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The deep play was a speciality for rifle-armed quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Think of those bombs to wide receiver Terry Glenn in 1996, or the trademark lasers across the middle to tight end Ben Coates.
|Drew Bledsoe was a single guy when he joined the Patriots; he was married with three kids when he left.|
This, however, was deep in a different way.
Bledsoe was announced Monday as this year's fan-based choice for induction into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame, and it hit him harder than he thought it would. It was his first year of eligibility and he had doubts as to whether he'd get the nod over the other finalists, Bill Parcells and Houston Antwine. When the call came from owner Robert Kraft on Monday morning, the emotions flowed freely.
"I didn't know if it would happen or not, so that was part of it, but then just to talk to Mr. Kraft and he had some words that he shared with me, expressing gratitide for my time there that were really touching," Bledsoe said. "[It was] a little more emotional than I thought it would have been."
As Bledsoe himself said, a lot of things happen when you spend nine seasons in the same place, especially when those seasons come in the still-growing-into-a-man 20s.
"That was a huge part of our lives," Bledsoe recalled. "When I got there, I was a single guy with no kids. When I left I was married with three kids. We really grew up in Boston."
And for those growing up in the region at that time, Bledsoe's arrival as the first overall draft choice in 1993 sparked big-time interest in the Patriots franchise, which had fallen on hard times. Bledsoe, dubbed "The Franchise," brought hope with him from Walla Walla, Wash.
He seems to appreciate that part of his football story, saying, "It's really gratifying to feel like I was, with my teammates at the time, part of a resurgence of that franchise that has gone on to become probably the premier franchise in the NFL."
Bledsoe keeps in touch with many of those teammates. He still dials up Bruce Armstrong, his blindside protector at left tackle whom he'll join in the Patriots' Hall, and he remains close with guard Todd Rucci.
Scott Zolak Max Lane Lawyer Milloy Ted Johnson Kevin Turner Listening to Bledsoe rattle off the names was to turn down memory lane from the 1990s. And for a twist of the present-day, Bledsoe added that "Tommy [Brady] and I exchange messages from time to time."
Memories that stand out? There are so many, Bledsoe said, but a few rise above the others.
He remembers the excitement of the draft and being the No. 1 choice, the trip from Walla Walla to New York and then to Foxborough, Mass. "A pretty heady time for a small-town kid. Crazy times," he said.
|A tearful victory over the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship Game stands out as one of Drew Bledsoe's top moments with the Patriots.|
There was the craziness that unfolded Nov. 13, 1994, when he attempted 70 passes -- 70! -- in a scintillating overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings. That sparked a seven-game winning streak as the Patriots surged into the playoffs after going 5-11 the prior season.
"A huge memory," Bledsoe said, before fast-forwarding two years to the 1996 playoffs when the Patriots toppled the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars to reach the Super Bowl.
"The start of the Steelers game with the fog settling in there and the crowd was as loud as it ever was in my recollection," Bledsoe recalled. "And then winning the AFC Championship Game in front of our fans that were so deserving was a great memory."
The capper to Bledsoe, who once played with a pin sticking through his injured finger, came in 2001. First there was the devastation of a Mo Lewis hit. Then it was how he bounced back.
"Getting hurt and watching Tom Brady take over and beginning what's been just a spectacular run of his, and to come back and play in the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and help us win that game, is a memory that stands out very clearly," he said of the day he shed a tear in the moments after victory.
Great stuff, and not always exactly the way he drew it up. But when it comes to Bledsoe's time with the Patriots, and his role in the revival of the franchise, it ends where it should.
It's one final deep play for Bledsoe, landing him in the team's Hall of Fame.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.