Bledsoe finds Portland a breath of fresh air
Bills QB and family are new Oregonians
The newest member of Portland's sports celebrity fraternity will participate in Neil Lomax's Quarterback Shootout golf tournament June 14 at Heron Lakes Ñ if he can make it back in time from minicamp in Buffalo, N.Y.
'I'm going to do my best,' Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe says. 'I think I will be able to fly home Friday. I hope so, because I have enjoyed it (the Shootout) in the past. It's a great event.'
Since January, when the purchase of his west-side house closed, Bledsoe has called Portland home. His wife, the former Maura Healy, is a Beaverton High graduate he met during their years at Washington State.
'We had been talking about moving to Portland for a number of years,' says Bledsoe, who had been living in Whitefish, Mont., during the offseasons. 'The plan has always been to get back to the Northwest at some point. Whitefish is a little small. We need a little bit of city around us, and I have always liked Portland. It has so much to offer. We have family and friends here, and it seemed like a natural fit.
'And so far, it has been great. We enjoy the people and the lifestyle in Portland.'
For nine years, Bledsoe played for the NFL's New England Patriots. Last year it was Buffalo. After each season, a trek West is a welcome escape.
'If we played near home, we would have to go elsewhere to get away from the media spotlight,' Bledsoe says. 'It's especially true when you're living in Boston, where everything is so fast-paced. Buffalo is a little slower-paced than Boston, but it's still nice to get back to the pace of life in the Northwest. It's like a breath of fresh air.'
The Bledsoes married in 1996 and have four young children Ñ three boys and a girl, who was born six weeks ago.
'We finally got our little princess,' Bledsoe says. 'With all the toy cars and trucks and tackle football and wrestling, we needed a little balance in our family.'
Sidelined after injury
Bledsoe's was one of the compelling stories in the NFL the last two seasons.
For eight years, the ex-WSU star was one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, guiding the Patriots to the 1997 Super Bowl and making the Pro Bowl three times. But in 2001, a serious chest injury in the second game kept him out of action for four weeks.
By the time Bledsoe was ready to return to action, Tom Brady was ensconced as the starting QB. Bledsoe served as the backup, sitting on the bench and not playing a down until Brady was injured in the playoffs.
Bledsoe then stepped into action with a flourish, leading New England past Pittsburgh 24-17 in an unforgettable AFC championship game. Two weeks later, with Brady healthy again, Bledsoe was back on the sideline as his teammate quarterbacked the Patriots past St. Louis for the Super Bowl title.
A longtime starter and local legend isn't supposed to lose his job through injury. After Bledsoe's return, the debate raged over which QB should start; it reached a crescendo in the pre-Super Bowl hype after Bledsoe's heroic performance against Pittsburgh.
Bledsoe stayed out of it, proving himself as the ultimate team guy and earning admiration for his professionalism.
'That part of it has been gratifying,' Bledsoe says. 'As pro athletes, we all strive for recognition for what we do on the field. But when you have people say they appreciate the way you handle a tough situation when you aren't on the field, and that they admire you as a person, that means a lot.
'It was very, very difficult. I would be lying if I didn't say that. I had to do a little soul-searching to figure out how I was going to conduct myself. There was a time when I wanted to say the heck with it and walk away. But ultimately I tried to handle it the right way. It couldn't have paid off any better for me.'
Sensational year in Buffalo
During the offseason, Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo. The results in 2002 were sensational Ñ career bests in completion percentage (61.5) and quarterback rating (86.0), No. 2 in passing yardage (4,359) and No. 3 in touchdowns (24). Bledsoe made the Pro Bowl for the first time since 1997, but the Bills finished 8-8, fourth in the AFC East and out of the playoffs.
'I had a good year, considering everything we went through as a team,' he says modestly. 'We were a young team that gave up a lot of points, and we played from behind a lot. It was kind of a transitional building year, and I would have liked for us to win a few more games.'
Most importantly, Bledsoe was back on the field, having a blast.
'The biggest thing was, I started having fun playing football again,' he says.
Bledsoe and Brady will never be close, but Bledsoe makes it clear he holds no ill feelings toward the player who took his job.
'We talk from time to time,' Bledsoe says. 'He's a good guy. He works his butt off and deserves what he receives. It's unfortunate it had to come at my expense, but he took advantage of an opportunity, stepped in and played very well.'
Bledsoe, 31, thinks he's still in the prime of his career.
'It's funny,' he says. 'I have been around a long time, and a lot of guys I came into the league with have retired. (Former teammate) Peerless Price said he thought I was 36 or 37, I had been around so long. But I still have a lot to offer.
'I look forward to playing four or five more good seasons. I want to put together a championship season with the Bills, then glide off into the sunset after a few years.'