Every time I see Zoltan Mesko line up for a punt or Julian Edelman catch a pass, I ask myself why aren’t these numbers retired or at least taken out of circulation?
There is no doubt that former quarterbacks Steve Grogan and Drew Bledsoe have made their impressions on the history of the New England Patriots franchise.
Grogan was the gutsy field general for New England in the 70’s and 80’s.
Bledsoe was the face of the Patriots throughout the 90’s and one of the major factors why the team is not playing in St. Louis today.
The New England Patriots have a team Hall of Fame with the following inductees: Steve Nelson, John Hannah, Andre Tippett, Nick Buoniconti, Gino Cappelletti, Bob Dee, Jim Lee Hunt, Babe Parilli, Mike Haynes, Bruce Armstrong, Ben Coates, Stanley Morgan and Jim Nance.
And, yes, Steve Grogan is a member of this esteemed class and deservedly so.
Drew Bledsoe is sure to be inducted to Hall at Patriots Place in the not so distant future as well.
However, their numbers are still in circulation. Why?
Steve Nelson (#57), John Hannah (#73), Bruce Armstrong (#78), Gino Cappelletti (#20), Mike Haynes (#40), Jim Lee Hunt (#79) and Bob Dee (#89) have all had their numbers retired by the Patriots. Andre Tippett’s #56 will be sure to follow with his induction to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2008.
So, that leaves 92 uniform numbers available for use right?
Does it cause a numbers crunch to take #11 and #14 off the backs of Edelman and Mesko to give Grogan and Bledsoe the honor they deserve?
Albert Breer of the NFL Network chimed in about the league’s retired uniform numbers game. “Plenty of teams don't retire numbers and some have even un-retired numbers. Just not practical in football. Sometimes, numbers even get passed down like # 88 with the Dallas Cowboys -- Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, and now Dez Bryant. Perhaps a Ring of Honor or Hall of Fame is the solution.”
Breer also spoke about when Tom Brady hangs up his cleats, “Even with Brady, they may never OFFICIALLY retire it, just go with understanding no one wears number 12.
If the Patriots don’t retire Tom Brady’s number, it would be a crime against humanity. There is no other player more worthy of this honor. Three Super Bowl championships equals instant icon status for Tom Terrific in my opinion.
No brainer there.
Tom Brady is hands down the best quarterback in franchise history, but Bledsoe and Grogan have also carved their faces in the Mount Rushmore of Patriots’ signal callers.
Entering the 2010 season, Grogan and Bledsoe have finished their careers number two or three in almost every passing category in team history (completions, attempts, yardage and touchdowns passes). Steve Grogan also did it with his feet, rushing for a NFL record 12 touchdowns in 1976 which still stands today. He won 75 games from 1975-1990 which could have been much more if it wasn’t for injuries (and super dud Tony Eason). Grogan played for the ’76, ’78, & ’85 teams that had strong regular seasons, but fell just short in the playoffs.
Grogan is in the Patriots Hall of Fame and has been named to the Patriots All Decade teams for the 70’s and 80’s, but a rookie punter is currently wearing his #14.
Boston sports personality Butch Stearns believes Grogan should have his number retired or at least taken out of circulation, “Grogan’s first. Someone needs to sit Zoltan Mesko down and make him realize how disrespectful he is being.”
48 percent of respondents in a Boston Sports Then and Now poll believe that Grogan’s number should be retired.
However, Mike Giardi of Comcast SportsNet New England doesn’t agree, “Grogan was never a great QB. Tough, yes. A leader, yes. But one of the best players in franchise history? Nope.”
Now what about Drew Bledsoe?
He was the face of the Patriots franchise in the 1990’s.
Bledsoe was as integral to the resurrection of the Patriots franchise as was Bob Kraft and Bill Parcells. Bledsoe injected excitement and hope back into a team that was flat lining. His impact on the franchise was much more than just statistics. He helped make the team relevant in the region and NFL again.
Bledsoe won 63 games in only nine seasons as the Patriots franchise quarterback. He led the team to the playoffs after a seven year absence and to their second Super Bowl in 1996. However, Bledsoe’s Patriots career was cut short with one jarring hit from Mo Lewis and the emergence of a sixth rounder from Michigan. Up to that point, Drew Bledsoe was the New England Patriots.
And fans need to remember that.
Bob Kraft needs to repay Bledsoe for his service by taking #11 out of circulation. Without Drew, Kraft’s investment would never have become the model franchise it is today. Don’t forget where it all started, Bob.
Arguably Drew Bledsoe had more impact on the Patriots’ franchise than even Tom Brady.
Patriots Feature Columnist, Erik Frenz of Bleacher Report also acknowledges Bledsoe’s importance. “People often talk about how incredible it is that Tom Brady was the 199th overall selection and led the team to greatness. As the number one overall pick, Drew Bledsoe led the Patriots out of some dark times for the team. The difference with Bledsoe is that as the first pick in the draft, the pressure was on for him to produce from day one. Despite inconsistent play at times, you always felt as though the Patriots had a chance to win with Bledsoe under center.”
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald believes Bledsoe was a special breed. “My feeling is, to put the number out of circulation, there really has to be something extra special, something above and beyond about a player. If they've put up ungodly numbers, made Pro Bowls, and took a laughing stock franchise on his back, and turned it around a relatively short order, that's in the realm of something extra special, so I'd say No. 11 should have his number retired based on that.”
Cases have been made for both of these Patriots’ legends. Bledsoe and Grogan are as much part of the brick and mortar of the franchise’s foundation as the magnificent retired seven.
It’s been 20 years since Grogan retired from the only team he ever played for and it’s been 10 years since Bledsoe was traded away from the team he put back on the map.
Bob Kraft, please honor these men by putting no. 11 and no. 14 on the pedestal they so deserve. If not by retiring their numbers, then, perhaps, it’s time for a Ring of Honor at Gillette.
98.5 The Sports Hub’s Damon Amendolara believes the Ring of Fame is the right option. “With all the success and great players that have come recently, the Patriots cannot retire everyone's number and need to start transitioning to the Ring of Fame idea. So, with Brady, Bruschi, Law, etc coming down the pike in upcoming years as candidates, you can't retire everyone. The Ring of Fame honors these players (either in the Patriots Hall of Fame or on the facade around Gillette) without making their jersey numbers obsolete for the current team. Plus, I think a facade of Pats greats around the stadium would be terrific. The Chiefs have done it and the Giants and Jets now do it at their stadium and it's awesome. So, I would argue for Bledsoe and Grogan to be inducted into the Ring of Honor, but for no Patriot to ever have his jersey retired again (unless you want to take Brady's #12 out of circulation as a special case when he's done).”
Whatever way you slice it, Bledsoe and Grogan should be honored for their place in Patriots’ history.
What do you think Patriots’ Nation? Let’s get this done!
Chris Price’s book, “New England Patriots: The Complete Illustrated History” was used to write this article.