January 6, 1998 in Sports

Steinberg, Leaf Help Stoke The Fire For New England Drew Bashers

Dan Shaughnessy Boston Globe
 

Drew Bashing. It’s the new game in New England Patriots nation, rumored to be tried as an official sport at the Winter Olympics next month.

Every guy behind every Kwik-EMart counter has been ripping quarterback Drew Bledsoe since the Patriots were burped out of the NFL playoffs in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The bloodthirsty shut-ins of talk radio are grilling the big QB, and Bledsoe’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, questioned whether “the situation in New England is becoming untenable for Drew.”

Bledsoe was home packing Monday, preparing for a flight today that will take him 3,000 miles from the fellowship of the miserable.

“Are they killing me?” he asked. “I don’t see any of it. When I watch TV, I watch what I want to watch. When I listen to the radio, I listen to music. And I don’t read the paper.”

So what would he tell the Drew Bashers if they got in his face?

“Like it or not, you’re stuck with me,” said Bledsoe. “I’m going to be here and I’m going to be playing. I’m going to be the quarterback for the Patriots. That’s just the way it is. Nobody wins every game, but I’m going to bring a lot of wins to New England.”

He is 25 years old, en route to his third Pro Bowl, and makes $42 million over seven seasons. His fifth season was easily his most tumultuous, lowlighted by a stage jump into a mosh pit and a subsequent lawsuit by a woman who claims she was injured.

On the field, Bledsoe came out gunning in 1997, throwing eight touchdown passes in his first two games. But at the end he was directing a hobbled offense that could not produce a single touchdown in 60 minutes against the Steelers. A hideous interception in the closing minutes of a December loss to Pittsburgh put the Patriots in a hole for the playoffs, and Saturday it was Bledsoe’s fumble that stopped a potential winning drive in the closing seconds.

After the playoff loss, Steinberg was in the Patriots locker room, showing off with his new QB product, Washington State’s Ryan Leaf, fresh from the Rose Bowl. Given the circumstances, it was inappropriate, and one Patriot made his objection known to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo.

Bledsoe explained, “When Leigh comes to games, he’ll come in the locker room. That’s not new or unusual. If somebody has a problem with it, it’ll change.”

Responding to the charge that Steinberg and he were joking around in the loser’s clubhouse, Bledsoe said, “We were not loud. He probably said a couple of things to try to cheer me up and that might have brought a smile to my face, but anything else would be as far from the truth as you could get.”

There was more internal conflict. Patriots defensive back Willie Clay, asked by WBZ-TV in Boston what he would say if he were alone with Bledsoe, answered, “Nothing right now. I wouldn’t want to say something I’d regret.”

Bledsoe’s response: “Hey, if Willie Clay has a problem with me, he can come talk to me. That’s the way I conduct myself. If anyone has a problem, they can come talk to me and no one has.”

There can be no denying that Bledsoe gets special treatment from Patriots owner (formerly ubiquitous, now in-hiding) Bob Kraft. It’s not unusual for Bledsoe’s grandparents or parents to be Kraft’s guests at games, and the owner likes to pal around with the QB as much as possible. It’s the Carl Yastrzemski-Tom Yawkey syndrome. Does Bledsoe see this as a potential point of friction with teammates?

“I don’t,” he answered. “I get along well with Bob. Given the nature of this business and the nature of my position and his position, we’re going to have to have a relationship anyway. Fortunately, it’s a very good relationship. He will at times ask my opinion and he will ask a lot of other players. He’s just trying to gain information. But it happens rarely.”

Bledsoe can’t win the big games. QB Drew will live with this handle for at least another year. Bledsoe is 3-3 in six career playoff games, in which he has only five touchdown passes to go with 12 interceptions and one deadly fumble.

“Everybody is entitled to their opinion and everybody has an opinion about me and that’s fine,” said Bledsoe. “It comes with the territory. It’s neither here nor there, to me, whatever people’s opinions are. There are only a few people with opinions that count.”

Kraft and coach Pete Carroll aren’t complaining about their franchise quarterback.

But just about everybody else is.

“I don’t choose to watch or listen to the stuff,” said Bledsoe. “I just go play ball and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. And I’ve always said that the great thing about the situation is that when I go home, I go home and I’m away from it and that’s a luxury.”

So it’s back to Walla Walla for Drew and his young family. It’s back to a place that has no back-biting teammates, no angry panel shows, no Whiner Line, and no smarty-pants columnists. It’s back to a place where the guy behind the counter at KwikE-Mart doesn’t even know Drew Bledsoe is a football player.


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