number 1 draft pick of the New England Patriots, a "gunslinger." How cool is that? I was 11 at the time so by my definition this team met all the criteria:
- They had sweet new uniforms
- They had awesome players with cool descriptions
- My dad wouldn't disown me for liking them (Cowboys, Eagles, Giants were all a no go)
At this point in their history, the Patriots weren't well thought of. They had just come off a 1-15 season, which is what got them the number 1 pick, and subsequently Bledsoe. I "bought in" on the ground level of the Pats and got to watch them grow as a team. My grandparents even bought me a Drew Bledsoe jersey for my birthday!
Bledsoe was awesome; big, tall, strong, and he could throw the ball a mile. It was 1994 and Bledsoe would lead his team to 7 straight wins and a playoff birth. It was a nice reprieve from Heath Shuler and John Friez competing to see who could embarass themselves the most in Washington (Heath Shuler took that prize, it was the only thing he won in the NFL). 2 year later, Bledsoe had the Patriots in the Super Bowl against Brett Favre and the Packers! Granted, they lost (Thanks Desmond Howard) but still, Washington was NOWHERE near a Super Bowl! Thanks to Drew Bledsoe, I had two favorite football teams.
A few years later, something awful happened. Bledsoe got injured while trying to run for a first down and it looked horrible (BLEDSOE NEVER RUNS!!!! WHY DREW, WHY????). He was going to be out a while and this skinny kid from California was his back up. His name was Tom Brady.
Brady was different than Bledsoe; he didn't have the big arm, but he was more mobile. He was crafty, he was fiery, he found a way to win and you could see that nothing rattled the guy. As a huge Bledsoe fan, I was sad to see Drew relegated to holding the clipboard, but I understood football and why you ride the hot hand. Especially when the backup gets you a first round bye in the playoffs.
It seemed improbable with Brady playing so well, but I hoped we would get to see Bledsoe again. It was because of an ankle injury to Brady, but we did see Drew show up and beat the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship Game. He came in the game in relief and threw the game winning touchdown. That would be the last we would see of him playing in a Patriots uniform until he was enshrined in the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2011.
Bledsoe wining the AFC Championship for the Pats...awww and he's waving goodbye.
That year, the Patriots secured their first Super Bowl win. The Patriots were 14 point underdogs to the "Greatest Show on Turf," the St. Louis Rams. The Pats were going against one of the most prolific offenses ever and they were being lead by a guy who couldn't even beat out Drew Henson while he was at Michigan. This had the earmarks of another Super Bowl blowout. No one told New England, though.
They held the Rams offense in check the majority of the game and that unflappable former Wolverine drove his team down the field for the game winning field goal as time expired. WOW! For me, this had been a 7 year journey of watching this team come from 1-15 to the Super Bowl champs. As much as I loved Bledsoe, how could you hate Brady? He was humble, modest, he was a fierce competitor and nothing seemed to phase him. And Bledsoe himself rooted Brady on. There's a great story from Super Bowl 36 that the coaching staff told Brady to "protect the ball" on the final drive of the 4th quarter, to play for overtime. Bledsoe yelled to Brady as he went on the field "F**K THAT! GO OUT THERE AND SLING IT!"
The following season, Bledsoe was traded to the Bills. I made the decision to stick with both the Pats and Bledsoe. I picked up a number 11 Buffalo jersey. He later played for Dallas, too but I would never get a Cowboys jersey. I have some self respect.
The torch had been passed. Bledsoe had led the Patriots out of the darkness of horrible football and had brought them to the brink of greatness...then he fell on the field of battle. Like Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie, Optimus Bledsoe had to pass the Leadership Matrix on to Rodimus Brady. This wouldn't be a GGR article if we didn't make some awful nerdy analogy.
Ya know, if I ever got a chance to meet Drew Bledsoe, I would let him know how much I looked up to him. Those lean years in DC would have been even more miserable if not for his displays of passing on Sundays. He lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl and had them contending on a regular basis. Then, he took a vicious hit and was out of commission and had to watch the backup take HIS team and lead them to a Super Bowl win. Was he a poor sport? Nope. He cheered on Brady and mentored him even though he yearned to be the Patriots starter again. You have to respect that. The Patriots would go on to appear in 5 more Super Bowls and win 3 of them. No other team in the NFL has had that kind of continued success. It made me glad that I had picked so wisely a second team to root for. It's been amazing to see a team that was always the underdog become a perennial favorite to win the Lombardi Trophy. Now if only Washington could get their act together...