Category Archives: 2002 Patriots Offseason

PHOTOS: The Patriots Celebrate International Women’s Day

Robert Alvarez
March 8, 2019 at 3:03 pm ET

Friday marked International Women’s Day across the world, and to mark the occasion a few members of the New England Patriots and their families took some time over social media to show their appreciation for the most important women in their lives.

Quarterback Tom Brady, his wife Gisele, Adrian Clayborn, and Julian Edelman all shared family photos.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BuwEYvvg6iE/
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Rob Gronkowski Announces Return In 2018

Robert Alvarez
April 24, 2018 at 2:17 pm ET

Gronk spikes will be back for another season.

On Instagram Tuesday, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced he will be returning for the 2018 NFL season.

Since the aftermath of Super Bowl LII, Gronkowski had been reportedly unsure about his future in professional football but in a lengthy social media statement ,Gronk said “I met with coach today and informed him I will be back for the 2018 season with the Pats. I have been working out, staying in shape, and feel great. Looking forward to another championship run. #BandsAMakeHerDance”

In another recent report, Gronk is expected to join quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Julian Edelman for workouts at Brady’s private retreat in Montana before the start of training camp.

Dynasty In New England: Can It Be Done?

Bob George
July 15, 2002 at 4:45 pm ET

In this fair city Yours Truly calls home, there is a major street named Ming Avenue.

The Ming Dynasty in China lasted from 1368 to 1644. Terry Glenn asked me to do the math, so that comes out to 276 years. To put that in perspective, our great nation is only 226 years old. Ten percent of this figure is 27, one more than the total number of World Series won by the Yankees (26). Obviously, neither the Celtics nor the Canadiens would make anyone named Ming bow in respect.

In the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, there is a street named Lombardi Avenue.

Few would argue that Vince Lombardi was the best head coach the NFL ever saw. But despite all the howls of protest from rabid fans in Chicago, Pittsburgh and San Francisco, the best dynasty in the history of the NFL was authored by Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. From 1961 to 1967, the Packers won five NFL championships, the last two of which got them berths in the first two Super Bowls. Green Bay won both of those first two Super Bowls, and the trophy that is presented annually to the winner of the Super Bowl proudly bears the name Lombardi.

In the town of Foxborough, Massachusetts, there is a street named North Street, which has since been renamed…

Hah. Wouldn’t that take the cake. The street that nearly became a stadium deal-breaker is renamed for a man who would one day supercede Lombardi as the preeminent coach in league history, and the greatest dynasty of all at the root of those accolades. Now, instead of selling all that parking space, the mercenaries on this street could sell Bill Belichick memorabilia and make a killing. Hey, if those entrepreneurs think they could pull that off, then by golly let no man stand in their way.

Up in Boston, Jersey Street was renamed in honor of Tom Yawkey. Lansdowne Street was renamed in honor of Ted Williams. These two men symbolize a lot of great things. “Dynasty” is not one of them, of course. Moral of the story: Just because you had a street named after you doesn’t necessarily mean you spent your whole life winning championships.

What with every news organization and non-Patriot fan having declared the 2001 Patriot season a total fluke, we thought we’d go in the opposite direction and study the possibility of a Patriot dynasty. This not to say that it will happen. This is to say that it can happen, and if so, how.

One of the many features that NFL Films has produced that doesn’t involve the Patriots (which comes out to far above 99 percent, even if you factor in 2001) was an expose on all those Packer championships they won in the 1960s. This was in the days when the Boston Patriots played at Fenway Park (most of the time), the Red Sox went from castor oil to Dom Perrignon almost overnight, and the Celtics were really a dynasty, with few people standing up and taking notice, even in the Boston Garden.

Jerry Kramer and Paul Hornung were asked how the Pack did it. How, for so many years, were they able to stay at or near the top of the league? Both men responded with answers that should make Patriot Nation stand up and take notice.

The consensus answer between the two men was that the team was composed of “good but not great” players who bonded together to make a great team. By themselves they were ordinary, but put together they were a stunning display of teamwork and commitment.

And that is as truthful as you can get. Despite some of these guys going on to the Hall of Fame, there are a ton of Packers who aren’t among the best-ever at their position, and most of these guys weren’t among the best of their day. Perhaps Ray Nitschke and Willie Davis are the only Packers of that era who truly rank among the very best at their respective positions.

If you sat all these players down and asked them how those players became such great teams, they will quickly answer back with the name of their coach. If you ever stumble across a Vince Lombardi story some day, it will clearly reveal why these Packer teams won despite material mostly in the average category. Lombardi was the ultimate field boss, displaying leadership skills that every person who aspires to lead people could do very well to study.

This is exactly how the 2001 Patriots won the championship.

An average bunch of players, ordinary by themselves, bonded together and achieved high levels of success, with an extraordinary head coach in charge. Belichick fixed his one big weakness when he was the head man at Cleveland (communication skills), and the result was a Super Bowl win in just two years. One now has to wonder if this is just the beginning, because the blueprint of the Packer dynasty has been laid here in Foxborough.

People will look at Tom Brady as the one single most important Patriot in 2002. But he really isn’t, and Brady will be the first one to tell you that. How well Belichick does in 2002 will have a far greater impact on the team, as well as a far-reaching one. If the Patriots are just beginning a run of several championships in the next decade or so, it likely will emanate from Belichick and not Brady.

The Patriots are building their team in exactly the same mold as the Packers did. Herb Adderley, meet Ty Law. Bob Skoronski, meet Matt Light. Lee Roy Caffey, meet Tedi Bruschi. Tom Brown, meet Lawyer Milloy.

Oh, and Bart Starr, meet Tom Brady.

We’re not trying to elevate Belichick to the rarefied status of Lombardi. We’re just saying that the pieces are in place for the Patriots to make a long run of sustained greatness, and that they would do it much the same way the Lombardi Packers did.

Belichick knows X’s and O’s perhaps better than any coach in the history of the game. Belichick is currently the best game manager in the league, and prepares his team like no other coach is capable of. But if Belichick can ever approach Lombardi on his ability to connect with players and motivate them to play hard every single Sunday, a Patriot dynasty is definitely within the realm of possibility.

The last NFL team to win back-to-back championships was the Denver Broncos of a few years back, winning Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. No team has ever won three straight Super Bowls, but the Packers were the last team to win three NFL titles in a row (1965-67). The Patriots are fighting history and long odds, but they’ve got the tools to make it happen.

Of course, the rest of the league can sit back, look at this and burst out laughing. Fans of each of the three teams the Patriots beat in the 2001 postseason will laugh the loudest. Two of those three teams will get rematches in 2002. Let’s see who out-gameplans who, but a good sign of an impending dynasty will be how well Belichick and the Patriots do against Pittsburgh and Oakland, two teams who will be looking to kick the tar out of the Patriots this year.

And of course, if a dynasty is really at hand, then make that three rematches. You all know who’ll be favored to win the NFC.

Whatever it takes, the Patriots have it. Average guys who play great as a team, and a head coach who can bring it all together. It won’t be like Ming, but it just might be something very special.

Can The Naysayers Possibly Be Right?

Bob George
June 29, 2002 at 6:43 pm ET

You hear the talk, and you either smirk in disbelief or gnash your teeth in anger.

If you can find one publication, media outlet or news organization not directly related to the Patriots that thinks the champs can repeat the magic of 2001 in 2002, you might someday gain entry into the Sherlock Holmes Private Eye Hall Of Fame. We’ve wasted enough space in this column proving and disproving every theory on last season being a fluke, and the Patriots’ world championship being as genuine as a cold bottle of birch beer on a humid Saturday afternoon in the dead of summer.

Neither the Raiders, Steelers or Rams, nor the fans faithful to the vanquished Patriot playoff foes, will rise up and give the Patriots credit for a job well done. Raider fans say that they were ripped off. Steeler fans say that the wrong team won. Ram fans say that their team lost, not that our team won.

The rest of the league thinks the Patriots were Cinderella, the ugly stepsisters and the wicked stepmother all rolled into one. Experts who speculate on how the 2002 season will play out have all but left the Patriots out in the cold, with several sources not even picking the Patriots to even make the playoffs. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Bill Belichick and his troops, and that all the breaks will even out in 2002.

And, according to thems who think they knows, the 2002 NFL champ will be a “real team”. The Rams. The Dolphins. The Steelers. The Buccaneers (what must the late John McKay be thinking when his former team is picked to win a Super Bowl?). The Packers. The 49ers. And back to the Rams again. They really shoulda beat them Patriots, I guess.

But they didn’t. The rings that the Patriots sport these days say “Patriots 20, Rams 17”. This is as real as Johnny Bench bragging about “Reds 4, Red Sox 3” when Red Sox Nation continues to wax poetic over winning Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Bench’s team won Game 7. Your team didn’t.

The Patriots have spent the offseason getting better. The signing of Roman Phifer finally justified the selection of Daniel Graham. Donald Hayes and Deion Branch will improve the receiver corps from three-deep to five-deep. Tom Knight was a great pickup for the secondary, especially if Otis Smith finally shows his age. Steve Martin and Rick Lyle add great depth to the defensive line. Chris Hayes will be the Larry Izzo of 2002. Rich Tylski may be the sleeper of the bunch, and may turn out to be the best pickup of them all, draftees notwithstanding.

So, how can the Patriots possibly underachieve in 2002?

Sadly, nothing is guaranteed. The possibility exists that these nutcases who prognosticate doom for the defending champs could be right. All the while Patriot Nation has been counting the days until Smithfield (one month to go as of Friday, folks), the 2002 Patriot season could very well go up in smoke, especially with the tougher schedule that will be presented to them this year.

That said, here is what Patriot Nation really and truly needs to fear in 2002. “A bad team which is coming off a lucky season” will not be found in this list. That’s what fools think. But here are some genuine concerns which cannot be ignored.

Injuries. Few Patriot fans realize how lucky the Patriots were in 2001 in dealing with injuries. One injury changed the course of franchise history, and likely for the better.

Drew Bledsoe’s chance meeting with Mo Lewis last September 23 may go down as one of the most momentous in league history, especially if 2001 ignites a championship run for the Patriots. If Tom Brady turns out to be the real deal, and if he is indeed on the cusp of sustained greatness along the lines of a Joe Montana, this is an injury that all teams would love to have. Brady will have the world on his shoulders this fall, now that Bledsoe has been dealt to Buffalo.

Most of the Patriot injuries of any consequence happened in training camp. Matt Light, Mike Compton and Richard Seymour spent the most time on the shelf among those who started in the Super Bowl. But these injuries were mostly inconsequential, with Light’s being the most annoying and providing the most downtime. Not included in the “consequential” category are such folks as Terry Glenn, Adrian Klemm, Andy Katzenmoyer or the rookie tight ends (Jabari Holloway, Arther Love). Antowain Smith was bunged up in the second Miami game, but did not suffer any slowdown or downtime.

What the Patriots might worry about is if any starter is lost for the season, or for a prolonged amount of time. With Bledsoe gone, what if Brady suffers a cataclysmic injury? What if someone like Troy Brown, Lawyer Milloy or Ty Law is lost for a while? These are things that the Patriots never really had to deal with in 2001. If the Patriots suffer long term losses at key positions, expectations for the team have to be adjusted accordingly.

Complacency. Belichick will likely never allow this to happen. His approach to coaching motivates players greatly, and the chances of his players not playing hard the year after winning a Vince seems like an impossibility.

But you never know. You can’t really gauge the feelings of the players now that they have been there and have drank from the chalice. Can the Super Bowl win actually cause these players to be less hungry in 2002? Will each Patriot player be able to dig down deep and produce all the effort it takes each and every down? Or will players be more susceptible to take more downs off because their appetite has been whetted thanks to the Super Bowl win?

Again, don’t bet on this happening. With all the smack out there against the Patriots, you may actually see a hungrier Patriot squad this year versus last year. Their first opponent happens to be Pittsburgh, and their incredibly dumb organization and fan base are doing everything in their power to torque off the Patriots. A crushing win on opening night against the team they beat for the AFC title last year could slingshot the Patriots on their way to another Super Bowl berth.

Transformation from “hunter” to “hunted”. The Patriots got better in the offseason. But so did their opposition in the division. And the Patriots will not be ignored in 2002.

The team that should give the Patriots the most trouble is Miami. Their defense is still the best in the division, if not the conference. With the addition of Ricky Williams, it gives the Fish a chance to have the solid running game they’ve lacked all these years. But as long as Miami thinks they can win with Jay Fiedler as quarterback, the Dolphins cannot be considered a serious conference title threat. The Jets made a ton of salary cap dumps, and picked up two new cornerbacks and linebacker Sam Cowart. But their offensive line needs some serious rebuilding, and Vinny Testaverde is getting old. The Bills now have Bledsoe, but will not realize his great potential until they get a stud running back to keep defenses from overplaying the pass.

And of course, the Colts left the division. That’s not good for the Patriots, who saw great success against this team since 1990 (17-7 against the Colts in that span).

All things aside, the fact that the Patriots are defending world champs mean that every team will play hardest against them. They are likely to get that team’s best effort of the season, and the division rivals they play twice will turn up the “grudge dial” several notches. The AFC East will be a dogfight this year, and though the Patriots could very well win it again, it will be anything but easy or routine.

Back once again to the season/stadium opener. The Steelers game could very well reveal the character of the team, and though it’s tough to place such importance on just one game, it could very well determine the course of the season. Many questions will be answered in that game. Can the Patriots defeat a great opponent twice in a calendar year? Can the Patriots out-physical a tough, physical team who will be obsessed with doing worse to the Patriots? Can the Patriots seize the moment of the stadium convocation and use that emotion to put down the Steelers? Can the Patriots summon all their emotion and deny a great Steeler team any chance to win this game?

And the biggest question of all: Does the game, win or lose, set the tone for the entire season?

The Patriots do face some very real concerns going into the 2002 season. But the team did upgrade at some key positions, the team is angry and focused, and is ready to take dead aim on a repeat. Denver was the last team to repeat as Super Bowl champs, winning Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. There is no reason to believe that the Patriots cannot possibly pull off the same feat.

Now, the rest of the league needs to buy into that.

If they don’t, then so much the better. Keep them Patriots hungry.

Was It Luck, Or Was It Skill?

Bob George
June 15, 2002 at 4:42 pm ET

There might be a few of you out there who think the playoff win over Pittsburgh was sweeter than the Super Bowl win.

And you’d have good reason to think so, especially after this week’s Pulitzer Prize wannabe out of the Steel City.

Not that the Rams have been total angels, mind you, but the Steelers are about as non-contrite as Al Gore and as disrespectful as a Florida Democrat who whined about getting to vote only once. The Rams threw themselves a “pity party” recently and complained that they would have beaten the Patriots something like 99 times out of 100, but February 3rd was one of those one-in-a-hundred games. At least the Rams were somewhat polite in their disbelief in themselves for losing the Super Bowl, and showed class after the game in praising the Patriots despite blaming themselves more than admitting that the Patriots generally kicked the tar out of them.

But the Steelers have absolutely no clue. It is delusion and denial at its finest. You have a team and its legion of fans who probably think that what the Patriots did to them was illegal. Going to Super Bowl XXXVI seemed like their birthright. In their view, the Patriots beating them was somewhat akin to someone trying to steal the crown from Miss America.

Now on Wednesday of this week, an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (and this is strange considering that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was much more anti-Patriots in January and sharply critical of the Patriots’ fitness to be the Steelers’ opponent that day) featured some unbelievably wretched commentary from Hines Ward, Lee Flowers, and Herman Moore. The latter has spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions, making his remarks totally off the stupidity charts.

Moore: Stop it right there. Quoting this man on the Steelers is perhaps like asking to take a peek at what Gore’s acceptance speech would have said. Moore’s status with the Steelers is currently 0.0. Any comment he has on the Steelers rings completely hollow. Moore did mention that the Steelers have done everything except play in a Super Bowl. Until they actually win one (Bill Cowher, you’re no Chuck Noll), affixing the world “champion” next to the name “Steelers” is like affixing the name “President” next to the name “Gore”.

Sorry to keep bringing up ol’ Stoneface Al. But his close loss to President Bush is a great example of someone who expected to win and didn’t. Just like the Steelers.

Flowers: “We’re the hunted right now, to be honest with you. All teams right now are looking at how to beat the Steelers.” Hunted? You? The only things to hunt for in Pittsburgh are beams and joists, ketchup and relish, Allegheny and Monongahela. If you want a penguin, hunt for an igloo. If you want a Natalie Jacobson, hunt for Sally Wiggin.

Ward: “It would be hard for (Moore) to come in and try to tell guys what to do. He’s going to be a help, but, at the same time, we went to the Super Bowl without him.” Someone ask Ward to tell us what the Super Bowl is like if he ever gets there someday. Some of his teammates have been there, but that was Super Bowl XXX and his side lost to a team coached by Barry Switzer. Or, maybe that’s the denial we said at the top of the article. In Ward’s mind, he was being covered by Aeneas Williams, not Troy Brown. Ward is as delusional as he is talented.

Flowers one last time: “Everybody knows. Everybody knows who the hunted is. I’m not going to get into the logistics of why we’re the hunted, but New England knows. Ask (the Patriots), they know.”

We’re getting away from the main point of this piece, so we’ll let this last piece of Steeler slop tie this together.

Yes, Lee, the Patriots do know. They do know that they consistently have a handle on Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis. They do know that special teams matter, unlike your bunch. They do know how to show respect, as well as when to finalize Super Bowl hostelry plans. And most of all, they do know who got to make those hostelry plans. Cancel all those reservations. I need a room. What I’d like to know, Lee, is do you really know?

The Steelers are perhaps the most vocal in this, but the league is still unconvinced that the Patriots are a true championship team. Las Vegas joins the league in these thoughts, and a futures bet on 2002 Patriot wins feature an over/under of 8 ½. Face it, everyone else thinks last year was the biggest fluke this side of Rollie Massimino and Jim Valvano.

The Patriots won every game following the 24-17 loss to the Rams on that Sunday night at home in late November. The record shows that. But most people outside of New England are ignoring the record, concentrating on who lost versus who won. Looking at each of the nine wins, how many of them were the direct result of superior Patriot skill versus dumb luck?

The 17-16 conquest of the Jets at Exit 16-W was the linchpin of the championship run. The Patriots trailed at the half, 13-0, but parlayed a Mike Vrabel interception into a 17-3 second half run. The Patriots simply outplayed the Jets, and made the plays they needed to make. Just because men like Fred Coleman and Terrell Buckley made the key plays doesn’t make this win “lucky”.

The Patriots scored three convincing wins in this run, against New Orleans, Cleveland and Carolina. The Patriots brutalized the Saints, shut down Tim Couch and any semblance of a Browns’ offense, and took full advantage of the ineptness of Chris Weinke. Other than Richard Huntley’s great day in the season finale, these three wins were complete dominations. There was nothing lucky about any of these wins.

Luck played a small factor in the win at Buffalo and in the win against Miami. The Patriots caught a break against the Dolphins by not having to face Darryl Gardener, who missed the game due to injury. But the crazy play at Buffalo featuring David Patten getting knocked out was more about correct application of the letter of the law rather than luck. Credit referee Mike Carey for getting the play right, but the Patriots would have been jobbed had Carey not applied the rule. And as you all know, this would not be the last time the Patriots would be the benefactors of exotic rule application.

Saying the Raiders were the favorites over the Patriots in the Snow Bowl means you listen too much to Howie Long. The former Raider was the only human being who failed to absorb the fact that the Patriots were favored by four points in that game. The Patriots won and covered, but Greg Biekert will tell you that he did much the same thing with Tom Brady’s “fumble”. While Walt Coleman’s interpretation of the “tuck rule” seemed less obvious than Carey’s call in the Buffalo game, according to Mike Pereira, head of officiating in the NFL, the call was correct. Moreover, the tuck rule had two opportunities to be changed in the offseason, and both times the powers that be chose to leave it alone. Based upon the letter of the law, the Patriots won this game fair and square. The Raiders lay down and quit after the tuck play. This game was never about lucky breaks.

The Steelers did not lose on lucky breaks. They lost on special teams breakdowns, turnovers, an inability to get a running game going, and the fact that, much like the Super Bowl, the Patriots beat the tar out of the Steelers. The Patriots won despite having to employ two quarterbacks in the game. To suggest that the Patriots did not deserve to win is a pile of sour grapes bigger than anything the Napa Valley can offer up.

Finally, the Patriots did worse to the Rams. The Rams insist that the Patriots did nothing special, that they lost the game more than the Patriots won it. That’s their pride talking, but they at least salute the Patriots for a job well done. But watch the game films and you see the fruits of a genius coach who did exactly everything he had to do to slow down one of the best offenses in NFL history. There was nothing lucky about the Patriot Super Bowl win. It was a convincing win, made close only by an untimely penalty to Willie McGinest.

You know, the Patriots ought to sit back and let Ward, Flowers and all other guys who won’t give the Patriots their due props to run their mouths. Nothing like newspaper articles to serve as new wallpaper for their new locker room.

Where the Steelers are concerned, the Patriots have two incredible things in their possessions which should give the Steelers every reason to shut up.

The rings.

And the mother of all rematches on Opening Night.

Go ahead, Steelers. The more you say, the better. Go ahead and torque off the Patriots. And watch the fun when they come out in September even more hungry than you.

To Re-do Or Not To Re-Do

Bob George
May 25, 2002 at 5:40 pm ET

First, it was things like “Hey, I love this game! For this moment (winning the Super Bowl), this is why I play this game!”

Then, we got a taste of “Hey, y’all! I ain’t finished yet! I’m planning on doing this (victory rally) next year!”

The next thing out of Troy Brown’s mouth sounded something like “Hey, if I’m gonna be a number one receiver, I want to be paid like one! I hope the Patriots feel the same way and take care of me!”

So, all the while folks like Ted Johnson and Willie McGinest take pay cuts to help the team (as well as their careers), Brown wants to play the “show me the money” card. The contract he signed in 2000 calls for him to make $1.15 million in 2002, $1.75 million in 2003, and $2.25 million in 2004. He signed his contract on the supposition that he would be paid as a number three receiver, a position he held at the time of signing when the Patriots had Terry Glenn and Shawn Jefferson as the primary wideouts.

But if Brown is to be the number one wideout of the future for the Patriots, his salary pales in comparison to other top wideouts league-wide. Antonio Freeman and Tim Brown will both make over $4 million in 2002. Frank Sanders, Terrell Owens, Muhsin Mohammed, Ed McCaffrey, Marvin Harrison and Raghib Ismail will all top $3 million.

However, Pro Bowler Rod Smith will make $650,000. So will Isaac Bruce. Peter Warrick will make $770,000.

The Patriots have carved out an impeccable reputation as terrific salary cap managers. It is well known and documented that the Patriots are the first Super Bowl champ in recent memory to be under the cap coming off their championship year. During the reign of capologist Andy Wasynczuk, the Patriots have been very adept at inducing veterans to take pay cuts to help the team, and in getting veterans to re-do contracts to create more cap room. Other teams do this too, of course. It’s just that the Patriots manage the cap better than most.

But now, with Brown’s declaration that he be paid more in line with his status as a number one wideout, one has to wonder if this is more of a potential “opening up a can of worms” versus giving a deserving player a new contract. While most folks would hardly disagree that Brown has more than deserved a new contract, would such a move create a snowball effect that would induce more Patriot players to stand up and demand redone contracts?

It is clear that Brown no longer operates in anonymity, especially outside the northeastern United States. His exposure during the 2001 postseason and after Super Bowl XXXVI has established Brown as a prime stud wide receiver, one of the very best in the business. He set a Patriot record for receptions in 2001, all the while maintaining his reputation of being able to snare key catches in the clutch, one of the hallmarks of his distinguished Patriot career.

In addition to being one of the best wideouts in the league, he is also one of the best punt returners in the league. He ran back punts for touchdowns twice in the regular season and once in the postseason. Players of this rare versatility are precious commodities, something Brown can take and use as leverage to try and squeeze more money out of the Patriots.

The first question the Patriots have to ask themselves is: Do they have to do this?

The obvious answer is, of course, no. Brown is signed through 2004. These sort of contracts happen all the time in sports. A player signs for what he thinks is good money at the time, and then halfway through he’s suddenly an all-star and wants to be the next Bill Gates.

If this thinking were transferred to the Red Sox, then Nomar Garciaparra is the biggest bargain in all of baseball. And Pedro Martinez (if he fully regains his health and his 1999 form) is the second biggest. Mr. Pedro has intimated on occasion that the Red Sox would do well to offer him a mega-deal that would ensure him finishing his career in Boston. Nomar has never uttered a word about his being underpaid.

And new owner John Henry has plenty of money to pay these superstars a lot more.

And there is no salary cap in baseball.

Brown complaining about not being paid enough is just another example of the hollow meaning of the word “contract” in the sports world. Ricky Williams signed perhaps the dumbest deal in NFL history; you could have held an office pool to try and pinpoint the first day in which he would start railing to change his deal. You hear about athletes all the time bringing up the word “renegotiation”. Some even become holdouts despite being under contract.

But this is Troy Brown we’re talking about.

Brown has become perhaps the most favorite Patriot of them all. There was a reason why Lawyer Milloy grabbed the mike away from Brown at the victory and yelled “MVP! MVP! MVP!” to the delirious crowd at City Hall.

Brown is a leading symbol of “team first”. He is one of the more decent and dedicated professional athletes you will find anywhere. He labored in obscurity and anonymity early in his career after coming out of pre-Randy Moss Marshall. He was cut during his rookie season of 1993, and re-made the team the following year. His rise from rags to riches is a great inspiration to all young athletes.

So, the term “moral obligation” comes into play. Are the Patriots doing Brown a disservice if they ignore this plea for a new deal?

One concern is that, instead of inducing more players to play copycat, not re-doing Brown sends a bad message to the players. The message would be that it won’t matter if you have a breakout year or a spike in career numbers, you won’t get a new deal or any tangible monetary reward. This might cause the players as a whole to play less hard for Bill Belichick, one definite trademark of the great 2001 season.

And if the Patriots do decide to re-work Brown’s contract, then the next problem becomes working it in with a possible new deal for Tom Brady, and deals for the 2002 draft class as well. Who gets the new deal first, Brady or Brown? Or the new draftees?

Chances are that the Patriots can give Brown a new deal and not engender a whole bunch of copycats. The team attitude right now seems to be more into winning another Super Bowl versus becoming as rich as Forrest Gump. Not that the players don’t want to be paid handsomely, mind you, but now that the Patriots have tasted a championship and held a Vince, you just don’t hear a lot of complaining about being underpaid emanating out of Foxborough these days.

In Brown’s case, it really isn’t complaining. It’s about doing right by a player who has done more than enough to earn the right to ask for a little bit more cash.

Time Soon To Show Brady The Money

Bob George
May 18, 2002 at 4:38 pm ET

Okay, Bill and Bob. He really now is your guy.

The Sports Illustrated jinx will be brought up from time to time. Tom Brady pulled a Nomar Garciaparra and posed shirtless on the cover of the fabled sports magazine. You all know what kind of a season Nomie had in 2001. Yikes.

Brady became the latest Disney Darling. So, Tom, you’ve just won the Super Bowl. What will you do next? This writer takes in Disneyland (Anaheim) every year. The NFL prefers Florida. Main Street, USA versus Epcot. For Yours Truly, Disneyland is like this beer based near Denver. Nothing like a true original.

Oh, and the girls. All you had to do was see all the signs at the victory rally. “I love you, Tom!” “Marry me, Tom!” The most worried female in the USA has to be Brady’s girlfriend, Laura. Every single girl in the region wants him. Mariah Carey wanted to meet him and got to dance with him on stage. The Fonz should have done so well with women in his day.

You know who this is beginning to sound like? Another quarterback who pulled off a big upset in a Super Bowl. Young, handsome, famous, popular with women. Right now, Brady and Joe Namath have won the same number of Super Bowls. But if Brady is to be like Namath, Patriot Nation is in for a long string of disappointments.

Namath never again reached the pinnacle of the NFL. If Jerry Glanville’s famous “This is the NFL, as in ‘Not For Long!’” remark was ever meant for a player, Namath was the one. A sudden decline in Jet talent, plus a string of severe knee injuries sent Namath’s career on a permanent downward slide. His sex life and marketability never really suffered, but Jet fans right now could care less how many girls Namath bedded down in the sixties and seventies.

All Patriot Nation wants Brady to do is to keep winning. That’s all his teammates want, also. Hang the commercials. To heck with the TV shows. Brady plays near Commonwealth Avenue, not Madison Avenue.

And the Patriots must now decide how much their Super Bowl quarterback is worth. With Drew Bledsoe now gone, and the shock of his departure now all but gone, Brady is the main man of Foxborough. Now that it is quite obvious that he is the main man, he needs to be paid like a main man.

And Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick had better be convinced that Brady is that main man. Well, in a way, they already are. Trading Bledsoe more or less cinched that point.

But how much is Brady worth? Or, how many years do the Patriots want to keep Brady off the streets, looking for work?

Comparing Brady to Namath has its merits. Similarities in youth, good looks, and Super accomplishments are definitely there. Brady will never have the star quality of Namath, largely because of Namath being based in New York (Broadway Joe versus Post Road Tom?). Patriot Nation hopes beyond hope that Brady has better knees, and a few more Vinces left in his career.

One thing that Brady has over Namath is his zeal to be a regular guy. He is in Foxborough, attending the offseason workouts as so established by Belichick. Brady was given Task A, B and C to work on, and Brady has been doing just that. There has been nothing yet to suggest that the Super Bowl win has gone to his head, or that he has decided to change as a person.

Brady was the youngest quarterback in history to win a Super Bowl. Namath was 25 when he won the third January classic. Namath had some seasoning under his belt, coming out of Alabama in 1965 to join the Jets. Namath was in his fourth season when he led the Jets into NFL folklore. In 1968, Namath completed 49% of his passes, and had two more interceptions than touchdowns. Brady completed 64% of his passes and had six more touchdowns than picks. The age and numbers favor Brady fairly decisively.

Namath and Brady have a similar makeup on the field. Namath was a man without a boss, and commanded respect in the huddle. He was one of those guys who would say, “Nobody talks in this huddle except me!” Brady may not be that stringent, but he commands a similar respect in the huddle. All the Patriot players were impressed with his ability to run the offense and to be totally composed and poised despite his young age and lack of experience.

Despite the pressure to become a true glamour boy, Brady has endeavoured to maintain a low profile. He isn’t willing to seek the limelight as Namath was. Namath dressed outlandishly, hosted a TV talk show with Dick Schaap, owned a controversial bar in which the NFL forced him to divest himself of, and modeled panty hose in commercials. All Brady has done so far is the SI cover and his contact with Carey.

So, the question now becomes: How long and how much?

One thing the Patriots won’t allow is for Brady to go through the entire 2002 campaign with no new deal. Brady would then become a restricted free agent, in which the Patriots would be at least able to match any deal. Trouble is, the last high profile RFA the Patriots had was Curtis Martin. Most of what the Jets did to pry Martin loose from New England is illegal now, but it is doubtful that the Patriots will allow Brady to get that far.

And if the Patriots follow past practices, Andy Wasynczuk will try and push through a long-term deal that is backloaded, with a humongous signing bonus. Brady will become rich quick, but the Patriots won’t become the next Dallas Cowboys.

The Patriots will literally have to offer Brady Bledsoe money. There isn’t any question that Brady would like to remain a Patriot, and there is nothing remotely resembling any of the animosity that Martin had for the Patriots prior to his departure for the Jets. The relationship between Brady and Belichick is solid. But Brady will deserve Bledsoe money, and should get it.

One final ingredient in determining what Brady gets will be projected future results. Namath never again made it back to the Big Show after his brief taste. In his one game, Brady put up average passing numbers but showed some of the most stunning poise ever seen on a professional football stage. In what literally was his rookie year, Brady led his team on a 53-yard scoring drive with no timeouts left and 1:21 remaining in Super Bowl XXXVI. He took the Patriots from their own 17 to the Rams’ 30, and put Adam Vinatieri in position to win the world championship with a 48-yard field goal.

One must then conclude that if Brady can do something like this as a 24-year-old in just his seventeenth NFL start, he must have more of the same left in his career if the team around him remains strong. Therefore, if Brady’s cap number doesn’t hinder the Patriots in maintaining the rest of the team, Brady should produce at high levels for the foreseeable future.

You might grow tired of the comparisons to Namath, and wish instead for comparisons to Joe Montana. Despite Montana’s lofty stature in NFL history, what Brady did in Super Bowl XXXVI was greatly similar to Montana’s game-winning rally in Super Bowl XXIII against Cincinnati. Brady showed as much cool as Montana (minus the hyperventilating), and got the job done with less time left on the clock and zero timeouts.

Those kind of results with that kind of poise warrants a hefty pay raise for Brady.

And an extended stay in San Mateo East, better known as Foxborough.

The Patriots should make it so that the only problem in Brady’s life is whether or not Laura can hold onto him. Take what Brady already has, then toss in a few million bucks, and Laura will have her hands full.

Hopefully, so will opposing defenders.

Shuffling Off To Buffalo: Bledsoe Era Ends

Bob George
April 21, 2002 at 11:33 pm ET

FOXBOROUGH – The earth shook in the northeast early Saturday morning, with the epicenter in northern Vermont.

It shook again on Sunday, with the epicenter in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Twelve months ago, a deal like this would have been as unbelievable as Curtis Martin and Bill Parcells begging Bob Kraft to take them both back. You perhaps had a better chance of solving the conflict between Israel and Palestine than you had seeing Drew Bledsoe traded.

If anyone on the planet was his team, it was Bledsoe. No position more secure, no man more identified with his team, no man more in control of his situation and his status than the former number one draft pick from Washington State. Bledsoe was firmly established as his team’s centerpiece player, its signature entity, its established front man. He was like the CBS eye and the NBC peacock. He was like the Texaco star and the Budweiser eagle.

Drew Bledsoe now is a Buffalo Bill.

Bruin fans had to deal with Phil Esposito as a Ranger, Bobby Orr as a Black Hawk and Ray Bourque as an Avalanche. Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens donned the Pinstripe duds, as did this big fella sometime around 1920. It was sickening to watch Jo Jo White closing out his career with Golden State, and hating every minute of it. You wished Larry Bird well as head coach of the Indiana Pacers, but watching him there looked totally wrong.

And now, the Patriots will have to take a step back and imagine the once and future Greatest Patriot In History finishing his career in Buffalo. The Bills. A franchise who once lost four straight Super Bowls and whose Hall of Fame running back probably got away with murder. From a cold town to an even colder city. From world champion to a 3-13 team.

At least the Bills are a class organization with one of the more estimable owners in the business. The Buffalo fans are among the more fanatical in the league, with a deep passion for their team and their region. They may have lost four straight Super Bowls, but few fans would complain about four straight AFC titles to get to those Big Shows.

And now, the Bills have Bledsoe as their new centerpiece. They opened up the ticket offices on Sunday once news of the trade broke. Can you blame them?

What was supposed to be a deal, then never would be a deal, became a deal Sunday morning. Buffalo GM Tom Donahoe (remember the Tom and Dom show, folks?) insisted on keeping the 2002 first round pick, and used it a house named Mike Williams, a huge tackle from Texas. Donahoe decided to hand over their first round pick next year for Bledsoe. Done.

Assuming Bledsoe passes a physical, and assuming Bledsoe reports to Bills training camp in July, the deal is done. Both Ralph Wilson and Bob Kraft have issued statements on the deal, and the biggest blockbuster trade in the NFL this offseason is now done, signed, sealed and delivered.

Wilson: “I have been around this franchise, as you know, for many years but this tradeis probably as exciting as any we have ever made and maybe is the most exciting.”

Kraft: “Let me speak as a Patriots fan. Drew Bledsoe is a special player. I have great respect for all he has done for this franchise, not only for his contributions on the field, but also his contributions off the field. He gave our fans some of the greatest memories in the franchise’s history and there will always be a special place reserved for him in the hearts of Patriots fans. For many reasons, and at many levels, this was a difficult trade to make.”

Thus the Bledsoe Era in Foxborough is over.

It might not be as momentous as the day when Queen Elizabeth lays down her scepter and crown. But Patriot Nation may think it will be. It is a transaction of thunderous proportions. Gone is a man who not only led his team out of football Siberia and back into national prominence, but gone is a man who excelled in most every personal quality you could ever think of. The outstanding personal qualities in Bledsoe came out in the open for all to see during the championship campaign of 2001.

And it became the final chapter of a storied Patriot career. The story begins not in Foxborough, but in the small city of Pullman, Washington, up in rich strawberry country in a section of Washington state known as the Palouse.

Pac-10 teams hate coming here because of its remote location. College kids who much prefer to head to Los Angeles, Tempe, Tucson, San Francisco, Seattle or greater Portland are put out when they have to make the cumbersome and uncomfortable trip to Pullman, located way out in western Washington somewhere near Spokane but not easily reached by road. Washington State University (Wazzou) is a member of the Pac-10, so the city boys simply have to come here now and then.

When it comes to Washington, Wazzou has always seemingly been in the shadow of U-Dub (University of Washington). Don James built a powerhouse program in Seattle before relinquishing it to Jim Lambright amidst reports of scandals in and around 1992. Meanwhile, out in Wazzou, U-Dub’s little sister was famous chiefly for turning out a great quarterback now and then. Jack “The Throwin’ Samoan” Thompson, Mark Rypien and Ryan Leaf call this university Alma Mater.

Bledsoe came to Wazzou in 1990. During his career he would play in only 28 games but would still finish second in school history in passing yardage (behind Thompson). But the game that put Bledsoe on the NFL map was the annual showdown with U-Dub in 1992, Bledsoe’s final year at Wazzou as he would be coming out as a junior. In a blizzard (Bledsoe must have been a real wealth of information for Tom Brady), Bledsoe threw four touchdown passes in a 42-21 win over the cross-state rivals. It was his last game in Martin Stadium, and the hometown Palouse folk loved every minute of it.

Meanwhile, in just a few weeks, in a Massachusetts town which Bledsoe perhaps never heard of, a legendary coach named Bill Parcells was hired to lead the destitute Patriots. The 1992 Patriots went 2-14 and owned the top pick in the 1993 Draft.

The highest touted players in that year’s draft were both quarterbacks – Rick Mirer of Notre Dame, and Bledsoe. Parcells never once let on which man he preferred. Bledsoe was the favorite choice among Patriot Nation.

The Patriots went on the clock. It took Parcells maybe two minutes to make his choice, something that Houston seemed to ignore when they had David Carr all signed on Saturday yet took all 15 minutes to make their formality official. Parcells opted for Bledsoe. Seattle picked second and took Mirer. The rest, as they say…

While Mirer turned out to be a bigger bust than Morganna, Bledsoe embarked on a Patriot career that led him from Walla Walla to Foxborough, and most fans and experts figured that when he left Foxborough, his next stop would be Canton.

Scott Secules began the 1993 season as the starting quarterback for the Patriots, but by Week 3 Bledsoe got the inevitable start. In a game better known for Parcells nearly kicking the hell out of rookie Vincent Brisby for his way of celebrating first downs, fellow rookie Bledsoe took the helm and led the Patriots to a 17-14 defeat at the hands of Mirer and the Seahawks. The game was heralded as the big matchup between star rookie quarterbacks, and Mirer won this one in a slamdunk.

But it would be perhaps the high water mark of Mirer’s career. Bledsoe endured many bumps along the way, finishing 1993 just a shade under 50% pass completion percentage. Bledsoe won his first game in Week 5 over Phoenix, but the Patriots lost their next seven contests. The Patriots set the tone for 1994 with four straight wins to close out ’93, including a scintillating overtime regular season finale against Miami which knocked the Dolphins out of the playoffs. Bledsoe hit Michael Timpson on a deep right sideline pass for a touchdown, and the Patriots went into 1994 incredibly buoyant.

Bledsoe led the ’94 Patriots to an incredibly unlikely playoff berth, their first since 1987. The regular season featured arguably his greatest professional game ever, a November 13th home game against Minnesota. Trailing at the half, 20-3, Bledsoe set NFL records with 70 pass attempts and 45 completions, and his team rallied to win in overtime, 26-20. This triggered a seven-game win streak to finish the season at 10-6.

In the postseason, the Patriots went up against a Cleveland Browns team, a rematch of a 13-6 loss a week prior to the Minnesota classic. The Browns head coach concocted a defensive scheme that induced four interceptions from Bledsoe, and the Patriot slinger finished with only 21 of 50 passing for 235 yards. Cleveland won, 20-13, as pupil beat teacher in the coaching ranks. Parcells shook the hands of the man whose defense shut Bledsoe down, a defensive whiz named Bill Belichick.

1995 was a difficult one for Bledsoe. Despite the addition of rookie Martin in the backfield, Bledsoe suffered an injury in a Week 3 loss to San Francisco. Scott Zolak started each of the next two games and lost both. Bledsoe came back at Kansas City but came up short, 31-26. The team finished 6-10, as Bledsoe never fully overcame his Week 3 injury.

The 6-10 record enabled the Patriots to get the sixth pick in the 1996 Draft. Kraft overruled Parcells and chose Ohio State’s Terry Glenn. Parcells challenged Glenn’s manhood, and Bledsoe benefited from this by finding Glenn a rookie-record 90 times. Bledsoe rode Glenn and Martin’s great production to an 11-5 mark, an AFC East title, and the two seed in the playoffs. Bledsoe had subpar numbers in a 28-3 Fog Bowl win over Pittsburgh, then made ready to face the Jacksonville Jaguars for the 1996 AFC championship.

It was going into this game that the football watching public began to openly question the true championship calibre of Bledsoe. Mike Ditka made the observation that “this guy Bledsoe has yet to string together four solid quarters!” Many experts didn’t think Bledsoe could win the big game. In the AFC title game against Jacksonville, Bledsoe benefited from Jaguar turnovers and special team gaffes, and the Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XXXI with a 20-6 win. Bledsoe, hampered with a touch of the flu, became a Super Bowl quarterback despite a passer rating against the Jags of only 62.4.

In the Super Bowl, Bledsoe fired two short touchdown passes and led the team on a third quarter touchdown drive capped off by a 19-yard run by Martin. But Green Bay picked off Bledsoe four times, and Reggie White dominated Bledsoe in the second half. The Packers won, 35-21, and Bledsoe would lose his head coach after the game.

In addition to Parcells bolting, Bledsoe would also lose his quarterback coach, Chris Palmer. Pete Carroll came in as head coach, and Larry Kennan replaced Ray Perkins as offensive coordinator. This began a stretch of three offensive coordinators over the next five years, as well as a period of gradual decline for the Patriots in general.

Bledsoe took it upon himself to portray himself as a tough quarterback who really could win the big game. The 1997 season saw the Patriots repeat as division champs, but two negative moments defined Bledsoe’s season and cast doubts upon his ability to come through in the clutch.

A huge December 13th game at Foxborough gave the Steelers a chance at revenge from the previous year’s Fog Bowl. Leading 21-13 in the fourth quarter as the game neared the two-minute warning and the Steelers out of time outs, Bledsoe tried to get a first down instead of punting and pinning the Steelers deep in their territory. His screen pass intended for Dave Meggett was picked off by Kevin Henry, and the Steelers rallied for a 24-21 win.

The win gave Pittsburgh home field for the eventual playoff rematch between these two teams. Trailing 7-6 late in the fourth quarter with an offensive squad decimated by injuries, Bledsoe was leading his troops on a drive which only needed to result in a field goal for a win. But future Patriot Mike Vrabel beat Bruce Armstrong on the outside, and hit Bledsoe on his blind side. His fumble was recovered by Jason Gildon, and the Steelers held on by that one slim point.

In 1998, Bledsoe finally did garner all the adulation that seemed to elude him all his career, that he was tough and could win big games. Bledsoe, viewed by many as too laid back to be a true leader, led his team to two unbelievable come-from-behind wins at home on successive weeks, and he did so despite a broken finger.

On November 23rd, Bledsoe fired a pass into the Miami defense. His follow through caused his hand to smash into the helmet of Shane Burton. Bledsoe finished the game with a broken finger, but rallied his team to a last second 26-23 win over the Dolphins. The following week, with pins stuck in his broken finger on his throwing hand, he led his team back from behind against Buffalo. He hit Ben Coates with a late touchdown, and the Patriots beat Buffalo in a controversial decision, 25-21.

After leading the Patriots to a 23-9 win at Pittsburgh the following week, Bledsoe finally had to shut his season down the next week at St. Louis. Zolak lost to the Rams, beat the 49ers, and was embarrassed by the Jets and smothered by the Jaguars in the postseason.

Ernie Zampese had replaced Kennan as offensive coordinator for 1998, but in 1999 the Patriots became a dispirited and lazy bunch of sad sacks. The Patriots lost six of their last eight games, and both Carroll and Zampese would be fired at year’s end. Bledsoe began to get pounded week after week thanks to an offensive line too untalented to block and too lazy to care. He suffered a brutal beating in ’99, and was sacked an incredible 55 times during the season.

With Belichick coming on board in 2000, the losing continued, but Bledsoe’s career took an upturn in the process. Belichick brought in Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator, and made what turned out to be a key hire in Dick Rehbein, who would become Bledsoe’s position coach. Despite more shoddy offense, lousy blocking and more losses, Rehbein had helped Bledsoe cut down on his interceptions. Bledsoe always had a bad habit all during his career of poor, impulsive judgments when under pressure. Rehbein helped Bledsoe deal with that propensity, and his interceptions in ’00 went down.

As the 2001 season dawned, life slipped away from Rehbein. A man with a history of heart problems, Rehbein passed away during training camp on August 6th. Bledsoe was stunned by the tragedy, and immediately set out to take care of the college educations of Rehbein’s two daughters.

2001 would reveal the true Bledsoe, Bledsoe the man versus Bledsoe the player. Taking care of Betsy and Sarabeth Rehbein was only the tip of the iceberg. Bledsoe had his own foundation, and was as respected as an athlete of his ilk could be in the greater Boston area.

But his true manhood was revealed on the horrid evening of September 23rd, 2001. Twelve days after the darkest day in the history of the United States of America, the Patriots were playing the emotionally scarred New York Jets at Foxborough. Trailing late in the game, 10-3, Bledsoe tried to make a first down by rolling to his right. He was just about to reach the first down marker when he saw Mo Lewis bearing down on him.

The collision was horrific. Bledsoe went flying out of bounds, his helmet disfigured. It took Bledsoe a few seconds to get up. Brady called it the worst hit he’d ever seen, and put on his helmet expecting to eventually go into the game.

Bledsoe played one more series, then handed things over to Brady. The rally fell short, and the Jets won. But Bledsoe had to go to MGH after the game, and Patriot Nation would later learn in shock that Bledsoe nearly passed away that evening.

What proved to be the most telling moment of this evening was not the fact that Bledsoe nearly died. It was that Bledsoe played one more series after the hit before leaving. Bledsoe had suffered a sheared artery in his chest due to a broken rib from the hit. He wound up losing half his body’s blood. While all this was going on, Bledsoe was still in there, trying to rally his team. Bledsoe would no longer need to prove to anyone on the planet that he was a tough man.

But the injury began the process that resulted in today’s trade. Brady came in and took the team on a 14-3 ride for the balance of the season, and wound up becoming Super Bowl MVP. Once Bledsoe healed up and was pronounced healthy enough to play for the November 25th game versus New Orleans, the Patriots were on a roll, Brady was the hot man, and Bledsoe was told he was no longer the starting quarterback of the Patriots.

Here is where Bledsoe the man came out in further detail. He was beyond furious to find that Belichick had gone back on his promise of giving him back the starting job when he was ready. But rather than unleash his anger on his team and Brady, he took the high road all the way.

All season long, he befriended Brady, tutored him, worked with him, hung out with him, and brought him along. When the team MVP award is considered at season’s end, one has to wonder if Bledsoe got any consideration for the honor by perhaps being the man most responsible for Brady playing so well. If not for that, then it is for setting the best possible example in the “team first” concept by taking his demotion as a professional, and acting in the most professional manner at all times during the lowest point of his professional career.

Bledsoe’s shining example of how to behave as a true team player helped lead the Patriots to victories they never thought they’d get. The second Jets game, the second Miami game, and all three playoff wins were games that the Patriots really had no chance on paper to win. But Brady stood in there and did what he had to do to win, and a lot of that has to go to Bledsoe’s constant nurturing and encouraging.

And all through this, Bledsoe endured occasional criticism. Brady came off as being able to read defenses better than Bledsoe. Brady looked like he had better footwork than Bledsoe. Bledsoe often had to listen to critics who said that he would often look like he had reverted back to rookie form on certain occasions, and would make mistakes that a veteran of his experience should never make.

Bledsoe’s last hurrah came in the 2001 AFC title game at Pittsburgh. Forced into the game after Lee Flowers fell on Brady’s ankle and sprained it, Bledsoe came up with the three best passes of his distinguished Patriot career. After not having thrown a pass in four months, he came right in and fired a 15-yard bullet to David Patten. Bledsoe then ran around right end and was plastered by Chad Scott exactly like Lewis did to him in September. But Bledsoe came up snarling, hit Patten for 10 yards, the lofted a pretty 11-yard touchdown pass to Patten to put the Patriots up, 14-3.

Bledsoe spent the rest of the game keeping the team’s head above water. When it came time to take the final snaps, the Super Bowl berth secured, the television cameras focused in close-up shots of Bledsoe’s face. Bledsoe was clearly fighting back tears during the final 90 seconds of the game. When it finally ended, Bledsoe collapsed on the football and wept openly, thinking about finally getting back to the Big Show, his horrid season, and Rehbein. Other than Rehbein’s passing, it was the most poignant moment of the Patriot season.

What was Bledsoe’s reward? Being asked if he was surprised that he could still actually play quarterback. Being asked what he had learned from Brady. Going to New Orleans hearing everything except the words “Drew Bledsoe will start at quarterback for the Patriots!”

Getting back to the Big Show was one thing. Starting was quite another. As things turned out, Brady’s ankle healed, and Bledsoe watched the entire Super Bowl from the sideline. Brady embraced Bledsoe after Adam Vinatieri’s winning kick. Bledsoe wore his championship cap and smiled for the television and movie cameras. The Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI with absolutely nothing from Bledsoe other than a great $5 million cheerleading job.

Bledsoe got his ring. But the pain of not playing when the championship was on the line hurt him worse than Lewis ever could.

And that is why Sunday became a very happy day in the life of Drew Bledsoe. He heads to the shores of Lake Erie as a starting quarterback once again. He will drive up and down Delaware Avenue as the big cheese in town. He will be embraced by a legion of rabid football fans who love him already.

Most important, Bledsoe is returned to his element, and that is as a starting quarterback, one of the best in the league. No more shall he languish as someone’s backup. No longer shall he be subjected to questions as to his fitness as a starting quarterback. No longer does he need to toil for a coach with whom he has no trust, and likely the coach has little or no respect for.

Dealing Bledsoe within the division for any reason makes one think that Belichick is showing Bledsoe no respect. Belichick, who has a history of coaching well against Bledsoe much like Peyton Manning, probably figures two easy wins over Buffalo by sending Bledsoe there. How true this may or not may be, if this is how New England remembers Bledsoe every time his Bills play the Patriots, it will be a rotten shame.

Bledsoe did nothing but distinguish himself in his nine years in New England. He went to three Pro Bowls, won two AFC Championship games, set a bevy of Patriot and league career and season passing records, and proved himself to be a tough leader and a gritty competitor. He displayed exemplary conduct in his nine years (when not hanging out in mosh pits), and was always a well polished team spokesman. He was a typical “pillar of the community” figure, who made Foxborough his home and did a lot more than just hang his hat there.

But his lasting legacy will be the 2001 season. In the face of adversity, near death and the loss of an untouchable starting quarterback job, Bledsoe was more of a leader than he had ever been. To say that Bledsoe had nothing to do with Super Bowl XXXVI is to be totally blind. Brady’s poise and execution on the game-winning drive was probably as much Bledsoe as it was Brady. Drop back and sling it, and a whole lot more.

Now Bledsoe is gone. And Brady had better not be the next Rypien, not that he is expected to be.

When there is a change in the presidency of the United States, the last thing that happens before the inauguration is an exchange of cards. The outgoing president gives the incoming president secret cards with code numbers on them which are used to activate nuclear bombs. If Bledsoe were in Foxborough instead of Montana, you might see the two men exchanging similar tokens Sunday morning. The keys of the Patriot franchise have literally been passed from Bledsoe to Brady.

And on the other side of the New York State Thruway, Alex Van Pelt is poised to do the same thing. The trouble is, the person who should really be handing the tokens to Bledsoe is Jim Kelly. Doug Flutie is gone, and Rob Johnson is hardly worthy of the honor, as is Van Pelt. Kelly marked the end of the last great era in Bills football. Bledsoe marks the beginning of the new one.

Meanwhile, Bledsoe leaves behind a team of champions, men who owe him a great debt of gratitude.

And a region who will never forget his great career, and who will scream for him when he gets his ring, followed years later with his number 11 being retired at CMGi Field.

The Bledsoe Era is over, earlier than anyone ever figured.

Well, not really. The Bledsoe Era continues. In Buffalo.

REPORT: Trade Talks Heat Up For Bledsoe

Ian Logue
April 18, 2002 at 11:20 pm ET

Talks may be heating up with Buffalo,
but whether or not a deal gets done before the draft is another story.
(File Photo)

ESPN.com is reporting that talks between New England and Buffalo are heating up and that a deal could be consummated before the weekend to bring Drew Bledsoe to upstate New York.

It was initially reported that faced with the prospect that Bledsoe will not report to training camp, New England
may now be prepared to reduce its demands.  The Bills are only reportedly offering a 3rd round selection and a possible conditional draft choice next season.

One league source told ESPN.com that the Bills “really believe they’re going to get (Bledsoe) now.”

Bill Belichick told the media last week that he “would be very surprised if anything happened before the draft in that area” when asked about whether or not he felt a deal could be made on a trade of Bledsoe.

“I don’t know where anybody’s going,” said Belichick.  “They’re all under contract so I would expect them to be at training camp.”

Neither team that has expressed interest in Bledsoe, the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, were willing to part with their first round picks this weekend.  The Patriots have reportedly been looking for a first round pick for the 9-year veteran, and it would be surprising if they didn’t remain steadfast on their demands.

However faced with the possibility of having Brady and Bledsoe face off in training camp, Belichick may be changing his mind.

Any team that does trade for him aren’t looking at paying him ridiculous amount of money, especially for a starting quarterback.  His current contract is really only for three years, with a total of $16.5 million in base salaries.  He’s scheduled to earn $5 million in 2002, $5.5 million in 2003, and $6 million in 2004.

Seems like a pretty good deal for any team.

The Pats believe he’s worth a first round pick but the Bills apparently are saying they won’t give it to them.

Fans will now just have to wait and see exactly what the ransom will be.

BILLS
DRAFT SELECTIONS (ROUNDS 1-3)
Round 1: 4th overall
Round 2: 4th selection
(36th overall)
Round 3: 4th selection
(69th overall)
Round 3: 32nd
selection (97th overall) – Compensatory pick

Belichick Doubts Any Trade Involving Bledsoe Before The Draft

Ian Logue
April 12, 2002 at 4:07 pm ET

FOXBORO, MA — With the draft approaching it appears that any urgency to trade Drew Bledsoe is the farthest thing from Bill Belichick’s mind.

In his pre-draft press conference on Thursday he told reporters that he personally hasn’t talked to any teams about a trade for the former franchise quarterback, and he’ll be surprised if anything happens between now and next weekend.

“I have not talked to anybody about any trades,” said Belichick. “There’s always conversations about personnel and that’s part of Scott (Pioli)’s job. If something substantial comes up I’m sure that we’ll talk about it, and to this point really nothing has. I’m not looking to do anything.”

“I don’t have any expectations. Right now what I’m trying to do is get ready for the draft and make sure that we’re ready to make the decisions that we need to make on draft day. I would be very surprised if anything, and not that we’re looking to do anything I’m not saying that, I would be very surprised if anything happened before the draft in that area.”

Bills President Tom Donahoe however has confirmed in several published reports that talks with the Patriots have taken place, and it appears that whatever it is the Pats hope to receive, New England isn’t going to back down on any of their demands. In an article on the Cincinnati Bengals official website on Tuesday Donahoe said that, “We’re frustrated with how the talks are going. We can’t get anywhere and it’s been frustrating for us.”

But whatever offers they may have made for Bledsoe’s services seem to be insignificant in the eyes of Belichick. While it may be a posturing move, it appears that he is fully prepared to open camp with Bledsoe still in a Pats uniform in the event that teams simply won’t come forward with a ransom worthy of setting him free.

Needless to say if that’s what it comes to, he expects to see Bledsoe in training camp. Will Bledsoe be given the opportunity to compete for his job? It’s tough to say. All Belichick would say on the subject is what he’s said all along, and that is he’ll play the best players.

“The players that are under contract, I expect them to be in training camp,” said Belichick. “We expect to work with them at that point, that’s really all there is about it. I have never said anything but that, and my position hasn’t changed and neither has anything else. That’s my position, and that’s really all I have to say about it.”

“I think we’ve seen that we’re going to play the best players. That’s what our philosophy has been, and that’s what it’s going to be. That’s not about any player in particular, it’s about all the players at all the positions. There’s nothing that has changed there either.”

As of right now there are only two players that haven’t communicated directly with Belichick regarding the offseason program. One is Bledsoe, who gave every indication he wouldn’t be here after not missing one during his entire tenure with the team. The other is linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer.

“We have two players that really have not given us any indication or communication about their participation in the offseason program,” said Belichick. “Everybody else has, and basically they’re all here working hard, or we understand what their situation is why they’re not here.”

“We’ve talked to all those players, there are two that aren’t [here], and that’s their choice, it’s voluntary.”

Will it hurt Bledsoe’s chances to compete for his job because he’s not here for the offseason program? Wide receiver Terry Glenn was listed near the bottom of the depth chart and had to work his way back up when he failed to show up during the offseason last year prior to his suspension. Imagine Bledsoe being listed behind Damon Huard and working with the 3rd-string offense during training camp. It would be a recipe for disaster, and would definitely present Belichick and the rest of the team with a difficult situation.

Belichick certainly must know this, but nevertheless he remained steadfast at even the notion of Bledsoe not being here next season.

“I don’t know where anybody’s going,” said Belichick. “They’re all under contract so I would expect them to be at training camp.”

Doesn’t look like he thinks Bledsoe is going anywhere.

The stare down has begun.

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