At halftime, Parcells addressed his players: "What's it going to take for you guys to wake up? How long are you going to let every team in this league push you around before-you fight back?"
The Patriots tied the game and sent it into overtime. New England won the toss and started the fifth period on its 33-yard line. Bledsoe completed five passes to bring his team to the Viking 25. Three more plays gained only 11 yards, and the Patriots looked like a team hoping just to get within field goal range.
Then Parcells challenged his quarterback. "0 strong close F fly ride 130 F swing," he called into Bledsoe's helmet speaker—a play-action fake. From across the line of scrimmage, Minnesota defensive tackle John Randle shook his finger at Bledsoe, as if to say, "You're going down, kid." Bledsoe waved back at him, as if to say, "Bring it on."
From the Viking 14, fullback Kevin Turner snuck out of the back-field and Bledsoe lobbed the ball right into his arms in the corner of the end zone. The kid wasn't a kid anymore. He had won a war with a season on the brink, something 22-year-old West Coast pups aren't supposed to do. Unless it's the Rose Bowl.
In the locker room, when it came time for Parcells to speak, he couldn't. "You've given me hope," he said, choking up. "That was valiant." There was a long pause because there was more he wanted to say, about Bledsoe and about the rest of the team. But he put his hands to his eyes and walked away.
When he was in second grade, Bledsoe lived with his family in the rural Washington community of Waterville. At the end of his street was a field, and one day Drew and a buddy were playing with matches in it. The next thing they knew the field was ablaze.
After the fire trucks left, Mac Bledsoe winked at the sheriff and told him to take the kids down to the sheriff's office in the cruiser. Drew and his pal were terrified as they sat across the desk from the sheriff. "I'm going to let you guys off this time," the sheriff told them. "But next time you won't be so lucky."
While driving back to his vacation guest house on the Jersey Shore, Parcells is told this story. "Unbelievable," he says. "Let me tell you a story. My brother Don was six or seven years old, and I was just a kid, and one day he set a fire that the fire trucks had to come and put out. My father knew a judge in town, and he arranged for a kind of trial for my brother. I remember we both had to put on suits to go to court. So we go in there, and the judge speaks up: 'Is Don Parcells in the courtroom?' And the judge tells him what a bad thing he'd done, but he was going to let him off and he didn't want to see him in this court again. So later, my dad says to Don: 'Boy, you got off easy this time.' It shook us both up."
As he prepares for his third season under Parcells, Bledsoe considers their relationship. "We're different," he says. "I don't believe he's going to make me play any better by yelling at me the way he does, but that's his way, and he's won that way. The reason we can coexist is that we have the same goal in mind. And I think we both respect each other."
Parcells respects Bledsoe's ability enough to rethink his offensive strategy. Parcells says he would be stupid not to. Bledsoe could be a consistent 4,000-yard passer if he cuts down on his mistakes (he threw 27 interceptions last year) and continues playing well in the two-minute offense. In any case, he will have a stormy but workable relationship with his coach for as long as Parcells stays in New England.