By Jimmy Toscano
Drew Bledsoe hasnt had any problems keeping busy since retirement.
Take Friday, for instance. He had just gotten in from a day on the slopes, and was a couple hours away from hosting his 8-year-old daughters birthday party.
His winery in Walla Walla, Washington where hes from is thriving, and the Bledsoe Capital Group, a small private equity group, has been working on a major project over the last three years focused on cleaning water for the natural gas industry.
On top of all that, he still found enough time to coach his sons undefeated third- and fourth-grade flag football team last fall.
Yup, post-NFL life has been just fine for Bledsoe but theres a chance it could be even better.
Bledsoe is one of three finalists, along with former coach Bill Parcells, and defensive tackle Houston Antwine (1961-71), on the ballot for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
Obviously its a great honor to be considered to the Patriots Hall of Fame, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who played for the Pats from 1993-2001, said in a conference call with the New England media on Friday. Great honor to be considered and great company to be in.
Its hard to imagine its been almost 18 years since the Patriots took Bledsoe with the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft. But for Bledsoe, the memories seem just like yesterday.
I came up to New England for the first time, and the welcome I received with my family you got the small-town kid from Walla Walla moving across the country and being installed as a figurehead of an organization, Bledsoe said. It was pretty heady times, but the welcome I received and we received on just that first day when we came up was a bit overwhelming.
That rookie year. Ive said it a number of times, was a little bit like sticking your head in a popcorn machine. Everything was happening so fast and all that went into that was pretty crazy times. 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.
A lot of that success must be credited to fellow Hall of Fame finalist Bill Parcells. Both Bledsoe and Parcells joined the Pats the same year, and now, fittingly enough, theyre both up for the Hall the same year something that Bledsoe referred to as being full circle.
It was a pretty rare thing, really, when I was drafted to come to an organization that had not had much success but that all of a sudden had a Super Bowl-winning coach on the sidelines, Bledsoe said. So that was very fortuitous for me and for the organization to have a coach of his stature come in.
But the memories dont end after his rookie season. Remaining in Foxboro -- there had been rumors the team was headed to St. Louis -- after Robert Kraft bought the team. Wearing the same pair of cleats for the entire second half of the 1994 season and into the playoffs, simply because they didn't lose once he'd switched to them.
The 1996 run to the Super Bowl obviously stands out, with Bledsoe pointing to the playoff game in Foxboro as underdogs against the Steelers as his favorite that season. The Pats went on to win that one handily, 28-3. But thats not the only playoff game against the Steelers Bledsoe will remember.
Certainly one that will always be engrained in my mind is when I got to finally come back in and play against the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh when Tommy Tom Brady sprained his ankle, he said. Thats a memory that Ill take with me for ever and ever. 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 is a memory that will always stick with me.
Its been more than a decade since the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in that Super Bowl, but Bledsoe didnt stay long to celebrate. A couple months later he was traded to Buffalo.
He has since returned with his wife to the town that originally took him in, and visited the stadium and Patriots Place.
I think we all recognize the state of the organization when I was drafted, Bledsoe said. In 1993 it was not an organization that had had a lot of success, but under the stewardship of Bill Parcells and then moving on to the ownership of the Kraft family, its really become one of, if not the, marquee franchise in the NFL.
The comment I made to my wife when we were back there the last time was that I really felt like during my time there the organization went from one place to a much better place, and then from there once I left its continued to go onwards and upwards. So certainly Im very proud to have been a part of that resurgence . . . I also take some degree of pride in seeing where theyve gone since I left.
But dont expect to see Bledsoe on the sidelines holding the clipboard for the Patriots, or any team for that matter, in the future. Having made a promise to himself to leave the NFL for good once he retired, he doesnt see himself coaching anything higher than high school football.
It was really important to me when I left the game of football, it was important for me to have a clean break and move on to the next phase in my life.
Still, Bledsoe keeps tabs on the Patriots and the goings on in the NFL when hes not busy with his family. And he'll always be proud of his role in the team's history.
The memories I have of New England are only fond ones, Bledsoe said. The fans in New England were always so supportive and passionate of their support of me and the Patriots while I was there. It was a pretty magical thing to be a part of."