"Sometimes," Bledsoe says, "I just want to scream at him, 'Shut up!' "
You've seen those set-tos on the late-night highlight shows: Parcells jawing at Bledsoe after some rookie-type mistake; Bledsoe recoiling a few inches; Parcells waving Bledsoe away like an annoying fly. If there were sound, the diatribes would be rated R. In two years Parcells has dished out more venom at Drew Bledsoe than Jim McMahon got in seven seasons from Chicago Bear coach Mike Ditka. And it's all in the name of keeping the kid grounded and attentive to detail.
"I don't like it," Bledsoe's mom, Barbara, says. "That's not going to help Drew perform better."
"Tell her not to watch the games," Parcells says tersely when told of the remark.
Coaches used to be able to use military discipline on all their players, even the stars. Over the years, however, that has changed, and not just in football. High-profile players have at times determined who runs their team. Magic Johnson got Los Angeles Laker coach Paul Westhead fired, Chris Webber helped force out Don Nelson as the coach of the Golden State Warriors, and three years ago quarterback John Elway all but ran Bronco coach Dan Reeves out of Denver. That will not happen in New England. Bledsoe may be one of the hottest marketing vehicles the NFL has, and in July he signed a seven-year, $42 million contract that made him the highest-paid player in the history of the league, but Parcells insists that—for the good of the team and for the good of the player—Bledsoe remain just another guy.
Entering the third year of their relationship, player and coach are getting along just fine, thank you. To understand why, you have to understand where each man comes from and, especially, where he wants to go.
The family doctor, Jim Cobb, delivered Mac and Barbara Bledsoe's first child on Valentine's Day 1972 in a country hospital in central Washington. "I want you to remember something," Cobb said to Mac, handing Drew to his father for the first time. "This child is not yours. Never has been, never will be. He's on loan to you for 18 years."
Mac and Barbara remember those words to this day. They raised Drew and his brother, Adam, now a high school senior, with the idea that you don't teach responsibility by monopolizing it; you teach it by giving it away. Drew was downhill skiing at age two. By the time he was a sixth-grader in Walla Walla, Wash., his maturity had begun to show. Adam, who's six years younger than Drew, would sometimes be a handful for Barbara, and Drew would come home from school and say, "Mom, let me take care of Adam. You go take it easy."
All over the Bledsoe home in Yakima, Wash., are tributes to the boys and warm, loving poems about child-rearing. Mac, a high school English and speech teacher and assistant football coach, who lectures nationally on family relationships and children's self-esteem, spoke this spring on the subject "parenting with dignity." On the wall behind the family dinner table is a plaque that reads:
One hundred years from now it will not matter
What kind of car I drove
What kind of house I lived in
How much money I had in my bank account.
Nor what my clothes looked like.
But the world may be a little better
Because I was important in the life of a child.