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Tuesday, November 27, 2001
Updated: January 17, 8:59 PM ET
It's the story of a man named Bledsoe

By Bob Halloran
Special to Page 2

Hold on just a gosh-darn bitter cold minute there, New England. Don't let go of your quarterback controversy just yet.

Tom Brady
Pats fans have been mysteriously infatuated with incrediblyaverage Tom Brady.
Now that Tom Brady has gone and thrown four touchdown passes, the debate -- like your Big Dig road construction -- could go on forever. Understand that, as a person, New England is a very old, crotchety individual who's right now stuck in traffic and who can't build a new Fenway Park and who was down on his hands and knees thanking his own, personal God that there was a quarterback controversy. This ill-tempered-complaining-about-the-weather-flipping-you-off-on-the-highway person has been trying to run Drew Bledsoe out of town since the day the Patriots drafted him.

"Thank you," this person says, "for finally giving us a legitimate choice to replace a future Hall of Famer who led us to a Super Bowl when there's no way we were the second-best team in the NFL, so now we can push Bledsoe out of here the same way we did to Roger Clemens, Carlton Fisk, Curtis Martin and Bobby Orr!"

This person can't construct a new stadium, but he has no problem constructing a run-on sentence from time to time.

This guy, New England -- "Ingy," to his friends -- originally wanted Rick Mirer in that 1993 draft, and we all know how that turned out. Mirer became Ryan Leaf without the baggage, but with just as many free tickets out of town.

And Bledsoe put Ingy's stubborn streak to the test. Ingy was convinced Bledsoe wasn't the right guy, despite all the evidence to the contrary. When Bledsoe threw for more than 4,500 yards in his second season, Ingy gave the credit to Bill Parcells -- despite the fact Parcells throws like a girl.

The second time Bledsoe threw for more than 4,000 yards, he led the Patriots to the Super Bowl. But Ingy talked ignorantly about his preference for mobile quarterbacks like Mark Brunell and Kordell Stewart -- two quarterbacks that Bledsoe outgunned, outlasted and knocked out of the playoffs on his way to the Super Bowl, a game those two guys have never quarterbacked in.

Ingy was like the guy who has a very pretty girlfriend, but who feels like the grass is always greener somewhere else, and there are a few more lawns he'd like to mow.

(Of course, when Scott Zolak was the Patriots backup quarterback, even Ingy had to be satisfied with what he had. Ingy's difficult, but he's not crazy. When that girl across the room looks like Scott Zolak, even an Ingy's more likely to look deeply into the eyes of his girlfriend and say: "You're my guy!")

Drew Bledsoe
Drew Bledsoe plays with separated shoulders, broken fingers and life-threatening internal injuries, but it's not enough in New England.
Suddenly, who walks into the bar, but Tom Brady? Ingy notices. Ingy watches this new "hottie" throw for a paltry 168 yards in his first game, a win over the Colts, and an even paltrier 86 yards in his second game, a devastating loss to the Dolphins, and Ingy has already seen enough. He wants Brady. Bledsoe is off having work done on his chest, and losing 20 pounds, but he gets dumped anyway. Heartless!

The excitement of the new courtship causes Ingy to go temporarily blind and to see only what he wants to see. The third "date" is a win over San Diego, in which a 37-yard interception return in overtime sets up a game-winning field goal. Then there's another win over Indianapolis, in which wide receiver David Patten runs for a touchdown and throws for another.

Brady doesn't look any better than the old girlfriend, but ever since the break-up, good things are happening in Ingy's life. So, Ingy is in love, which is why he is able to look past the relationship's first sign of trouble -- that coyote ugly four-interception game at Denver.

"That's OK, honey," Ingy says, as if he's channeling "Shallow Hal." "I still believe in your magic. Let's see how you bounce back against the 30th-ranked passing defense in Atlanta next week."

This is where I start to get mad at the media. I accuse them of intentionally setting up Brady for a slam-dunk success story. Reporters and radio-heads talk about discovering what Brady's character is like: "How will he respond to such a dismal performance?" Well, if his next game were against the Ravens, I think he would have responded by having his character slapped around by Ray Lewis, but he goes up against the Falcons, and plays well against a secondary that appears to be playing under water. Love is in the air again!

And it stays in the air, despite the stink that is also in the air when Brady gets sacked seven times and throws for 107 yards against Buffalo. It's the kind of stink that usually gets the EPA involved, and it is also the fifth time in seven games that Brady has thrown for fewer than 203 yards (now six of nine, and eight of nine less than 260 yards). But he's the magic man, mama!

  Fact is, Brady hasn't made a throw or a decision that Bledsoe couldn't make, or that he hasn't made thousands of times before. After eight years of Hall-of-Fame-caliber excellence, and eight years of giving several liters of blood and sweat, Bledsoe deserves a chance to guide this team that has suddenly found a running game. 
  

Meanwhile, Bledsoe sits back and wonders about unrequited love. He gives, and he gives, and he gives -- and it's never enough for Ingy. Bledsoe plays with separated shoulders, broken fingers, and with life-threatening internal injuries. He was sacked 45 times last year, spending more time on his back than the "English Patient." He's the consummate team player who continues to support the kid replacing him. And he's one of only four quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to throw for at least 3,000 yards in seven straight seasons. Dan Marino, Brett Favre and John Elway are the others.

Where is the love?

I used to ask my brother-in-law, a card-carrying member of the Bash Bledsoe Boys Club, what he was going to say when Bledsoe became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He said Bledsoe would pat the microphone and hold it too long and then get sacked by four guys in Century 21 jackets. You see, Fred -- like Ingy -- thinks Bledsoe is immobile, can't throw the deep pass, and is too easy to tackle.

"He's the only quarterback I've seen who goes into a duck-and-cover on a safety blitz," Fred says. "I guess he doesn't realize he's six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than the attackers."

I hate it when Fred's right, but that's a fair criticism.

Fred also calls Bledsoe a sphinx. He's not suggesting Bledsoe is a winged monster with the head and breast of a woman and the body of a lion -- at least I don't think he is. Instead, the suggestion is that Bledsoe is a bit of a riddle, and the riddle is: "Why would a man fight so passionately for something that he has no passion for?" In other words, Bledsoe tries with everything he has to win, even though winning doesn't seem to matter that much to him.

Why? Here's why: Because he has passion for the fight.

(I don't really know how that relates to anything, or even what it means, but when I thought of it, it sounded like it might be profound, even sphinxlike. Do you know what the sphinx said about the coach who wouldn't give him his job back? Egypt me!)

What Fred and Ingy fail to realize is simply this: Through eight years in the NFL, Bledsoe threw for just more than 29,000 yards, 164 touchdowns and 136 interceptions. Through his first eight years, John Elway threw for 4,000 fewer yards, just 135 touchdowns, and had 128 interceptions.

You can even compare Bledsoe to Marino, though it turns out Marino was a monster with 241 touchdowns in his first eight years. However, Marino only threw for 250 more yards per season, and the interceptions are identical. The point is that the first eight years of Bledsoe's career are comparable to the first eight of Marino's (who also went to one Super Bowl and lost), and are better than the first eight of Elway's ... yet somehow Ingy and Fred want the three-time Pro Bowler to be replaced by a man named Brady who has managed to win six games against teams that are a combined 21-30 and who has managed to lose three games to teams that are a combined 21-10.

Brady went to Denver and threw four interceptions, one in the end zone that essentially lost the game. If Bledsoe had done that, Ingy would have run out of couples' therapy straight to divorce court, claiming irreconcilable differences. But instead -- a year earlier -- Bledsoe went to Denver and threw four touchdown passes, had a quarterback rating of 123.6, was the player of the week -- and won the game!

Now, to address Brady's so-called masterpiece against New Orleans: The Patriots ran for 191 yards, while their defense stuffed Ricky Williams and confused Aaron Brooks, but Brady won the game!! No way Bledsoe could have thrown a 20-foot lob screen to Antowain Smith, and then watched him run 41 yards for a touchdown. Bledsoe couldn't possibly have orchestrated a nine-play scoring drive that included eight running plays. Bledsoe certainly has never thrown a short touchdown pass before ... why should we think he could do it now? Brady was sacked four times and fumbled twice, but he's much better at fumbling than Bledsoe, because the Patriots recovered the ball both times.

For some reason, there is this presumption -- totally false -- that Brady is doing things that Drew Bledsoe can't do.

Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady
With Tom Brady's emergence, the Patriots have a difficult to decision to make this offseason regarding Drew Bledsoe.
Fact is, Brady hasn't made a throw or a decision that Bledsoe couldn't make, or that he hasn't made thousands of times before. After eight years of Hall-of-Fame-caliber excellence, and eight years of giving several liters of blood and sweat, Bledsoe deserves a chance to guide this team that has suddenly found a running game.

Last year, there were 13 games in which the Patriots' leading rusher had fewer than 70 yards. There were six games in which the leading rusher had fewer than 40 yards. And if Ingy had bothered to pay attention, Brady's worst games -- and three were truly pitiful -- were against Miami, Denver, Buffalo and St. Louis ... and all four have pass defenses ranked in the top 15. His best games were against Indianapolis, Atlanta, New Orleans and San Diego ... all with pass defenses ranked 18th or lower. Good luck against the third-ranked Jets on Sunday!

This is not an anti-Brady column. It's pro-Bledsoe.

The kid's held down the fort very well. However, when I think of Brady, I think of one word: incrediblyaverage. The average game for Brady in his nine starts is 202 yards, 1.7 touchdowns, and one interception.

These numbers are attractive enough to toss aside the beauty that is Drew Bledsoe?

There never was a true controversy because Bledsoe wasn't ready to play. The guy lost 20 pounds and was near death, and still hasn't practiced with the offense in nine weeks. Putting on 20 pounds isn't as easy as it sounds. I've been to a double-wedding weekend with open bar and all the carrot cake you can eat -- during the holidays -- and couldn't pack on 20.

But soon Bledsoe will be ready, and the presumption should be that the Patriots could be even better if they upgraded at quarterback -- even if it's only slightly. Bledsoe should play. Not out of loyalty. Not because of his paycheck. Not because Patriots owner Bob Kraft wants to adopt him. But because he gives the Patriots the best chance to win. He didn't suddenly forget how to throw a ball. He didn't get dumber and lose the ability to read defenses. He didn't lose -- or at least shouldn't have lost -- the confidence of his teammates.

He's not at the tale end of his career. He's in the middle of a great one. Let him play!

Bob Halloran is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.