Former quarterback Drew Bledsoe was elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame, the team announced today. Bledsoe received the highest percentage of votes of any candidate since the hall was started in 2007.
"Drew Bledsoe played such an integral role in our efforts to rebuild the Patriots brand," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a story on the team's web site. "He gave fans hope for the future and provided many memorable moments during his record-breaking career."
Bledsoe was the 17th player inducted into the Patriot Hall of Fame and 18th person overall. In Bledsoe's nine-year career with the Patriots, he threw for the second-most passing yards in team history and connected for 166 touchdowns.
"Obviously, just a tremendous honor to be elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame," Bledsoe said on a conference call this afternoon. "Little alarming to hear the call from Mr. Kraft. Just to be considered with Bill Parcells and Houston Antwine was an honor itself. Then to be elected was really just an honor."
In Bledsoe's last seven full seasons as a Patriot, he had more than 3,000 passing yards each year. He will be inducted into The Hall at Patriot Place in September.
"There are so many hundreds of people that need to be thanked individually, so figuring out how to properly thank everybody in my career is a little bit overwhelming," he said. "The overriding thing is going to be the thank you to the New England Patriots fans and the Kraft family."
The Patriots drafted Bledsoe first overall in the 1993 draft and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection, three of which came as a Patriot. In 1994, he became the youngest ever to play in a Pro Bowl at 22 years old.
Bledsoe is eligible for the NFL Hall of Fame voting process for the first time this year and is expected to be a debatable candidate.
Bledsoe started for the Bills for three seasons after leaving the Patriots and closed his career with two seasons with the Cowboys.
Former coach Bill Parcells and former defensive lineman Houston Antwine were the other finalists for induction this year. A group of media and team alumni and staff nominated hall candidates and narrowed it to three finalists. Fans voted online for the final choice.
UPDATE (9:30 p.m.): Here's a statement from Bill Belichick on Bledsoe's selection:
"I congratulate Drew on this most deserving honor. For his production at the quarterback position and his professionalism for nearly a decade, Drew was instrumental in helping put this franchise back on the map. His induction will be an appropriate celebration of an outstanding career."
Click the Full Entry button to read Bledsoe's full Q&A from a conference call this afternoon, as provided by the Patriots' media relations staff.
DB: Obviously this is a tremendous honor, to be elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame. It was a little overwhelming this morning to receive the call from Mr. [Robert] Kraft Ė honestly a little more emotional than I thought it would have been. Just to be considered in the company of Bill Parcells and Houston Antwine was a great honor in and of itself. And then to be elected to the hall of fame was really a tremendous honor. Iím really looking forward to getting back there in September and [it is] obviously a great honor. It means a lot to me and a lot to my family. With that, I will open it up for questions.
Q: Congratulations, Drew. What memory stands out to you more than any other?
DB: Oh geeze, there are so many itís hard to cycle through all of them, but there are some times that stand out pretty clearly, beginning with being drafted and coming out there in 1993, a 21-year-old kid out of Walla Walla, Washington and coming in as the number one draft pick to the New England Patriots was a pretty heady time for a small town kid. So that memory and all that went with that Ė being in New York and then coming up to Boston and kind of being inserted into that melee was pretty crazy times. But then particular games that stand out: the game against the Vikings in 1994 that started our seven-game win streak to get us into the playoffs was a huge memory. 1996 having the two playoff games in Foxborough stands out really clearly in my mind. The start of the Steelers game with the fog settling in there and the crowd was as loud as Foxborough ever was in my recollection Ė that playoff game against the Steelers in Ď96 and then winning the AFC championship game there in front of our fans that were so deserving was a great memory. And then, obviously, in í01, getting hurt and watching Tom Brady take over and beginning whatís been just a spectacular run of his, and to come back in and play in the AFC championship game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh and help us win that game is a memory that stands out very clearly.
Q: I know itís very early in the process, but have you thought about what you want to say in your speech during your induction this September?
DB: You know, I have thought about it a little bit and the thing thatís hard, honestly, in thinking about that is that there are so many hundreds of people that really need to be thanked individually and I certainly wonít have time to get through all of those, so Iím trying to figure out how to properly say thank you to all the people who helped me through, not only my career but my life, is a little bit overwhelming. So Iíve got to figure out how to handle that part of it. But then the overriding thing is going to be just a thank you to the New England Patriots fans and to the Kraft family and to the great organization that they were and then have gone on to become since then. Itís really gratifying to feel like I was, with my teammates at the time, we were part of a resurgence of that franchise that has gone on to become probably the premier franchise in the NFL. So itís gratifying to be a part of that and certainly Iíll touch on that. But yeah, itís a little bit overwhelming to think about all that needs to be said and try to figure out how to do that in a short amount of time, but Iíve got some time to figure it out and hopefully wonít be too long-winded.
Q: You said that the phone call this morning was more emotional than you thought it was going to be. Why do you think that was?
DB: You know, I donít know. I donít know. First of all, in the company that I was in during the election process, to think that I was going to be elected out of that group of three, I didnít know if that would happen or not, and thatís being honest. So that was part of it. But then just to talk to Mr. Kraft and he had some words that he shared with me that just were expressing gratitude for my time there that were really touching. When Stacey [James] sent me a text to ask where I was going to be and if I could take a phone call, I had some inclination that thatís what it was about, but then to actually be on the phone with Mr. Kraft and to hear the words was pretty touching.
Q: Assuming there will be some sort of celebration tonight, what are you serving? What will you be drinking?
DB: You know actually some buddies insisted on buying me a couple of beers to say congratulations, so Iím here doing that with them and then yeah, weíll probably crack a bottle of Doubleback tonight. I mean, shoot, thatís kind of what we do; weíre in the wine business now and weíre pretty proud of our own product, so weíll probably crack one of those.
Q: You are going to start a line of inductees coming into The Hall at Patriot Place over the next few years. Do you think the organization will have to add a wing to accommodate everyone who will be enshrined?
DB: Geeze, yeah, that really may have to happen. So many great players have been an integral part of recent Patriots history and you think about all the guys that I played with and then all of the guys that have come through now over the past 15 years, yeah, when you put it like that, Iím feeling fairly happy I was up for election this year because the line starts to get pretty long here pretty quick with all the great players that have come through.
Q: Leading up to this vote, did you have any talks with Bill Parcells or when was the last time you spoke with him?
DB: No, I havenít talked to Bill since í06, since I left the Cowboys. We havenít had a chance to touch base since then, so no, I havenít talked to him.
Q: When was the last time you were back in Foxborough?
DB: Last year. We came out Ė my wife and I came out. The excuse was to come out and sell some wine in Boston, but it was really just that: it was an excuse to come back home out there and catch up with some old friends and spend some time back in New England. It was really a great time for us. We hadnít been back there much at all. Iíd been back, obviously, a couple times to play and then had one other trip that I made out there at one point, but my wife hadnít been back since we left, so it was great. That was a huge part of our lives; we were there for nine years. When I got there, I was a single guy with no kids; when I left I was married with three kids. We really grew up in Boston, so it was great for us to get back there and Iím really looking forward to coming back and bringing the whole family and getting my kids out there now that theyíre a little bit older and really experience all that goes into that. Itís going to be pretty exciting to be able to bring them out there.
Q: Do you still stay in touch with your old teammates? If so, who?
DB: Yeah, I keep in touch with a handful of guys. Tommy [Brady] and I exchange messages from time to time. Todd Rucci and I are great friends and see each other a couple times a year. Iíve kept in touch with Scott Zolak off and on and followed his career now that he's on your guysí side of the business. Iím proud of what he's done and accomplished in that arena. I touch base with Bruce Armstrong fairly frequently; it sounds like he's doing really, really well. I had a chance to see and talk to Ted Johnson a little bit on one of the trips I made out there and obviously, [Iím] concerned about his health and well being, but he seems to be doing ok, at least at times. Really, really sad deal to hear what Kevin Turner, my buddy, is going through in his life, and Iíve touched base with him a few times over the past few months. And then Max Lane, and I see Lawyer Milloy from time to time. He's still going after it though, which is pretty amazing. He's still out there playing as of last year. The way that heís played the game, to see that heís still going is pretty impressive. So yeah, I keep in touch with a handful of guys, but hopefully Iíll get a chance to catch up with some of those guys when we get out there in the fall.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on possibly not having a game to go along with your induction ceremony this fall?
DB: Yeah, my anticipation is that cooler heads will prevail before the time when weíre supposed to be having games. I think the only way to do extensive damage is to have games cancelled. Iím a big football fan and always have been. All of my friends are football fans and the only way to alienate such a loyal fan base is to have the billionaires argue with the millionaires over who gets which slice of the pie. I donít think the average fan wants to hear much about that. I donít think thereís much sympathy there. My hope and my anticipation is that with the leadership of guys like Robert Kraft that there will be a negotiated solution before we get to the point here where we are missing games.
Q: What do you think of the Patriotsí draft selection of Ryan Mallett this year?
DB: I think everybody recognizes that having a good backup quarterback is essential in this day and age. Guys are still getting bigger, faster and stronger and to rely on one guy to fill that very important position is a risky proposition. I think that was probably a wise move on their part. They saw value there in a talented guy who can come in and learn behind Tommy for years to come and then if heís called into service Ė hopefully that never happens Ė but if he is called into service, having some talent and learning behind one of the best in the game should serve them well if that ever happens. That backup quarterback position is never important until it becomes the most important thing. That was probably a wise selection on their part to have a quality talent behind Tommy if he ever does get injured.
Q: Do you think Mallett is similar to you in physicality and playing style?
DB: You know, thatís what it sounds like. I watched him a little bit in college. Heís a big, strong-armed guy. Iíve never met him, donít know much about him, but it sounds like he throws it pretty good. Iíve watched him play a little bit. Weíll see how that plays out for them. But he seems to check the boxes, at least physically.