We all know how some superstars can be. They can be pompous, cocky, needy, demanding and basically think the human mold was broken after they came to Earth.
It's their world, and we're just renting space in it.
Kevin Gilbride is no different than the rest of us. As a longtime NFL coach and current offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, he has seen his far share of me-first stars. So he wasn't sure what to expect when he met his new, big-armed quarterback for the first time last spring.
|Drew Bledsoe has thrown for more than 300 yards four times this season, more than 400 twice.(AP)|
His demeanor wasn't.
"I didn't call anybody about him," Gilbride said. "So I really didn't know what to expect. Here was this star player who was in a new environment, which can lead some guys to be tough to deal with. I quickly found out, that wasn't the case with Drew. He has been so easy to deal with, almost too good to be true. He does everything first class. He's a pro. The guy has done everything we wanted and more. There is no star syndrome with him."
How could there be? He's a small-town boy from Washington State who is more at home fishing in Montana than being swarmed by fans at a restaurant. Buffalo is his kind of place, a Pleasantville-type city with a small-town feel, where a beer and basket of wings beats French fu-fu food any day of the week.
It's the perfect spot for the rebirth of his career, one that somehow ended up off the track a year ago after an injury put him on the bench and a coach kept him there, despite the old edict that starters don't lose jobs to injury.
Bledsoe did lose his job, and his reputation took a beating with it. And after returning from a serious lung and rib injury, he could only sit and watch as the Patriots went on to win a championship behind Tom Brady, his replacement and friend. While Brady became the darling of New England, Bledsoe became the forgotten man.
The man New England loved to hate couldn't even get that response anymore.
He did have an impressive off-the-bench performance in the AFC Championship Game when Brady got hurt; his touchdown toss that day against Pittsburgh a reminder of his wonderful arm and snap-quick release. But when it came time for the Super Bowl, Brady was healthy again and was the one who led the Pats to the game-winning field goal in their upset of the Rams.
Brady's popularity soared. The kid nobody knew was suddenly on the covers of magazines, showing up at all the hot spots and eventually becoming the NFL's darling among the Hollywood set.
Bledsoe simply retreated to his ranch in Montana with his family, wondering what 2002 would bring. Could he handle another year watching Brady play? Or was it time to walk away from the game?
That all changed in April when he was traded to the Bills for a first-round pick. The Bills, in desperate search of a quarterback since the retirement of Jim Kelly, had their guy.
And now, some six months since the trade, and with the two teams scheduled to meet for the first time Sunday, there is growing concern in New England that perhaps the Patriots traded the wrong quarterback.
Talk-show callers were lighting up Brady on Monday after the Patriots lost their fourth consecutive game against the Broncos. Brady, playing a safe style, threw for 130 yards, never making the chance throw.
It was paint-by-numbers, while Bledsoe was painting the roof of the Sistine Chapel some 300 miles to the east.
They once said Bledsoe took many chances. They said he was a risk-taker who didn't always come up on the right side of the risk. Maybe he did, and maybe he does, but that also lead to big plays. With most coaches in the league evolving to a safer approach toward pass offense, Bledsoe was the anti-trend.
He was a long-drive champ who was being asked to play chip-and-putt.
Now he's back to nailing the 300-yarders in Buffalo. His is the hottest wing in the city, and in Buffalo, that's saying something.
|While Bledsoe is flourishing in Buffalo, Tom Brady and the Patriots are floundering.(AP)|
Bledsoe has thrown for 2,500 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. Brady has thrown for 1,879, 15 and nine. The real difference can be seen in the yards per attempt. Bledsoe is averaging 7.9, Brady 6.7.
Was the wrong man sent packing?
Time will tell, but the early answer is a solid yes. Brady got off to a good start but has cooled the past four weeks. Bledsoe has only one game less than 200 yards and has brought the fans back to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Buffalo is third in the league in scoring at 30.1 points per game, while the Patriots are 12th at 24.0. Bledsoe's play has made the two receivers, Eric Moulds and Peerless Price, the best tandem in the league.
They're good, but remember, they were together a year ago. The offensive motto in Buffalo the past few years has been wings and a prayer. Bledsoe changed that.
"He's been unbelievable," said Gilbride. "He stands in there and makes all the throws. The guy has the patience to wait and make the throw with pressure in his face. Sometimes I have to tell him to get rid of it, dump it off. But he's such a competitor that he wants the big play. And he's making them."
Bledsoe has also taken on a big leadership role, something critics in New England say he didn't always do. He holds his own meetings each week with each unit of the offense, the receivers, the backs and the line. He asked that he be allowed to do that, separate of the other offensive meetings.
"People have made a lot out of that deal, but at the same time, it's not all that different from what I did when I was in New England," Bledsoe said. "I never was and still am not a big rah-rah guy, but I have made an effort to be a little more vocal. But, as far as the meetings and the kind of stuff we've done, that's something I've done for a long time."
The trade has certainly given him back the bounce in his step. Gilbride said his quarterback is as prepared as any he has ever had, including Warren Moon, who is on his way to the Hall of Fame.
"The guy loves the game," Gilbride said.
It wasn't that way last season. When he returned following his injury, there were reports that Pats coach Bill Belichick told Bledsoe he'd have a chance to get his job back. That never really was the case, with Belichick supposedly reneging on his promise. Brady struggled in his first game as starter with Bledsoe back, but he kept the job.
There was talk Belichick didn't like the Bledsoe style, that he wanted a quarterback who would manage the game. Not a guy who would attempt the chance throw. Bledsoe won't talk about the strained relationship, and neither will the coach.
This week, Belichick simply referred to Bledsoe as the "quarterback" when talking about the Buffalo offense, never mentioning his name during one interview session.
Trading Bledsoe inside the division was also seen as a slap in the face. It was as if Belichick was saying: I don't think you're that good, so now I'll prove it by beating you twice a year.
Arrogance? Perhaps. Stupid? You bet.
And now as Bledsoe Bowl I is a couple of days away, the Bills are the 5-3 team and the 3-4 Patriots are hoping to turn around their season.
"Having this change, having to go through what I went through last year and then having a chance to get back on the field has renewed my passion for the game," Bledsoe said. "I'm having a ball playing. I'm enjoying the competition on the field as much as I ever have.
"To say that this is just another game, I'd be lying and you guys would know I was lying. So, yeah, it's a special game for me. I'm playing against a bunch of guys I went to war with for a long time and a lot of guys I have tremendous respect for. I've used the analogy for a while now that it's like playing against your brother."
This is a brother who never should have been allowed to leave the nest. Sunday, he might make them all pay for letting it happen.
"I know he's not going to act like it's a big deal, and we're not all going to talk to him about it that much, but I know it will be a big thing for him playing those guys," said Gilbride. "That's human nature. I know he's going to be a little more jacked up than normal."
If he does win, don't expect anything close to a public celebration. That's not Bledsoe's way. But you can bet sometime late Sunday night, away from the cameras and the spotlight, Bledsoe might make a toast while eating a bucket of wings. He'll probably raise a beer and give credit elsewhere.
There will be no Cristal, no posse and no me-first talk.
This is a star unlike most. This is a star that acts like the rest of Buffalo, his blue-collar approach making him the every-man's quarterback.