Bledsoe's Bowl Dreams Come True

NEW ORLEANS -- The kid on stage was good. Really good.

With those dark glasses and the headband and the movements, lip-syncing his way through the words of "The Super Bowl Shuffle," he really looked like quarterback Jim McMahon.

On that day 11 years ago, all the kid and his fellow eighth-graders cared about was living out their fantasies by pretending to be the Chicago Bears, who were playing in the Super Bowl that year in New Orleans against the New England Patriots.

Fast-forward 11 years.

The Super Bowl is being played again in New Orleans.

The Patriots are one of the teams.

McMahon is here again, although this time as a Green Bay Packer, a backup to starter Brett Favre.

And the kid who mimicked him so long ago on a junior high stage?

He's here too. His name is Drew Bledsoe and he'll start as quarterback for New England on Sunday.

Talk about living out a fantasy.

Playing quarterback in the NFL has been everything Bledsoe dreamed it would be back in those days.

At first, he had the normal ups and downs of a young NFL quarterback. But this season, Bledsoe threw for 4,086 yards, the second time he has passed the 4,000-yard mark in his four pro seasons.

He is only the fourth NFL quarterback to have passed for more than 4,000 yards more than once. And with a total of 14,464 yards, he is, at 24, the youngest to have reached the 14,000-yard mark.

Those are numbers McMahon never dreamed of producing.

But not all the numbers have been worth bragging about. Besides having thrown for 80 touchdowns, Bledsoe has thrown 73 interceptions.

This season was the first in which Bledsoe came out on the plus side in the touchdowns-interceptions ratio, throwing 27 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

Even now, when his father Mac -- a high-school football coach in Washington for a quarter of a century -- visits Bledsoe, the last thing he tells his son before the quarterback heads to the stadium is, "Good luck. Throw it to our guys."

Bledsoe was born in Ellensburg, Washington, and grew up in the state. He was exposed literally to football at a very young age. Brought to the All-Northwest Football Camp in Idaho by his father, who was working there, Bledsoe, who was not yet 2 years old, urinated on Hall of Fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff's shoe.

Bledsoe had made his first mark in the NFL.

He went on to Washington State, where he finished second on the school's all-time passing list, even though he left for the NFL after his junior year.

When the Patriots made Bledsoe the No. 1 pick in the 1993 draft, he went through a traumatic adjustment -- from college life in the peaceful Northwest to a big, loud, bustling eastern city, and from the low-key support of his father to the abrasive, demanding style of Coach Bill Parcells.

Parcells saw promise and wanted to develop it. Bledsoe saw anger and wanted to avoid it.

"When I make a mistake, Bill screams at me, 'Drew, you ... ,'" Bledsoe said.

So does Bledsoe think Parcells has helped him develop?

"I think he has helped me develop a thick skin," Bledsoe said.

Joe Theismann, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Washington Redskins, said he thinks it's more than that: "The greatest thing Drew Bledsoe has going for him was that he played for Bill Parcells."

Whoever deserves the credit, Bledsoe has arrived.

Here is this Super Bowl quarterback, and one of his favorite stories involves people not knowing who he was.

On one occasion, he was walking by a group of girls when one asked if he could take a picture. Sure, he said, obligingly stepping into the group so they could be photographed with Drew Bledsoe.

No, the girl said, not knowing who he was. They wanted him to take the picture.

In some ways, he's still that kid on the stage, pretending to be McMahon.

"In a perfect world," Bledsoe said, "I would have a great game, come off the field and nobody would know who I was."