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Grogan on the Pats’ QB controversy


There’s a great debate taking place in these parts nowadays. No, not the argument over the nature of the US-led coalition in the war on terrorism. The big question hovering over New England today is the following: who should be the Patriots quarterback, veteran Drew Bledsoe or boy phenom Tom Brady? It’s a ripe issue now that the Patriots’ doctors have given Bledsoe, newly recovered from his harrowing chest injury (a sheared blood vessel), clearance to pay.

You have to go back more than a decade to find the last quarterback controversy around here. The most recent, in 1988, pitted languid Californian Tony Eason, whose nickname was "Champaign Tony" — a sobriquet from his days at the University of Illinois in Champaign that turned derisive in Boston — against local wunderkind and Boston College hero Doug Flutie. (It’s tantalizing to imagine how the Patriots would have done if they had just held on to Flutie, now leader of the resurgent San Diego Chargers, and been done with it.) Before that, a young Steve Grogan replaced the shell-shocked Jim Plunkett in 1975. Plunkett, of course, went on to prosper with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, winning two Super Bowls and the 1984 Super Bowl MVP trophy.

In 1985, Grogan, by then a grizzled veteran, led the upstart Patriots to the playoffs only to see the coaches (aided by conventional wisdom, of course; where do they train these guys, the Pentagon?) start Eason, the prototype for the oft-injured Rob Johnson of the Buffalo Bills, in the Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears. Today Grogan lives in Foxborough and runs Grogan-Marciano Sporting Goods in Mansfield. Given his status as one of the more astute observers of professional football — as well as his involvement in not one, but two, Patriots-quarterback controversies, we wondered what Grogan thinks about the current fracas.

He likes Brady: "He’s got everything you’re looking for — great leadership ability, great arm, sees the field well, moves well in the pocket." Grogan says Brady first stood out in preseason.

In fact, many say that Brady’s stellar performance highlights a problem that has long worried serious Patriot fans: Bledsoe has not improved since Bill Parcells’s departure after the 1997 Super Bowl. While Grogan won’t go that far in his analysis of Bledsoe, he notes: "Drew’s struggled the last couple of years. Part of it is there hasn’t been any continuity to the offensive line. He’s felt that he has to carry the offense. He’s been too concerned about making mistakes, which has kept him from reacting when he needs to. He doesn’t want to get picked off. He’s holding the ball. When he was younger he’d make up his mind and let it go."

Which is exactly what Brady is doing now.

Surprisingly, Grogan offers a counterintuitive take on the Brady-Bledsoe brouhaha. Rather than undermining Bledsoe, Grogan says that Brady’s moments of triumph will ultimately help the veteran. "[Bledsoe’s] being able to stand over there and watch what Brady’s been doing will be able to help him in the future," says Grogan. "Sometimes you get in a rut when you’re playing." Prior to his injury, Grogan says, Bledsoe shouldered the entire quarterback burden himself.

All this is a far cry from when Grogan took over for Plunkett, a former Heisman Trophy winner who never caught on around here. "Plunkett had been beaten around even more than Bledsoe," Grogan recalls. "He was ready to go at the end of the season. Plunkett, when I was playing, never talked to me. We didn’t have a close relationship."

In the end, Grogan doesn’t think the Patriots will let Bledsoe get away. "People are worrying about something that doesn’t need to be worried about yet," says Grogan.

Well, maybe not now. But next week?

Issue Date: November 15 - 22, 2001

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