Drew Bledsoe pushes a button, and a silver screen descends slowly over the mirror atop his fireplace. He pushes another button, and the digitized din of a movie sound track fills the living room in his five-bedroom, $350,000 house in Bridgewater, Mass. The booming sound of a dinosaur thrashing against metal bars vibrates off the walls. Welcome to Jurassic Park, laser disc-style.
Bledsoe, the 22-year-old quarterback of the New England Patriots, smiles. He likes this movie. He likes this technology. Laser discs. CDs. Computers. CD-ROM. Digitized stuff. Information highways to somewhere. "I'm in the generation that grew up with Atari and Nintendo," he says. "By the time I was in sixth grade we had computers in our classrooms. So I have no fear of these things."
He absentmindedly rubs the fresh pink welt on his chin. Five stitches were just removed from the flesh there, souvenirs of an Oct. 16 game in which blitzing New York Jet linebacker Bobby Houston separated Bledsoe, his senses and the ball like an apple cut in thirds. The Jets recovered the fumble and won the game 24-17. Bledsoe, when asked afterward if he had been wearing a padded chin strap, responded, "I will be now."
Yet Bledsoe displays no more fear of blitzing linebackers than he does of technology. He's young, he's fresh, and this season is like part of a dream unfolding. The first player picked in the 1993 draft, he now leads the NFL in passing attempts, completions and yardage. And, yes, in interceptions. Still, it's remarkable to consider that Bledsoe—had he been redshirted at Washington State—could now be in the middle of his final season of college football.
Duty calls, and he flicks off the gadgetry: The screen climbs back into its hiding place, the dinosaurs retreat. The man who almost single-handedly carries the offensive burden of his NFL team, needs to help his girlfriend, Maura Healy, a 21-year-old student at Bridgewater State College, with a term paper. The paper is about nutrition. Healy writes; Bledsoe, the 6'5", 233-pound son of two English teachers, rewrites. Quarterback and sweetheart met at Washington State, and this summer, before her senior year, Bledsoe "twisted her arm and got her to come out here and take care of me."
Not that he needs much tending, at least football-wise. "He never threw the ball incorrectly," says his dad, Mac, who was one of Drew's high school coaches and now teaches and is an assistant coach at Eisenhower High School in Yakima, Wash. "He's a clinic in how to throw. You have to see it at field level to appreciate it. It's not his arm, it's his body—the arm is just along for the ride. Watch him throw an out toward you. I mean, it's coming. It whistles."
And that whistling has led young Bledsoe into amazing territory. Among other things, he stands a chance of breaking the NFL record for passing yardage in a season. And what is that mark? "It's just over five grand," he says, grabbing the sports section of USA Today, in which he is featured on the front page preparing to sling the ball after giving it his trademark pat with his left hand. "Uh, let's see...mmmm...." He searches the blizzard of print. "Hmmm...uh...." He finds information on all kinds of people and things: Deion Sanders; the Dallas Cowboy defense; Miami Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino saying, "You should savor every moment of playing on Sunday."
"Hmmm...." There it is. "Five thousand eighty-four yards," says Bledsoe.
The record was set by none other than Marino, back in 1984. On Sept. 4, in the season's first meeting between the Dolphins and the Patriots, Marino passed for an astonishing 473 yards and five touchdowns, and Bledsoe was nearly as good with 421 yards and four touchdowns, as Miami won 39-35. On Sunday the Dolphins finally cooled off Bledsoe in a 23-3 Miami win. Bledsoe was 16 of 33 for a mere 125 yards, but the kid still has thrown for more than 300 yards in five of New England's eight games and has a total of 2,439 passing yards for the season. In an average game he throws the ball 45 times with 25 completions for 305 yards. If he keeps to that pace, he will finish the season with 716 attempts, 398 completions and 4,878 yards. Nice numbers? "Ridiculous," says Bledsoe.
Ridiculous because the Patriot coach is Bill Parcells—who hates excessive passing about as much as a turkey hates buckshot. As the coach of two Super Bowl champion New York Giant teams, Parcells designed an attack that, if it were a laser disc, would be entitled When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth. "He likes to run, run, and then set up the play-action pass," says Bledsoe. Says the dyspeptic Parcells of the pass-mad Patriots, "It's not really what we'd like to do."