JANUARY 28, 2002 — No story line is older than that of the return of the forgotten hero. Homer’s Odysseus comes back to an Ithaca where boorish warriors out to marry his wife run amuck in his own home and spoil his memory. Odysseus appears in beggars clothes — his faithful dog the only creature to recognize him. Soon he is back in his house, stringing his massive bow and taking revenge on the interlopers. New Englanders caught a glimpse of this scenario during yesterday’s Patriots 24-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For all Drew Bledsoe's achievements, by this week’s AFC championship game he had become largely a forgotten figure. The Patriots public-relations staff deliberately kept him away from the glare of the media in the week leading up to the game. After Bledsoe's near-catastrophic injury in game two of the season and Tom Brady’s rise, Dunkin’ Donuts and Papa Gino’s slowly pulled television ads featuring the former Patriots starter; Bledsoe consistently got less and less camera time during games. In the weeks immediately after the injury, network cameras frequently showed Bledsoe smiling on the sidelines, but the sight of his face eventually became rare. And the fans followed suit. Walking through the Fenway’s Landmark Center in November, I noticed a young boy — roughly eight years old — walking to the movies with his family. As he mimicked dropping back to pass and throw the football, the words "Tom Brady" flew out of his mouth. Suddenly, Patriots' jersey’s bearing Brady’s #12 were ubiquitous and Bledsoe’s #11 had vanished.
By the time New England entered the playoffs, the sports wags all agreed: Bledsoe was gone. He had played his last game in a Patriots uniform. The last image Patriots fans would have of their former star was that of his woozily leaving the field after being hammered by Mo Lewis of the Jets. In his absence, certain planks of conventional wisdom about Bledsoe gained acceptance throughout New England and the league. Bledsoe was soft (never mind the games he won at the end of the 1998 season playing with a broken finger.) Bledsoe was a loser (forget about his play during the Patriots’ last improbable Super Bowl season). Bledsoe was done. Some critics even speculated whether the Patriots could get decent compensation for Bledsoe, whose classic drop-back passing style was seen as woefully outdated, if they traded him.
Throughout, Bledsoe kept his mouth shut and rallied behind Brady. But as Will McDonough reported in today’s Globe, before yesterday’s game Bledsoe had been dreaming, literally, about getting back into play. "I’ve had the same dream for weeks," Bledsoe told McDonough. "I saw myself in the game. I knew what the plays were. I played them out in my dreams. Where to throw the ball, what to look for." When Bledsoe went in with 1:40 in the first half, he knew what to do. He threw three quick passes, including a beautifully thrown touchdown pass to David Patten, giving the team a 14-3 lead.
Nobody outside the Pats organization knows whether Bledsoe will play next week or where he will play next year. But one thing is certain: with his performance yesterday, Bledsoe ensured that he won’t be forgotten again.
Issue Date: January 28, 2002
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