FOXBORO, Mass. — Former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe has always been able to draw an incredible amount of passion from the team's fan base. That's part of the territory of being a legend.
Bledsoe, the No. 1 pick in the 1993 draft, helped resuscitate a floundering organization with the hope and optimism that was generated by his rocket right arm. He took the Patriots to their second Super Bowl in 1996, and he helped them advance to another Super Bowl by coming off the bench in the 2001 AFC Championship in Pittsburgh.
For his part, he will be enshrined in the Patriots Hall of Fame this weekend, and he's joining Steve Grogan among the organization's immortalized quarterbacks.
It wasn't perfect for Bledsoe, though. He struggled with interceptions and sluggishness in the pocket, and he wasn't always too clutch in the postseason. For that, Bledsoe had his share of critics.
There's no doubt that the good greatly outweighed the bad. Bledsoe did as much for the organization as any one person until Bill Belichick and Tom Brady elevated the Patriots in 2001.
But how great was Bledsoe? Is he worthy of enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Let's break down Bledsoe's numbers and where they rank on the all-time list:
Pass Completions: 3,839, sixth-most all time
Pass Attempts: 6,717, sixth-most all time
Passing Yards: 44,611, eighth-most all time
Passing Touchdowns: 251, 14th-most all time
Interceptions: 206, 22nd-most all time
Completion Percentage: 57.2 percent, tied 78th-best all time
The statistics and rankings look great when they stand alone, but let's add some historical context. After all, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is about the best of the best.
For this, let's compare Bledsoe's numbers to the 17 quarterbacks who are in the Hall of Fame and also played in the Super Bowl era. Obviously, it's not a perfect comparison, as the game has evolved over generations, but the numbers still stack up to a large extent.
Those 17 quarterbacks are Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Bob Griese, Sonny Jurgensen, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Joe Namath, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Johnny Unitas and Steve Young.
Here's how Bledsoe ranked in that group (from 1-18):
Pass Completions: Fourth
Pass Attempts: Fourth
Passing Yards: Fifth
Passing Touchdowns: Ninth
Interceptions: 10th fewest
Completion Percentage: Ninth
While comparing Bledsoe to 17 Hall of Fame quarterbacks from the Super Bowl era, his passing statistics are near the top of the list, or at worst, in the middle of the pack. It's also worth noting that only Elway, Marino and Moon are ranked higher than Bledsoe in completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns. In terms of passing statistics, Bledsoe is a Hall of Famer.
But the line blurs between being a quarterback and a passer. The latter is about numbers. The former encompasses the entire body of work.
Bledsoe's regular-season record as a starting quarterback was 98-95 over the course of his career. In comparison to the 17 Hall of Famers, he's ninth in total wins and 14th in winning percentage. It's good, relative to the Hall of Famers, but not spectacular.
Going further, Bledsoe's postseason résumé leaves plenty to be desired. He led the Patriots to the playoffs four times, though he didn't play in 1998 due to an injury, and had a 3-3 career mark as a starter in the postseason. Of the 17 Hall of Famers, only Jurgensen and Namath had fewer NFL playoff victories. Namath, though, earned his fame with one of the greatest Super Bowl wins in the history of the sport.
Speaking of which, Fouts, Jurgensen, Kelly, Marino, Moon and Tarkenton are the only quarterbacks of the era without a victory as a starter in the Super Bowl. The other 11 combined for 23 Super Bowl victories.
Because Bledsoe's Pro Football Hall of Fame résumé would have to be based on his regular-season success, let's see how he compares to those six Hall of Fame quarterbacks who don't have a Super Bowl ring as a starter (rankings from 1-7):
Pass Completions: Third
Pass Attempts: Third
Passing Yards: Fourth
Passing Touchdowns: Sixth
Interceptions: Third fewest
Completion Percentage: Fifth
Clearly, Bledsoe's passing ability stacks up with the six ringless Hall of Famers, but the generational gap was a bit blurry, though not by enough to make the relativity trivial. Yet, if Bledsoe isn't inducted within the next decade (if at all), his numbers will trail off from a historical perspective due to the high-flying nature of today's game.
There's no cut-and-dry answer in regard to Bledsoe's Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials, but he's got enough to be on the bubble, at worst. When his numbers are stacked up against the best who have ever played, Bledsoe surely looks like a player who deserves enshrinement.
Some Hall of Famers transcend the sport with their popularity off the field or an achievement that helped the NFL reach new levels of success. Bledsoe was good enough to help keep the Patriots in New England, entice Bill Parcells to embark on a new journey and push the Pats toward their Super Bowl era.
Does any of that matter outside of New England? Yes, to an extent, but probably not a ton. However, as a former No. 1 draft pick, Bledsoe's greatness was credible from the start, and his marketability transitioned from college to the pros.
Bledsoe had his flaws, but there are only a very select few quarterbacks on the aforementioned list who were nearly perfect players. Dig deeply enough, and the flaws will bleed out.
Bledsoe will be inducted Saturday in the Patriots Hall of Fame. At some point later on, he deserves to get the call from Canton, too. He could throw it with the best of them, and his numbers prove it.