Patriot Way or the highway

Wes Welker

Drew Bledsoe was among the NFL's most prolific quarterbacks (44,611 yards and 251 touchdown passes) when he retired in 2007 after 14 seasons.

Today, it seems, he's even busier.

The Bledsoe Capital Group is a venture capital and private equity company that focuses on emerging technologies. His Doubleback Winery in Walla Walla, Wash., produces a cabernet sauvignon so stout he can charge $89 a bottle. Oh, and in his spare time, Bledsoe, a father of four, is the offensive coordinator for his son's Summit High School football team in Bend, Ore.

In late November he sat down to discuss the Patriot Way, a phrase that means markedly different things to different people.

"The Patriot Way," Bledsoe said, smiling, in a bittersweet kind of way. "I think it's just that simply no one player or group of players is bigger than the team or the organization. I was a prime example – maybe Example A of that.

"I just signed a big, big contract with the Patriots [for a then-record $103 million in 2001] and looked like I was going to finish my career there. All of a sudden I got hurt, and this Brady kid stepped in and next thing you know, I was off to Buffalo."

Bledsoe suffered a torn blood vessel in his chest when he was hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis and lost nearly half his blood at the hospital. And just like that, a second-year backup, the 199th choice in the 2000 draft, started the Patriots on a run that would feature three Super Bowl victories in four years.

In their 14th year together, Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick find themselves precisely where they usually are this time of year – contemplating a home playoff game. Despite a grisly offseason that saw tight end Aaron Hernandez charged with murder and receiver Wes Welker signed as a free agent by the Denver Broncos, despite getting only seven games from injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, New England somehow went 12-4 and won the AFC East title for the 10th time in 11 years, the greatest display of divisional dominance since the merger.

That the Patriots continually defy the gravity of the salary cap era – they've played in five of the 14 Super Bowls since the millenium, two more than the New York Giants or Pittsburgh Steelers – is a fierce achievement.

In the NFL, it is good business to be unblinkingly unsentimental, to pay for future performances, not those of the past. Nostalgia, the record shows, is for losers.

"If they decide that they can live without you and they can find somebody to play the position for less money," Bledsoe explained, "you're out the door. It doesn't matter how long you've been there or what you've done for the franchise.

"They say, 'Thank you very much,' and let you move down the road."

About the money

When the Hernandez case was creating an endless spiral of news cycles this past summer, the Patriot Way began to take on a cruel, ironic tone.

Owner Robert Kraft, speaking on the NFL Network, was asked to explain what it meant to him.

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