More than 20 years ago now, Tom Brady was simply that quarterback from Michigan that the New England Patriots took in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft to back up Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
However, things took a dramatic turn when Bledsoe, who’d led the Patriots to a Super Bowl just a few years earlier and had recently signed what was then the biggest contract in NFL history, went down with an injury in Week 2 of the 2001 season, which gave Brady his shot.
And TB12 certainly took advantage of the opportunity as he never relinquished the starting role and led the Patriots to a Super Bowl title. Bledsoe was then traded to Buffalo and Brady went on win five more championships in New England before taking his talents to Tampa Bay and promptly leading them to the Super Bowl as well. But everyone knows that story.
What some tend to forget, however, is that the hit that started Tom Brady on his path to becoming a legend legitimately almost killed Drew Bledsoe.
Drew Bledsoe had led the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl and once signed the largest contract in NFL history
Selected with the No. 1 overall by the New England Patriots in the 1993 NFL draft out of Washington State, Drew Bledsoe was the face of the franchise years before anyone knew who Tom Brady was.
The season before Bledsoe was drafted, the Pats had gone 2-14, which is obviously why they had the No. 1 pick. But in just his second season, Bledsoe led New England to a 10-6 record and the team’s first postseason berth since 1986. And just two years later, he took the Patriots to the Super Bowl, where they were defeated by Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.
Bledsoe was selected to the Pro Bowl in three of his first five seasons and led the Patriots to the postseason four times in his first six years. New England struggled a bit in 1999 and 2000 but that didn’t stop the team from rewarding their starting quarterback with a 10-year/$103 million contract ahead of the 2001 season, which was the largest contract in NFL history at the time.
But the ’01 campaign certainly didn’t play out the way Drew Bledsoe thought it would and he nearly lost his life that season.
The hit that allowed Tom Brady to become the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots
In Week 2 of the 2001 season, Drew Bledsoe and the New England Patriots hosted the New York Jets for the final home opener at the old Foxboro Stadium, which was demolished after the season.
With just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Patriots trailing, 10-3, Bledsoe and the New England offense lined up for a 3rd & 10 from their own 19-yard line. Bledsoe dropped back to pass but was unable to find an open receiver and was flushed out of the pocket. He scrambled toward the sideline and was nearing the first-down marker when Jets linebacker Mo Lewis came in and delivered a massive hit on Bledsoe, leading with his shoulder.
Bledsoe hit the deck and was clearly shaken up as medical personnel tended to him. Now, what some people might not remember is that he actually stayed in the game despite the fact that he was concussed and unknowingly suffering internal bleeding. Bledsoe played another series but legit forgot how to say the word “left” and was finally pulled.
Tom Brady entered the game and while he couldn’t lead the Patriots to victory that day, he went 11-3 as the starter the rest of the way and took New England to the Super Bowl (although Bledsoe actually played a largely forgotten role in that), where they upset the St. Louis Rams, 20-17.
Drew Bledsoe never started another game for the New England Patriots and was traded to the Buffalo Bills ahead of the 2002 season. Tom Brady, as we know, led the Pats to eight more Super Bowl appearances and won five of them over the next 18 seasons.
The hit from Mo Lewis nearly killed Drew Bledsoe
Following the game against the Jets, Drew Bledsoe’s heart rate spiked dramatically and he was rushed to Mass General Hospital in Boston. On the way, however, he just went “lights out” as he later put it and his brother, Adam, who was riding along, actually asked the paramedics if his big bro had just died. And as it turns out, that was truly nearly the case.
As a result of the hit from Mo Lewis, Bledsoe’s lung had collapsed. He’d suffered a hemothorax, blood was filling his abdomen, and doctors even went as far as telling his wife that they weren’t sure he would make it. A CAT scan was performed, which revealed that about three liters of blood had pooled in his chest. There was talk of opening up Bledsoe’s chest at one point but once doctors found the problem, they drained the blood, which thankfully controlled his breathing and stabilized his blood pressure.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference