Mac Bledsoe is back in Western New York, back because he has a presentation to give Monday night at the Marian Professional Center adjacent to Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo. He'll be lecturing on the topic of parenting with dignity, on teaching children how to make rational, well-reasoned choices as they progress through their lives. And, since he's in town, he'll be in Ralph Wilson Stadium today, watching his son Drew quarterback the Buffalo Bills.
Mac Bledsoe's work has met with great success. He's written two books on parenting. He makes numerous speaking appearances, has visited 43 school districts throughout Western New York alone. He says he doesn't school parents what to teach their children. That's readily apparent. He guides parents on how to teach their children, how to help them nurture in their kids the decision-making and character-building skills that will mold them into responsible adults.
It could be that no one personifies the benefits of Bledsoe's approach better than his son the quarterback. The heat has been on Drew Bledsoe since Game Three of last season, intensifying while the losses have mounted and the offense has sputtered. He has accepted the pointed criticism with equanimity, bristling on scant occasions but never launching a counterattack. He has been protective of his teammates, going no further than to encourage the media to examine the broad picture while assessing his play. He remains active in the community, his priorities steadfast.
"I am extremely proud of our son, prouder today than just about any time in his career because he has not wavered a bit in his character," Mac Bledsoe said by phone last week. "He's never allowed a situation to make him do what I would have done, which is get mad and lose control. It takes 10 times more courage, more fortitude, to play on a team that's not going well."
There's no telling how long Bledsoe will remain the Bills' starting quarterback. J.P. Losman is waiting in the wings. Four of the six games after today are on the road, where the Bills have plodded. The high-powered offense born of Bledsoe's arrival has vanished, in part because his protection is slipshod, in part because the departures of Peerless Price and Larry Centers have diminished his weaponry, in part because the running game stalls away from home, in part because of his own erratic performances. Yet, look around. All fingers point at the quarterback, as if the hub of the wheel is solely responsible for all the bent spokes.
It hasn't been a matter of Bledsoe digressing within the confines of the familiar, as occurred when Kurt Warner fell out of favor in St. Louis. This is at least the eighth time in his career that Bledsoe, a 12th-year veteran, has operated under a new offensive system, been confronted with new terminology. His receiving corps consists of the perpetually double-teamed Eric Moulds, a rookie in Lee Evans, an underachieving Josh Reed, no one else of great note. His tailback is in his first season. His line is in constant flux, up, down, undependable. But you'll never hear him offer up those excuses, or any others, because Bledsoe's a football soldier right to the core.
If this is his last season as a Buffalo starter, if his status is week to week, then Bledsoe will be remembered as a quarterback true to his convictions, true to himself, a consummate teammate. You wonder how he's kept it up, game after game, for what's going on a season and a half. You wonder why he hasn't barked out in his defense, why he's swallowed an inordinate amount of criticism.
"I had a conversation with J.P. after the (Patriots) game," Bledsoe said Wednesday. "I told him the biggest challenge as a quarterback you face is dealing with the adversity that comes your way. The nature of the position is and always will be when you win games you get more than your share (of credit). When you lose games you're going to take a big chunk of (the blame). That's what it is.
"If you're going to play in the NFL, particularly the position of quarterback, you've got to be strong. You've got to be strong enough emotionally and physically and mentally to fight those battles when it's not going right. When everything's going right, it's fun, and sometimes it seems kind of easy. But when it's not going right, that's when the test of your character individually and as a team comes into play."
Losman and Mularkey say the Bills' quarterback of the future is benefiting from Bledsoe's example, his encouragement, his total commitment. No surprise there. He was equally gracious, supportive, during his final murky weeks as a Patriot, when injury ushered in the Tom Brady era, when Bledsoe stepped up to win the AFC Championship Game and then sat back down for the Super Bowl.
Mac Bledsoe, a former teacher and football coach, is marginally aware of the harsh criticism his son has endured. And that's just it, he's endured it, his feathers unruffled, his demeanor unchanged. You get the idea the dad knows the son can handle whatever comes his way, that he can't be defeated by adversity confronted within the context of his career.
I gave the father a choice: Would he rather his son win a Super Bowl and leave the game perceived as a jerk, or would he settle for the status quo, the professional dreams as of yet unfulfilled but Drew's character unassailable.
"I wouldn't even care if he did anything as an athlete as long as he's a class person," Mac Bledsoe said. "If he compromised his ethics and personality to win a Super Bowl I'd be really disappointed. The end doesn't justify the means. What kind of person you are is what's important."
That won't fly with the masses, of course, winning being all that matters, the quarterback instantly and utterly responsible. But if football reveals character, as they say, who's shown more of it than the player everyone wants to run out of town?