Bledsoe: a Quarterback With a Cause
NORTH DARTMOUTH, MASS.
When the Monitor caught up with quarterback Drew Bledsoe not long ago, the New England Patriots had not yet opened their National Football League training camp.
Nonetheless, Bledsoe was completing a busy day, partly spent taping a "Rock the Vote" voter-registration public-service spot for MTV, then helping his father, Mac, and other coaches in schooling young players at a summer football camp held on the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth campus.
Among the autograph-seekers who waited for Bledsoe to walk off the vast practice field were two adult superfans, one of whom had reviewed a stellar Bledsoe performance on videotape 20 times. Bledsoe has never seen the tape, a fact he quietly shares after his admirers have happily departed with his signature.
Before Drew drove home in his black Porsche, Mac Bledsoe told his son that the camp coaches were going to have dinner together. "I'll pass," Drew says, "I have a date with the couch," meaning he looked forward to some serious relaxing.
The life of an NFL quarterback is filled with demands on his time, both on and off the field. Seizing what free time exists is important to Bledsoe, who married his college girlfriend in Portland, Ore, last spring.
In another major offseason development, he announced in May that he was forming the Drew Bledsoe Foundation and putting his father in charge.
The foundation's main objective is to broadly share the parenting lessons Mac Bledsoe, a high school teacher-coach, has taught for many years.
"I've been looking for a charitable cause to undertake since I came into the league [in 1993]," Drew says, "but I couldn't find anything that really grabbed me. It was like all the good ones had been taken [by other players]. I could just continue to give money to them, but I wanted something I could put my heart and soul into."
This led him to consider what had really been important in his own life. "I feel the biggest reason I've been able to be successful is because of my parents," he concluded, "not because they taught me how to throw a football, but because they gave me the roots to be able to be satisfied with whatever I did."
Bledsoe may still take part in other charitable activities, such as the Boys and Girls Club, which he has enjoyed. His focus, however, will be on his own foundation, and even then his involvement will be limited.
Some of the program funding will be performance related, with contributions tied to New England touchdowns.
Patriot fans hope TDs occur with greater regularity than last year, when the team and Bledsoe fell short of expectations. As the league's former top draft choice, he was viewed as a franchise maker when he left Washington State University.
As a rookie, he guided what had been a 2-14 team in 1992 to a 5-11 record. This was followed by a wild-card playoff berth in 1994, when Bledsoe completed 45 of 70 passes in one game (both league records) and finished the season with a sensational 400 completions.
Last year the New England Patriots (6-10) struggled. Bledsoe says the situation was difficult because "when you don't win, guys lose their jobs. The turnover in personnel takes the enjoyment away. When you're winning it's really fun. Players know they are going to be around, and you get to build some camaraderie."
The Patriots appeared determined to establish some positive momentum heading into this Sunday's season opener against Miami. They ended their four-game preseason slate with consecutive victories over Dallas, Philadelphia, and Washington, and Bledsoe gained confidence throwing from the shotgun formation.
So how does his work on the field fit with his foundation?
"During the season I feel my role first and foremost is to go out and play good football," he says. "If I'm not playing well, then the drawing power of a Drew Bledsoe Foundation is not the same."
He adds that his primary function is to help fund the foundation, something his multimillion dollar NFL contract facilitates.
"What I've done is take my dad's dream and remove the need for him to go through the educational bureaucracies that exist. Now he can just go do it."
Mac Bledsoe says that when he started teaching parenting 18 years ago, about 80 to 90 percent of the people who showed up for his classes were women. Now, men sometimes constitute nearly half his audience, a shift that he thinks has been influenced by the football successes of his two sons, including college-age quarterback Adam.
"Their images as wholesome young men may increase the desire of men to come and hear what I have to say," says Mac Bledsoe. "There's way too much emphasis on athletics," he adds, "but if that's the way it is, why not use it?"
Mac Bledsoe estimates that a majority of professional athletes in the United States do something to help their communities, a fact he says is obscured by "negative journalism." In particular, he cites what has occurred in Dallas, where the scandalous drug case of Cowboys' wide receiver Michael Irvin has monopolized the news, while the many philanthropic efforts of quarterback Troy Aikman go virtually unnoticed.
New England, like Dallas, is a tinderbox of sports fanaticism. Because of this, Drew Bledsoe has found that playing far from home has been a blessing .
Though hard at first, he says he has gotten used to the idea, and enjoys his offseason retreats to the Pacific Northwest, where people recognize his name but not necessarily his face. "Plus," he adds, "there's just a different attitude toward sports in that part of the country. In New England, they are so sport crazy I honestly feel some people take the wins and losses harder than the players."
In his own family, he says football has never been the foundation of good relationships. "The focus is on the friendship, the love, the laughter we share. Because of that we've been able to discuss other things, but keep them in perspective."