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Legendary Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe inducted into Pac-12 Hall of Fame

Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe drops back to pass against Utah in the Copper Bowl on Dec. 29, 1992, in Tucson, Arizona.  (The Spokesman-Review)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

LAS VEGAS – Drew Bledsoe set records and helped establish a winning culture at Washington State.

The illustrious quarterback cemented himself as a key figure in Cougar lore, lifting WSU’s program to one of its most successful seasons and perhaps its most memorable win.

Three decades have passed since Bledsoe wrapped up his storied collegiate career and embarked on a long and fruitful NFL journey. To this day, his achievements are still being celebrated.

Bledsoe and 11 other Pac-12 stars were enshrined in the conference’s Hall of Honor on Friday afternoon on the Las Vegas Strip.

“This is a really cool club to be a part of,” Bledsoe told reporters during a period of media availability at the Jewel Nightclub.

Bledsoe, a Washington native, shined at the signal-caller position for three seasons (1990-92) under coach Mike Price. He left Pullman as WSU’s single-season and single-game record holder in completions, attempts, passing yards and total offense. Before declaring for the draft after his junior season, Bledsoe had thrown for 7,373 yards and 46 touchdowns, finishing his Cougars career as the school’s second-most productive QB up to that point – behind fellow WSU icon Jack Thompson.

As a junior, Bledsoe took home the conference’s offensive MVP award and was named an All-American. He was a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award, which recognizes the nation’s top QB, and came in eighth in Heisman voting.

“It was such a fun time, man,” he said. “My only regret, and I wouldn’t change it, but it just went so quick.”

Asked about his “Hall of Fame moments” in Pullman, Bledsoe singled out “the game everybody always remembers” – the 1992 Apple Cup, a 42-23 Cougars win in a “Snow Bowl” in Pullman.

Bledsoe fired a 44-yard TD strike to Phillip Bobo after halftime to spark a 29-point WSU outburst in the third quarter against the fifth-ranked Washington Huskies.

“That one’s still my favorite game of all time,” he said. “Slinging the ball around in the snow and of course, (beating) the Huskies – that’s always fun.”

He capped his collegiate career leading WSU to its third bowl win in program history, a 31-28 Copper Bowl win over Utah.

Picked first overall by New England in the ensuing NFL draft, Bledsoe quickly locked up the starting job for the Patriots and kept it for nine seasons.

Considered the face of the franchise and a transformative talent during his time in New England, Bledsoe earned two All-Pro nods and four Pro Bowl selections. He made 113 starts with New England and took the Patriots to the playoffs five times, capturing an AFC title in 1996 and a Super Bowl ring in 2002.

“I was part of teams that actually changed the culture of the organizations,” Bledsoe said. “The Cougs had been struggling a bit and by the time I left, we were at least in a bowl game. It got better from there.

“It was the same in New England. They had the first pick for a reason. The team I was a part of really set the stage for what they would become.”

Bledsoe suffered a gruesome chest injury early in the 2001 season and ceded starting duties to a young reserve named Tom Brady.

“We started expecting to win, held each other accountable. Then obviously it perpetuated when that disrespectful kid from Michigan didn’t understand what backup quarterback means,” Bledsoe said wryly. “But, in both cases, I was around when (the culture) changed, so that was pretty cool.”

Bledsoe played his final five seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys, and retired following the 2006-07 season. Across 14 years in the NFL, Bledsoe compiled a 98-95 record, throwing for 44,611 yards and 251 TDs on a 57.2% completion rate.

He was inducted into the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001, the Patriots’ Hall of Fame in 2011 and the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

“I’d like to think I was a good teammate. I showed up, did the work and gave everything I had all the time,” he said when asked how he’d like to be remembered as a player. “I evolved into a good leader. But I think the shortest answer is: I always tried to conduct myself in a way that people in Walla Walla and people in Pullman and my family would be proud of, regardless of the outcome.”

A year after retiring from football, Bledsoe and wife Maura founded Doubleback Winery in Walla Walla, his hometown. Bledsoe’s wines have been met with acclaim from critics and can be purchased at restaurants thousands of miles away from the Evergreen State.

“The nice thing with the wine deal is that people drink good wine in good places, so we get to travel for work and do some pretty cool stuff,” said Bledsoe, showing media members a list of several dozen cities in which he has stayed over the past six months.

“We’ve been going hard. We’re empty nesters now, raised four kids. They’re gone, so we’ve been traveling a bunch.”

In the weeks leading up to his stop in Vegas, Bledsoe’s trips included the San Juan Islands, France, Spain, Arizona and Montana. On Thursday, he was heli-skiing near Idaho’s Sun Valley.

He’ll be off to France again in the near future to promote his wine at the Bordeaux River Cruise.

“You run into Cougs all over the world,” he said. “I actually saw somebody rocking a Coug sweatshirt while we were in the South of France.”

Other honorees

One former athlete from each Pac-12 school joined the conference’s Hall of Honor . This year’s selections, aside from Bledsoe, are Arizona’s Tanya Hughes (high jump); Arizona State’s Curley Culp (football); Cal’s Layshia Clarendon (basketball); Colorado’s Jenny Simpson (middle distance); Oregon’s English Gardner (sprints); Oregon State’s Steven Jackson (football); Stanford’s Tony Azevedo (water polo); UCLA’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee (heptathlon, long jump); USC’s John Naber (swimming); Utah’s Tom Chambers (basketball) and Washington’s Tina Frimpong-Ellertson (soccer).

“Just look at the list of people who are here,” Bledsoe said. “Tony Azevedo – five Olympics? I mean, come on. Jackie, I watched her run in the Olympics all those years. It’s just a cool club because it’s every sport, and that makes it fun.”

Frimpong-Ellertson’s daughter, MacKenzie, is a junior midfielder for the Cougars’ soccer team.