"Just remember one thing: I don't want a celebrity quarterback on my team. I hate celebrity quarterbacks. You understand?"
—BILL PARCELLS TO DREW BLEDSOE, TRAINING CAMP, JULY 1994
Last Dec. 4 at Foxboro Stadium, with two minutes left in the first half of a game against the New York Jets, New England Patriot coach Bill Parcells found himself facing one of those decisions that can make or break a season. The Patriots were scrambling to qualify for the playoffs. Leading 10-7, they faced second-and-eight on their 10-yard line. Their defense had been smothering the Jets in the first half, and the logical thing, Parcells said to himself, was to run out the clock and take his chances that the defense would hang tough in the second half.
During a timeout, however, his 22-year-old wunderkind quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, wanted to go for points, and Parcells decided to show some faith in the kid. He sent Bledsoe back to the field with this admonition: "If we can get something started, let's go. But be careful." Bing! Two Bledsoe passes and a run brought New England to its 31.
Then, on second-and-10 Bledsoe looked and looked for an open receiver, and when he could not find one, instead of throwing the ball into the first row of stands, he lofted a pass into coverage near mid-field. Wideout Michael Timpson lunged in vain for the ball, and cornerback James Hasty made the interception. End of drive and end of lead: The Jets drove for a field goal to tie the score at 10-10 just before intermission.
Bledsoe headed for the sideline with his head down. He knew that Mount Parcells was about to blow. "Where the —— were you looking?" Parcells exploded.
"I thought I saw..." Bledsoe began.
"Don't think! Forget what you thought you saw! It was a stupid play! I go and show faith in you, give you a chance to show how you can lead this team, and you screw it up! Get away from me!"
The Patriots went on to win 24-13, and a cooler Parcells pulled Bledsoe aside afterward. It was time to stitch the wound. "Listen," Parcells said. "When I show confidence in you and allow you the latitude to execute these things, you have to cover for me. You can't make mistakes like that. I tried to show the rest of the team that I've gained enough confidence in you to let you try something against my better judgment, and you have to back that up."
They are one of pro football's odd couples, a coach with a Vince Lombardi root system mentoring a decidedly laid-back young man who just happens to be the best young quarterback of the '90s. Parcells, 54, is East Coast tough, a New Jersey guy steeped in basic football. Bledsoe, 23, is West Coast cool, and coming out of high school he spurned football factories like Miami and Washington so that he could get lost on a smaller campus, Washington State. Parcells has two Super Bowl championship rings from his days as coach of the New York Giants. Bledsoe has a Copper Bowl ring. Parcells prefers '50s tunes; Bledsoe leans toward Hootie & the Blowfish and Seattle grunge. For relaxation, Parcells frequents minor league baseball parks in Portland, Maine, and Trenton, N.J. Bledsoe likes to camp at Coeur d'Alene Lake in Idaho. Parcells had caring parents who leaned hard on him through his teens. Bledsoe had caring parents who, by the time he was 16, allowed him to tell them when he was coming home at night. Parcells keeps a fastidiously clean office. Bledsoe's house is as cluttered as a college dorm room.
Parcells confronts his young charge. Bledsoe takes it. Parcells needles him. Bledsoe takes it. Parcells berates. Bledsoe breathes deeply, and he takes it. "Sometimes," Parcells says, "he still does dumb things. Remember, the kid's still in his infancy in the NFL."