Drew Bledsoe says he didn’t know where his Super Bowl XXXVI ring was for “a long time.”
Having helped the Patriots go from a football backwater to a second Super Bowl appearance in a decade, Bledsoe admitted it was a simultaneously “sweet” and “bitter” experience of watching from the sideline as another quarterback led New England to its long-awaited championship.
It’s a topic that’s discussed in a new “E:60” episode about Bledsoe that aired Sunday on ESPN. Much of Bledsoe’s story is known to Patriots fans at this point, but a candid retrospective view of his career in the “E:60” episode provides a fuller perspective of one of the most famous quarterback dynamics in Patriots history.
Here are a few of the notable moments from Bledsoe and his family:
His family’s first flight together was to the NFL Draft.
In 1993, the Patriots selected Bledsoe with the first pick in the draft. Yet Bill Parcells, New England’s new head coach, gave no indication beforehand who he would select.
“Parcells would never tell anybody what he was going to do, so I didn’t know until they called my name that I was going to go first,” said Bledsoe.
Asked what he was thinking through the draft process, Bledsoe admitted it was overwhelming given his background.
“Small-town kid from Walla Walla,” Bledsoe recalled. “First time my family had ever been on an airplane together. It was all very surreal.”
It was a ‘tough relationship’ with Bill Parcells.
“Not enjoyable,” Bledsoe said when asked about working with Parcells. “I mean, he was not fun to play with, and anybody who ever tells you he was is just flat-out lying to you.”
Despite the success Bledsoe and the Patriots achieved under Parcells (culminating with an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI), it wasn’t a happy memory.
“It was a tough relationship,” Bledsoe summarized.
He thought Tom Brady would be a career backup.
Much like everyone else in football, Bledsoe’s initial opinion of Brady was that he would not become an NFL starter. But Bledsoe and Brady got along, and developed a friendship prior to the 2001 season.
“Here’s the real truth,” Bledsoe explained, “so when he was on the practice squad his rookie year, I actually called my financial advisor about him. I was like, ‘Hey, I really like this kid. He’s never going to be a starter. He’s going to be Jason Garrett or one of those guys that’s just going to be around forever. You’ll really like the kid.'”
“We kind of brought him in. He was over our house,” Bledsoe continued. “We had him over for dinner probably at least every other week. But just really liked him. Liked the kid. I thought he was just [great] and still do. But nobody, outside of maybe Tom himself, would ever have predicted that he was going to go on to be a starter in the league and be in the conversation as one of the greatest of all-time.”
The Mo Lewis hit had life-threatening implications.
In the second game of the 2001 season, Bledsoe suffered a sideline hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis that changed the fortune of his career and — given its full ramifications — NFL history. Brady eventually went into the game as Bledsoe remained on the sidelines, unaware of the extent of his injuries.
“Our trainer and the team [doctor] grabbed me after the game,” recalled Bledsoe. “They threw me in the ambulance. My brother actually rode with me in the ambulance to Mass General Hospital. We got just on the outskirts of Boston and I went lights-out.”
For Adam Bledsoe, riding in the ambulance with his brother was a terrifying moment.
“Did he just die? Like, did he just die in front of me?” Adam said he remembered thinking. “I’d never seen anything like this.”
“They were worried that they were going to lose him,” said Bledsoe’s wife, Maura. When Jeremy Schaap (the program’s host) tried to clarify by asking if by “lose him” she meant “die,” Maura replied, “Oh yeah, they didn’t know what was happening. That was scary.”
Bledsoe’s lung had collapsed after he suffered a sheared blood vessel in his chest.
“If he’d have been on his way home, he would have either died in the car accident when he lost consciousness, or he would’ve died from the blood loss,” said Bledsoe’s father, Mac.
He was ‘heartbroken’ losing his job during the 2001 season.
After returning from injury, Bledsoe was ready to reclaim his starting job by November. Famously, Bill Belichick elected to keep Brady as the team’s top quarterback.
“That was a bitter pill to swallow,” said Bledsoe. “I thought I was entitled to get my job back, and it turns out I wasn’t, and it doesn’t work that way.”
“It was a tough thing to deal with,” Bledsoe added.
“I was heartbroken,” said Kraft, “because I felt a connection, and I didn’t think it was fair on a human basis. Drew came to me and expressed his frustration. I went and met with Bill, and Bill explained to me his thinking.”
“I mean I could’ve stepped in, especially at that time,” offered Kraft, “but I trusted Bill to make the final decision as he’s more capable than I am, although emotionally it was very difficult.”
Eventually, Bledsoe came to a decision: He would support Brady.
“I did some soul-searching, and decided that the only proper way to handle it was to go back to work and be the best teammate I could,” said Bledsoe. “I always liked and respected Tom, and I was proud of him, but at the same time it was a tough thing to deal with.”
It took him time to accept his Super Bowl ring.
One of the hardest moments for Bledsoe’s career was not playing in Super Bowl XXXVI, as the Patriots pulled off an historic upset of the Rams to win the team’s first title, 20-17.
“You’ve been the guy since you were a sophomore in high school, and your team’s in that game, you don’t want to be watching from the sidelines,” Bledsoe explained.
It was one of the more candid moments of the E:60.
“It was super sweet to watch the team win that game,” Bledsoe recalled, “super bitter to not be on the field with them.”
As for his Super Bowl ring, a permanent reminder of what should have been a career milestone, Bledsoe acknowledged it took some time before he accepted it.
“Truth be told, I didn’t wear it for quite a while,” Bledsoe said of the ring. “I didn’t know where it was for a long time. But now I wear it, every now and then.”
“I’m proud of it, partly because I couldn’t torn down the whole show if I wanted to be an idiot,” Bledsoe concluded. “And instead I tried to be a good teammate. So I’m proud of it, but it took a little while.”
His wine epiphany happened in Massachusetts.
In his post-NFL life, Bledsoe is a founder of Doubleback Winery, which produces over 150,000 bottles a year. His love of wine began during his time with the Patriots.
“He was the first guy I saw that did the whole swirling the glass and sniffing it, that type of thing,” said former Patriots receiver Troy Brown. “And I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with this guy, you know?’ Obviously, he was on to something.”
For Bledsoe, the moment that he became “crazy” for wine happened as he walked down the stairs in his Massachusetts home.
“Most people have this wine epiphany, and I had one of those in Massachusetts,” said Bledsoe. “I was walking down the stairs and had a sip of wine, and when I got to the bottom I was still tasting and it was still doing interesting things. I was like, ‘OK, that’s really different.’ That really was when I went a little crazy for it.”