At halftime of the Patriots vs. Rams game on Sunday, the Patriots are going to celebrate the 2001 championship season. They’ll be a lot of old faces at Gillette Stadium as Patriots fans take a trip down memory lane. It was a season all Boston sports fans will remember. Boston had gone fifteen years without a championship in the four major sports and the Patriots started a new tradition of winning and dominance in Boston. When fans talk about the 2001 season, what’s the #1 story? It was the year Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe and finally got the Patriots a championship. Tom Brady was the reason the Patriots won that year. We FINALLY got rid of Bledsoe.
Now let’s move on from the myth and face reality, folks. Drew Bledsoe continues to get a raw deal in Boston. He’s under appreciated in historical context. Was he the quarterback that led the Patriots to the Super Bowl championship? No. But, what he did for the Patriots was extremely important and he helped save this franchise. There may not even be a New England Patriots team right now if it weren’t for Drew Bledsoe.
Let’s take a step back to the early 1990’s. The “Patsies” (yes, this is what fans were calling them) were coming off of a 2-14 season. This was after a 1-15 season in 1990 and a 6-10 season in 1991. From 1989 – 1992, the team was 14-50. That’s an average of 3.5 wins a season over a four-year span. To put that in perspective, the Cleveland Browns have also won 14 games in the past four years and there is still five games to play this season. The Patriots were by far the worst franchise in the NFL. If you lived it, you know how bad it was. There were more Giants and 49ers fans in New England than there were Patriots fans. Granted, everyone rooted for the home team and wanted them to do well, but there was an expectation of losing and suffering that just wasn’t worth the investment of money and even time. It was so bad that you couldn’t even watch the Patriots home games on TV because they didn’t have enough fans at the games. But, no one really cared. You got to watch the Patriots get blown out on the road eight times a year if you wanted to. Or, you could wait until the late afternoon game and watch a real football game. There were no star players. There was no leadership. It was pathetic. It just wasn’t worth it.
In 1993, the Patriots brought in Bill Parcells to coach the Patriots. Finally, they had a leader. But, they still didn’t have the players. They then drafted Drew Bledsoe with the #1 pick in the draft. OK. So, we still stink, but at least there’s HOPE. Prior to the start of that season, there was talk of the Patriots moving their franchise to St. Louis. While most Bostonians didn’t want to lose a sports franchise, there certainly wasn’t a major outcry about moving this team out of town. The Patriots did their part to moving out by starting out 1-10 that year making their overall record over five seasons now 15-60. That’s right. 15-60. That was the New England Patriots. Losers in every sense of the word.
In December 1993, it changed. The Patriots won their last four games of the season. A 21 year old QB named Drew Bledsoe threw for 8 TD’s in the final four games leading the Pats to four straight victories. It was a 5-11 season that ended with buzz. The Patriots had a quarterback and they had a coach. In 1994, Robert Kraft bought the team. That summer, for the first time in many years, people cared about the Patriots again. There were expectations and they weren’t about getting the first pick in the draft. There was talk of overtaking the Buffalo Bills at the top.
In his second season, Bledsoe threw for a league leading 4,555 yards and 25 touchdowns. Those may not sound like huge numbers, but quarterbacks back then were not throwing for 4,500 yards. The Patriots made it to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Ticket sales skyrocketed. The Patriots were now the headline on the Boston sports scene. In just two years, they went from being an afterthought and a team that wasn’t even being watched to the talk of the town. And you know which player led all of that? It was Drew Bledsoe. At the end of the 1994 season, at age 22, there wasn’t a player in the league that the Patriots would have traded Drew Bledsoe for. He was that important.
Bledsoe went on to lead the Pats to the Super Bowl in 1996. He had a great season with 27 TD’s and 4,086 passing yards. The Pats fell short losing to an elite Green Bay Packers Team. Parcells walked. Pete Carroll came in. While the team still made the playoffs, it just wasn’t the same. However, Bledsoe kept them competitive. He played hard. He was as tough as any quarterback in the league. He played hurt. He did everything he could for the Patriots to win.
In 2000, things started to turn sour for Bledsoe from a fan’s standpoint. The Patriots didn’t have talent around him. In fact, Kevin Faulk was their featured back that season. Not a third down back. Hall of Fame Featured Back! A 5-11 season started to sour Patriots Nation towards Bledsoe. He holds onto the ball too long. He gets sacked too much. There were actually fans in Boston who, at the time, thought that Doug Flutie was a better quarterback than Drew Bledsoe. Yep. The same Doug Flutie who never won a playoff game. The same Doug Flutie who had a 54.7% career completion %.
Tom Brady took over and the Pats made history. Just don’t forget who led the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in 2001. Also, don’t forget that Brady threw a grand total of one touchdown pass in three post season games that season. The Pats didn’t win because of Brady. They won because of their elite defense.
The Pats win with Brady tarnished Bledsoe’s legacy in Boston for good. Tom Brady’s opportunity became Drew Bledsoe’s demise. Fifteen years later, it hasn’t changed. Bledsoe’s contributions are an after thought even this week as he’s in town. The Pats won because Brady took over for Bledsoe.
If you’re at the game on Sunday, you’re surely going to scream when they call Tom Brady’s name. You should. He’s the greatest Patriots player of all time. But, the person who deserves the most applause on this day is the guy that has been forgotten. The guy that took the Patriots from the bottom team in the league to the Super Bowl. The guy that made football relevant in Boston. The guy that helped save the Patriots franchise and paved the way for Bob Kraft, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Gillette Stadium.
There would have been none of it if it weren’t for Drew Bledsoe.
Stand up and cheer for the guy who changed that. He has at least earned that.