Young and the Restless Bledsoe, 24, Still a College Kid at Heart

by | Jan 24, 1997 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

NEW ORLEANS — Drew Bledsoe is not ready to win a Super Bowl. That is just my opinion, and I could be wrong, but after watching him here all week, my lasting impression is that of deer being dragged by a chain. He seems overwhelmed, itchy, at times almost frightened.

The happiest I saw him all week was on Bourbon Street Monday night, when he and his buddies were walking along casually, drinking beers. For a brief moment, they went unrecognized, and Bledsoe, 24, could enjoy his treasured role of a droopy, blue-jeaned college kid, a role that was snatched away a few years back, when he signed a $42-million NFL contract.

Many feel Bledsoe would have liked to have stayed a college kid a little longer. And for a moment on Bourbon Street he actually smiled.

Then someone yelled, “Drew! Hey, Drew Bledsoe!” And that was it, the fun was over.

“I’m a little bit scared of how my life would change if we win this game,” Bledsoe admitted Thursday. “I look at what has happened to Brett Favre. It used to be he was only recognized in Green Bay. Now he’s recognized throughout the world.

“To me, that’s the only drawback to achieving my lifelong dream.”

Sorry. But you don’t say things like that if you want to be king. You don’t find “drawbacks” in winning a Super Bowl. You find only things you crave. You must want a Super Bowl so badly, you can’t wait for the spotlights

to hit you (think Joe Namath) or so badly, you don’t even notice the spotlights are there (think Joe Montana).

You can’t be ambivalent. You can’t go back and forth. Bledsoe goes back and forth. He talks of confidence, but he doesn’t sound confident. He throws brilliant passes, but he throws easy ones into the ground. He dreams of diving in, but he dips his toe in the water first.

He is not ready to win this thing, because deep down, I believe, he is not absolutely sure he can.

Caught off-balance

Not that you can blame the kid. He came out of college early and was thrown into the New England fire like the last hamburger at a Boy Scout cookout. There was no take-your-time- and-learn for Drew Bledsoe. And his performances showed it. He was erratic. He threw for a barrel full of yards and a bucket full of interceptions. He floored the gas to the playoffs, but he never had a great playoff performance.

Meanwhile, as a simple, middle-class kid, he seemed bewildered by the high gloss status of his job. Having been a typically broke college student, he put his first NFL bonus money into the same checking account he had used at Washington State. Then he called the automatic bank teller.

The voice on the phone — which used to tell him his balance was
“minus-eight dollars,” — now spit out, “Your balance is one million. . . . “

He thought that was neat.

“I enjoy being a regular guy,” he says.

That’s fine. The thing is, not too many Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks get to be regular guys. The task almost has to transform you. And there will be a moment on Sunday, when the Green Bay linemen come barreling in, breathing fire, ready to kill, that Bledsoe will have to stare that transformation down.

And my guess is he will blink.

Promising, but not ripe

Not because he isn’t a swell kid. He is. I like his humility. I like the fact that he put a six-figure paycheck in the visor of his car and forgot about it for weeks until a mechanic found it. I like the fact that Bledsoe can take guff from Bill Parcells, even though, now and then, Drew has to call his dad and replenish his confidence.

But he is just not ready. You can see it in the constant adjustments coaches try to make in his throwing motion. (Bledsoe is blessed with a rocket of an arm, but his footwork has been something out of a Twister game.) You can see it in the three interceptions he threw in the two playoff games the Pats won to get here. You can see it in the four interceptions he threw against the best defenses the Patriots faced, Denver and Dallas.

You can see it in the criticism he has heard most often, that he thinks too much before he throws, that he panics or dumps to the most obvious receiver. And with two weeks’ worth of hype before this game, one can only imagine how many thoughts will be swimming around in Bledsoe’s head on Sunday.

“What are you doing to avoid overthinking?” he was asked.

“Well, the nice thing about having two weeks to practice,” he says, “is that you get to run your drills twice as much, and so it helps on a subconscious level.”

OK. If he gets that many reps — and Parcells can hypnotize Bledsoe into thinking he’s Troy Aikman — then maybe the Pats have a chance. Otherwise, Bledsoe is a promising tomato that is not yet ripe. Which won’t stop him from being out there Sunday. But it also won’t stop him from getting plucked.


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