Drew Bledsoe, unfiltered

The former QB opens up on the hit that changed football, his thriving wine business, Tom Brady's 2020 motivation and why the Bills can win it all. (He'll smash through a table when they do, too.)

No player in professional sports has a perspective quite like Drew Bledsoe.

He goes down as a great in his own right. Upon retiring, in 2007, Bledsoe ranked fifth all-time in completions, seventh in yards and 13th in touchdowns. He did all of this in a totally different era for quarterbacks, too. Beyond the numbers, of course, Bledsoe also has the distinction of being the QB who opened the door for the greatest ever.

In this week’s Go Long conversation, Bledsoe opens up on that hit and so much more:

  • His wine business in Walla Walla, Wash. — Bledsoe Family Winery & Doubleback — and how this scratches his competitive itch today.

  • How brutal the state of affairs was in New England when the franchise took him first overall in 1993. (They were cheap. Really cheap.)

  • The internal bleeding from that Mo Lewis hit in 2001 that could’ve killed him.

  • The moment he knew Bill Belichick was rolling with Tom Brady — not him — and how pissed he was. The Super Bowl win was bittersweet.

  • His ultra-strong relationship with Brady.

  • How much he loved playing in Buffalo, why Josh Allen is special and how stoked he’d be if the Bills won the Super Bowl.

  • Just how motivated Brady is to win it himself, without Belichick.

Enjoy.

First off, Drew, how is life out there? How is the wine business? What is your day to day really like?

Bledsoe: I’ll speak during the perspective of a normal time. But honestly, man, we’ve been able to navigate through this personally fairly nicely. Through this whole crazy year we’ve lived through. We live in a good spot and have good close friends and things have been pretty safe around here and we’ve been able to try to live somewhat normally. My day to day is never the same. Some days it’s up at 0-dark thirty, on the road and working at the winery. Some days, it’s going skiing. I’m going skiing this afternoon. I’m trying to have some fun and play some golf. During normal times, it involves 100 days a year on the road. Traveling to sell wine. Which is not exactly like laying asphalt. You travel to sell wine and you’re having good dinners and you’re staying at nice places and all that stuff — it’s pretty fun. Especially when my wife can travel with me. Then they become working vacations which is pretty great.

During this crazy year, one the things that’s been a benefit is we’ve started doing virtual wine tastings. Which, a year ago, if I said I was going to do a virtual wine tasting, people would’ve just said I was being lazy, right? You just didn’t want to travel. But now it’s been so normalized, man, that we’re just sending wine around to corporate clients and their customers and then we jump on a Zoom and spend an hour talking about wine and telling stories. One of the most fun ones we did was when the Bills and Pats played on Monday night, we turned it into a seminar style. I had Eric Moulds, Ty Law, Alex Van Pelt who’s the OC for the Browns now, Trey Teague, Tedy Bruschi and Takeo Spikes and Lawyer Milloy. So a bunch of old Patriots and Bills and we jumped on and drank some wine and during the Monday Night Football Game, people could tune in and rather than listen to the broadcast, they could listen to us tell old war stories about the locker room and listen to Ty Law talk about Eric Moulds and Eric Moulds talk about Ty Law. It was really fun. I think we’re going to make that more of a regular occurrence, too, next year during the Monday night games. Instead of watching the same old boring broadcast, you can tune in, drink some wine and listen to some old guys tell war stories.

I’d do that 100/100 times. Most every broadcast is numbingly boring. Everybody’s afraid to say anything at this point.

Bledsoe: They have to be, right? In this cancel culture war we live in, if you say anything that’s slightly controversial, the next thing you know you’re looking for a job. It’s crazy. We’re on the Zoom together when Stefon Diggs broke Moulds’ single-season receiving record—which was kind of funny, kind of bittersweet. Moulds was totally cool with it and happy for him and all that. I did tell him that this was the same with Josh Allen breaking my single-season record, there should be an asterisk next to their records because they didn’t have to play in any weather this year, dude. I was watching a Buffalo Bills game in Orchard Park in November and they’re out in short sleeves. It’s like sunny and 70 degrees, man. That’s bullshit. Those records shouldn’t count.

Totally agree. I remember the games that season you broke that record. You were in sleet, snow. You’re in a different era. You’re getting the shit beat out of you every Sunday and they’re not throwing flags. It’s a different time now.

Bledsoe: Absolutely, man. I’m going to protest. I’m going to start a Hashtag Social Media campaign to throw those records out. I just don’t think it’s fair.

I like it. It’s only right. There’s no fans in the stands, too! They can hear everything at the line.

Bledsoe: They can hear everything they’re saying. They can’t hit him. It’s touch football. It’s just not fair.

With your playing career, looking back, we’re all so “Tom, Tom, Tom,” but I think people forget what the New England Patriots were like before you got there. This was a franchise that was dead. Do you remember what you walked into in ’93? And what it was like before that? How did you guys turn that thing around?

Bledsoe: What was interesting is when I got drafted there, I really didn’t know much about the Patriots. It was kind of funny for me to go back there because, remember, I’m so old. This is pre-Internet. There was ESPN. There wasn’t 24-hour news cycles. There wasn’t that much information. So I didn’t really know that much about the Patriots because they just haven’t been on TV on the West Coast and they hadn’t been good for a while. So it was very odd for me to show up there and know very, very little about the organization I was all of a sudden the figurehead for. But the thing that was really cool about those early years when I was with the Patriots was we were a really, really young team. We all hung out together. We had a great time. There was a great sense of camaraderie. It’s NFL football but those teams felt more like a college environment than some of the other teams I played on later on where it started to feel more business-like.

I don’t know if we had a sense at that time that we were changing the culture of an organization. But we really did. After my first year, when Mr. Kraft bought the team, that’s when things really started to change culturally from the top down in terms of trying to build a franchise that was set up for long-term success. We had a ton of fun playing for those teams. You have to remember, too, that the facilities and things we were dealing with back then, we had one meeting room that was in a portable outside. We had a tiny little weight room that was similar to my high school weight room. When we went to practice, we would put on all of our pads and stuff and we would get in our cars and drive five miles to the Wrentham State School which was an abandoned mental hospital. They had 1 ½ grass practice fields for us over there. So, we would drive over to the mental hospital, practice, get in our cars all dirty and drive back.

The stadium was in disrepair. It was really kind of crazy. But I think that kind of fueled our underdog mentality. We knew we didn’t have the fancy stuff they had at other places. We had a chip on our shoulders in those early years that served us well.

That’s in ’93, ’94 and ’95? Those first few years?

Bledsoe: Yes, exactly. If I came in after a game at old Foxborough Stadium, if I went and did my press conference before I showered, I would have to take a cold shower. They’d run out of hot water at the frickin’ facility. It was crazy. It was kind of funny. And then we’d go to other stadiums and say, “Wow, this place is really nice.”

So they were just cheap as hell before Kraft?

Bledsoe: They had been. I remember my rookie year — this is a real story by the way — if you went to the equipment window and asked for a new pair of socks, they would ask you to sign out for your new pair of socks. They were really counting every last pair of socks that were being handed out to the players. It was kind of crazy. Obviously, that really changed when Mr. Kraft bought the team. He started doing everything at a first-class level and really, from the top down, set a culture that allowed him to be remarkably successful for the next 25 years.

Here are your socks. Sign here. That’s not exactly “Patriot Place.” When you guys are winning and, in ’96, you’re way closer to winning a Super Bowl than people might’ve realized, you mentioned that college environment and how tight that group was. What memories do you have from that run?

Bledsoe: At a high level, I just remember when we got together, we would just go to somebody’s house. We’d go to my house or Zolak’s house. We’d go to Lawyer Milloy’s house when he got there later on. His apartment. We’d hang out, barbecue, there were a lot of times we just ended up having beers on somebody’s deck. Like we were a bunch of high school, college kids hanging out. And it was fun.

One of the things that I truly, truly appreciate and feel so gratified about just having the opportunity to play in the NFL was that being on an NFL team crosses all social, social-economic, racial, regional barriers and everybody comes together. It was fun. You got guys from all different backgrounds that learned from each other and respected each other. It’s kind of funny now with the hyper-sensitive world we live in now. When you’re playing in the NFL—and I think across most professional sports—the love language in the locker room is making fun of each other. We would just bust each other’s chops all the time. If you heard things said in the locker room and they were taken out of context, a bunch of us would be in jail for what we said to each other.

I’m the small-town kid from Walla Walla, Wash. When my Dad showed up — and he was an old cowboy — and he’d show up in his cowboy hat and tight Wranglers on. I remember them making fun of my Dad, like, “Here comes Mac in his Stranglers again! You’ve got to get him some bigger jeans.” It was just amazing to be a part of this organization and be part of these teams where I’m the small-town kid and grew up in a place where I didn’t even know if we had a key to our house. We never even locked our house. Ever. And one of my best friends from those days, Bruce Armstrong, who was my left tackle, grew up in an environment where there were bullets flying around. He always had a weapon on him because he was going to have to shoot back if the bullets started flying. That couldn’t have been more foreign to me. And yet we ended up being great friends and learned a lot from each other and really respected the different environments we grew up in.

So those were some of my favorite memories, just having some conversations with guys that had such an amazingly different life experience than I had. And one of the things that kind of bothers me about the way things are treated now is that people are afraid to even talk about the differences that we have. Where we were the opposite. I really wanted to know what it was like growing up in that environment. And they really wanted to know what it was like growing up in my environment. And we wanted to learn about these things and really respect those differences rather than pretend they didn’t exist. It made it so interesting. As much as anything, you needed to know more about the guys you were playing with because if they started firing at you in the locker room, you’d have some information so you could fire back.

It was an amazing thing for me being a small-town kid from the wheat fields in the middle of nowhere.

That really makes not just sports special, but football. The guy next to you, if you don’t do your assignment right, you might get him slaughtered out there. It’s a different level of accountability and a different level of relationship. Do you think it has changed over time? You can’t have that connection with teammates now like you could then?

Bledsoe: No, that still happens. It still happens like on that Zoom call with all those guys. It was funny. We jumped right back into the old rhythms and old jokes. You can still do it. Just nobody else can know about it. You have to be really, really careful about the environment you’re in when you start having those conversations. Those things still happen in those locker rooms. Guys just have to be a lot more careful about who hears what and is there a camera around? Does somebody have their phone out? You just have to pay really close attention to what environment you’re in before you start talking like you’re in the locker room because anything taken out of context could come back to bite you.

Is there a moment on the field, up to the end of your Patriots run, that you cherish, too? I can remember that game against the Bills fans still talk about — that pass interference call in ’98 they still don’t think was pass interference — but you’ve had some great moments over the years.

Bledsoe: That was one of the funny things when I got to Buffalo. It had been three years since that game in New England happened where they thought they didn’t interfere with us when they obviously did. But they were still bitter about it. They were still mad at me! Like, the equipment guys, when I walked in the building, they were still pissed. They were like, “That was bullshit. You guys stole one from us.” Like, “No, it was pass interference, man. Lighten up.” Those grudges were still there so it took me a while to win some of the old guard over in Buffalo because they were still mad about that game where we beat ‘em in New England.

If you want to find a real interesting story, just search “worst gambling beat ever.” The guy had a 10-way parlay and if the Bills just stay on the field and we kick the extra point, the guy wins. But they didn’t come onto the field for the untimed down so Vinatieri runs it in for the two-point conversion to take the guy down. It’s the craziest story ever. But there was a transition because they were so prewired to hate me in the organization. So it took me a little while to win them over once I got there.

In 2001, I had no idea how serious all of the internal bleeding was after the Mo Lewis hit and what your brother was thinking in the moment — when he wondered if you died. That was scarier than any of us realized. Do you think back at that and just say, “Thank God I’m alive?”

Bledsoe: Yeah. The thing for me, was I was out during the dangerous part of it. So I didn’t really know that I was in danger. I passed out on the way to the hospital and didn’t wake up for a few hours. By the time I woke up, they had a tube in my chest pumping blood out, recycling it and putting it back in. So I didn’t know I was in too much danger until a few days later when they told me they were really close to opening my chest up to stop the bleeding. So I didn’t really know at the time that it was that dangerous. Once I got healthy, I just wanted to get back on the field and play. You have to have that youthful sense that you’re 10-foot tall and bulletproof and block that part of it out—and anybody who’s ever played the game has had to be good at doing that. The dangerous side of the game, you can’t spend time thinking about it because if you did you wouldn’t be able to take the field. So I never really thought about how dangerous it was.

For 51 days you weren’t cleared to play. You at no point thought, “Why do I even want to play after this?”

Bledsoe: I always figured I would come back and play. Honestly, the only time I ever really thought about not playing anymore was when I was healthy and cleared to play and discovered this little skinny kid from Michigan was going to keep the job and I was going to be relegated to backing him up. That was the time that was really, really hard in the whole thing. It was never hard thinking about whether I wanted to go on the field again. It was, “OK, I’m healthy,” but I couldn’t go on the field again. That’s when I was really pissed.

When does that conversation happen and what do you remember? When Bill Belichick tells you this is the direction he’s going and you’re pissed?

Bledsoe: It was when I got cleared. And I think when I first got the suspicion that my job wasn’t going to be waiting for me when I got back was when I called Belichick on my way back from the airport. I said, “Hey, I got clearance.” I was expecting him to say, “Oh, great! Cool! Get on back here.” And when I called him, he goes, “OK. That’s good to hear.” I’m like, that wasn’t the response I was hoping for. I can’t remember if it was that day or the next day when I actually came in to sit in his office and he goes, “OK, you work hard, you get yourself back in shape but, for now, we’re going to go with Tommy.” That’s when I was not very happy. There was supposedly — and I don’t think this has ever been the case — but I think it was always cute to say, “You don’t lose your job because of injury.” But that really has never been the case. That’s not the way that things work.

I was able to get over that part of it, for me personally, fairly quickly and go back to try to be a good teammate and help Tom, help the team and do all those things that I could do. Thankfully, Tom was kind enough to sprain his ankle in the AFC Championship Game and at least let me play for a little bit.

Which is a moment that kind of gets lost in history but that game easily could’ve gotten out of hand at Pittsburgh. It had to be nice to show what you can do again that season.

Bledsoe: Yeah, that was a gratifying moment certainly for me. A pretty emotional moment, too. But I tell people this, and it really is an accurate description of what that was like: It was like giving a starving man a snack. Like, “Here’s a cracker.” You play for a second, and finally get to the big game, and the other guy gets to come in and play. So it was some personal emotional turmoil and the very definition of “bittersweet” because when we win the Super Bowl I was so excited for my team and teammates and all of that. But, for me personally, I’m like, “I was supposed to be on the field for this thing.” On a personal level, that was really hard to swallow. At the same time, I was ecstatic for my teammates and organization and for the Patriots and for the fans. I was ecstatic for all of them. But for me on a personal level, it was pretty tough.

I can’t imagine. Not many people have spoken up to Belichick over the years. But did you tell him how you felt in that conversation? You’re the guy with the $103 Million contract. You’re the face of the franchise. I imagine you are pleading your case at some point.

Bledsoe: Yeah, he knew how I felt. There was no question that I was pissed off about it. But that was the decision he made and obviously Tommy went on to be one of the all-time greats. It’s hard to argue the point now looking back. But at the time, yeah, it seemed like it wasn’t fair. But I will tell you for my family — even more than myself — the moment that really gave us closure was when I went back for my Patriots Hall of Fame Induction (in 2011). The ovation we got from the fans in New England, when that happened, was really, really good for my family to hear the level of appreciation that the fans and the organization had for me in retrospect. Anybody who’s a parent will completely understand that it’s one thing when you go through something personally. It’s another thing entirely when something happens to your kid. So for my folks, for my brother, for my close friends and for my wife especially, who lived through all of this, to have that closure and that moment with the fans and the organization there in New England really did help give them closure.

How did your relationship with Tom grow and evolve?

Bledsoe: We always — through the whole thing — we always had a good relationship. And I tell Tom all the time that I’m incredibly proud to watch the things that he’s done. But I’m more proud to watch the way that he’s done things. He’s been able to conduct himself with class and with dignity, all of that, while he’s become one of the most famous athletes in the entire world. He still has maintained all the things that allowed him to have success when he was young. So it’s made it a lot easier for me to continue to cheer for the guy just because he’s such a good person. If he was an asshole, it would be really, really hard to take. But he’s not. He’s a really, really good person and has been that all the way through. So we have a good relationship. We don’t talk a ton but three or four times a year we’ll exchange messages or, every once in a while, jump on the phone.

Our relationship was good through the whole thing. You have to remember, the year before he was a practice squad kid who was trying to find his way. He was over to our house for dinner at least every two weeks. I think my wife wanted him over because she thought he was cute. But he was around and very early on he was a guy who was just a sponge for information. He was always peppering me asking “Why did you make this throw?” and “Why did you do that?” He was really, really paying attention and I didn’t perceive him as a threat at all. So I was very, very open in sharing information. It turns out, maybe I should’ve held some stuff back.

Right, it’s a little different than Brett Favre with Aaron Rodgers coming in and he doesn’t want to necessarily help him out. When a sixth-round pick comes in who’s running, what, six seconds in the 40, you’re not necessarily worried about him.

Bledsoe: No. I was always open to sharing information with everybody anyway. I just felt like that was the right thing to do. But I also had enough confidence in my own ability that I didn’t perceive anybody as a threat quite honestly. I can say that in jest, of course. If I could go back, I’d do it the same way.

Your class is through the roof. You set the passing record in Buffalo, you win six straight games a couple years later to nearly make the playoffs. That team was loaded. But they still drafted your replacement in JP Losman. In Dallas, they move on. How did you handle those exits, too?

Bledsoe: I don’t look back with regret about anything. It was such a privilege to be an NFL quarterback for 14 years. And I’ve always maintained that strong sense of gratitude and appreciation for what I got to do. So, there’s no bitterness at all. But I’ll tell you, man, I really wish it could’ve gone longer in Buffalo. We just loved playing in Buffalo. Loved the fans. That’s why for me watching the Bills this season has been so exciting. We gained — very quickly — a great sense of appreciation for that organization but, more importantly, for the fanbase because they were so loyal and so positive even though it had been such a long stretch of not much success.

So watching the Bills this year and feeling like they have a real chance to go forward and potentially win a world championship, if that does happen, I tell people I may paint my face and jump on a folding table. That fan base deserves it. They really deserve a championship and I hope they finally get one.

When you came to Buffalo, the hope and the hype was skyrocketing, too. The Big Bad VooDoo Daddies played at the stadium unveiling the new jerseys, putting your name in the lyrics of a song. You got a sense for what hope is like in Buffalo.

Bledsoe: Yeah, I did. And it was really fun, man. We were off to the races there for a while. Unfortunately, we had some offensive tackles hurt so we just didn’t quite sneak in. But we were a dangerous team. It’s funny, catching up with Moulds and talking with some of those guys I played with during that time, we all had a strong sense that we were really close. One play here, one play there and we’re off to the races. I just wish we could’ve gotten over the hump and got it done. I would’ve loved to have stayed in Buffalo and finished my career there.

The good thing is, as I’ve gotten older, my memory isn’t as great so I only remember the good times. As far as my memory serves, I never threw an interception which is a great thing about getting older. You can forget about the shitty times and just remember the good stuff.

How is your health? You weren’t afraid to stand in the pocket and take shots in an era that was different.

Bledsoe: My health is good. I count my blessings every single day. My left shoulder hurts sometimes from something all the way back to 1995. But knees. Everything else. I’m healthier than everybody that I know that played even for a much shorter amount of time.

Ever worry about concussions and your brain down the road?

Bledsoe: I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. So far my brain seems to function… well, if you ask my wife, she might beg to differ. But for the most part, I forget my keys and can’t remember where something this. I have to take step back but then realize all of my friends who never played a down have the same things happen. It’s part of getting older. The truth is, all these guys I played with that played a lot of years in the NFL, almost every one of them to a man is actually doing well from a cognitive standpoint.

The interesting thing, honestly, one of the studies that came out (note: here’s one at UT Southwestern) and never really saw the light of day — for obvious reasons — was that retired NFL players by and large are actually doing better than the general population. Not worse. There’s lower instances of depression, lower instances of spousal abuse and lower instances of substance abuse as well in retired NFL players than there is in the general population. It’s real. You can find the study. The only thing that they found that was negative was there was a slight difference in short-term memory in retired NFL players. All of the other metrics that they could measure, retired NFL players are actually doing better than the general population. Football players killing themselves and so on, that certainly happens. But that also happens in the general population. And it happens actually at a higher rate than retired football players.

For me personally, I’m functioning fairly well most of the time unless I drink too much wine. But I call that work.

That’s unbelievable if that’s the case, if this isn’t as much of a red flag as we believe it is.

Bledsoe: The other part of it is, at a certain level, we all recognize what we were doing was dangerous. And especially at that time, football was a violent game. They’ve taken some of the violence out of it which is really, really positive. So I will say that the attention that’s been drawn to these issues has been entirely positive for the game. Guys are going to play longer and have better physical health down the road. A lot fewer concussions. The one data point that they have established, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was when guys are in danger is after they have an initial head injury. You have to let your brain heal before you go back. That is permeated all the way down to the Pop Warner level. Coaching high school football out here, I actually had to sign a document at the start of each season that said if I recognize any symptoms of a head injury, I could not allow that player to go back on the field. And if I did, I could be “criminally liable” for anything that happened to that player.

So there are some real positives to the attention that’s been drawn to it. And it’s made the game safer at every level. So it’s really been positive. However, it turns out, some of the sensationalism around “play football, get a concussion, commit suicide,” that doesn’t track statistically or medically. So some of the stuff that people put out there saying “football is evil,” it turns out, isn’t true.

And in terms of just adjusting to life after football — and not slipping into sadness, depression — you found your passion in wine pretty immediately. That’s helped you, right? A lot of guys retire and they have to stay in the game someway, somehow.

Bledsoe: That’s the bigger issue for guys when they retire. You can get so much of your self-worth tied up into your identity as a football player. That’s when guys really do struggle. For 99.9 percent of players, it ends before they want it to or before they think it’s going to. I think the NFL and the Player’s Association now is doing a better job of preparing guys for the rest of life than they did in the past. But, for me, as I got a little bit older in my career—and I started to take a look at guys who had been successful in making that transition—the thing that was the most obvious commonality in guys who’ve successfully transitioned was that they had something to do. They had something to apply themselves to. Whether that was coaching or broadcasting, whether that was business or community service, the guys who successfully made that transition had something to get them out of the bed in the morning.

For me, thankfully, we had this passion for wine and we had this connection to my hometown. Honestly, my first couple years of retirement, I got too busy. I was doing too much stuff. Since then, I’ve tried to simplify and narrow it down. For me, that was really important. I wasn’t leaving football because I didn’t like football. I was leaving football because I wanted to move on to the next thing and get started on the next phase of my life rather than just quitting football.

What do you love most about the wine business?

Bledsoe: The thing that I love most about it is that it’s such a diverse business. You’re a farmer first. And then you’re into real estate. So we’re acquiring more land. And then you’re into marketing and building brands. You’re into production. We built our own winery and are trying to streamline our production. And then you’re into marketing and distribution. So there’s always a new problem and a new puzzle to solve in the wine business. It’s never static. And I really enjoy that piece of it. And the other part I’ll point to, it’s been really interesting to me as I grow this business, to recognize that quarterbacking a football team and running a business — at a high level — are basically the same job. You’ve got to put a great team around you. You’ve got to have a great plan. You’ve got to be able to execute your plan with precision. And then you have to be able to adapt when things change.

We were talking about changing the culture in New England — and building a successful culture — and that’s the same thing you have to do to build a successful business for the long term. You’ve got to build a successful culture based off of people who are properly motivated and if you do that, then you can weather the storms that inevitably come.

2020 was a curveball that hit us all. I can’t name anybody that was completely unaffected by this thing. But watching how our team adapted, overcame and thrived through adversity was really gratifying. It was very, very similar to the great teams I was on over the years. When adversity hit, that’s when you found out what kind of team you had. If you have the right team, you can flip it and turn it into a positive.

And you can be competitive as hell in this business, right? You can scratch that itch. You can take on Napa. You can find ways to sell more. There are ways to feed that inherent part of who you are as a person.

Bledsoe: Absolutely. People ask me, “How do you replace that competitiveness from NFL football?” I’m like, “Dude, I left professional football and got into the most competitive industry in the world by product SKU. There are 50,000 unique bottles of wine made worldwide every year, and you’re trying to stand out in that crowd and build a successful business. If you’re not competitive, you’re going to get left by the wayside. The difference is, for me, being in Walla Walla, it’s more of a collective competition to see how good we can be as a region. So for me, if my neighbor succeeds, that’s actually good for me. My neighbor doesn’t have to lose in order for me to win. So with the 150 wineries there are now in the Walla Walla Valley, there’s a very open sharing of information because there’s a recognition that “If my neighbor makes better wine, that’s good for my business.” So that part of it is really fun, too. It’s a collective competition to see how good we can be in our valley.

We’re trying to compete at every single aspect of our business. We’re trying to be best in class in the vineyard, best in class in production, best in class in how we think about our marketing and how we think about sales.

What is your favorite type of wine? Pinot noir? Cab?

Bledsoe: I have two answers. No. 1, Cabernet will always be king for us. That’s what we’ve built our business on and I still love it to this day. I tell Josh, our wine-maker, every once in a while I get to have one of these cool moments where I’ll be at an event and somebody hands me a glass of wine and I’ll be walking around talking to people and be like, “Damn, that’s really good. Oh! That’s our wine!” Every once in a while, I’ll get caught off-guard and really, really love what our team makes for us in the winery. Which is really fun.

But the second answer to that is, if I was stuck on a desert island and could only bring one wine, I would probably bring a whole bunch of nicely aged Barolo from northern Italy. Those wines are magic to me. They need a lot of time. A lot of them need 15 to 20 years before they really start to show. Josh, our winemaker, I think that’s also his favorite wine in the world. We don’t know yet if we can replicate that in Walla Walla but I think we might try. The problem is, when you set up to start something entirely new in the wine business, it can be decades before you fully realize the “fruits of your labor.” You plant a vineyard and it’s seven years before you realize what kind of fruit you have. And then it’s three years before that wine is ready to release. And then around a decade before it’s aged properly. So sometimes, you can go 20 years before you know the full impact of your decisions, and that part is really, really hard. To be patient.

But we may try to replicate what’s going on in northern Italy in the Walla Walla Valley.

Who’s going to win the Super Bowl this year?

Bledsoe: I am hoping and praying that it’s the Buffalo Bills. I really, really want them to do it. And I think they have a legit shot. I don’t think it’s pie-in-the-sky dreaming to think they could do it this year. They’re good in all aspects. They’re good in all three phases of the game. Obviously the big hurdle they have to get over is they have to beat the Chiefs — the Chiefs seem like the odds-on favorite. But the nice thing for the Bills is they can actually score points. No matter how good you are on defense, the Chiefs are going to score. The fact that the Bills can put points on the board as well gives them a shot. I just wish they would’ve gotten that No. 1 seed so they could have some rest and the Chiefs would have to go to Buffalo. But I also think that if they have to go into Arrowhead, the fact that there aren’t fans in the stands in Arrowhead, gives them a much better chance. That was one of the loudest places ever to play. I’m pulling for the Bills. I want to see them do it.

So how impressed are you with Josh Allen, the quarterback who broke your passing record here?

Bledsoe: I’m a huge fan of his game. And probably the biggest thing I would say in watching Josh, it’s been really cool to watch his growth as a quarterback. It’s a credit to him, first and foremost. But it’s also a credit to their staff. He’s gone from a guy who, from his first two years, wasn’t as accurate as you’d like to see and turned the ball over too many times to, now, he’s remarkably accurate, very efficient, doesn’t make many mistakes and then he’s got the other aspect to his game where he can pull the ball down and run. He’s an athlete. I like everything about his game.

I haven’t met the kid yet but he seems to be a great fit for Buffalo. He comes out of Wyoming so he’s used to some weather. He seems to be a blue-collar kid who’s a good fit for the Buffalo Bills. And he seems to be a great person as well.

And in the NFC, Tom is going to be pretty motivated to win this ring, I’d imagine. One where he’s not with Bill — there has to be something extra in Tampa Bay with Tom, right?

Bledsoe: Oh, there’s no question that’s the case. There’s no question. That’s the forever debate: Was it Bill or was it Tom? The Patriots took a big step back this year and, honestly, I think Tom was smart enough to see the writing on the wall. That they had done everything they could to stay on top and — for the first time — they were going to be in some salary cap issues. So I think part of him thought, “OK, I’m going to make a move here before this thing goes sideways.” But then he went to a great situation in Tampa and obviously he’s played great again.

There’s no question there’s motivation there for him to win one without Belichick. At some point, they’ll have to take on the Packers to get that done.

I’m just glad they’re playing, man. We needed that this year. Sports are the one thing we can rally around and get behind and set aside our differences. I think it’s been really important.

When things were at their worst in 2020, we didn’t have sports, did we? To have that common ground and to just have something that entertains us?

Bledsoe: It seems like so long ago but, all of a sudden, March Madness doesn’t happen. It’s like, “Ugh! Man!” As a sports fan, that’s a big highlight of the year: Watching these big upsets. The NCAA Basketball Tournament got ripped away and the fact that we were able to get back and at least have sports to rally around — a diversion to think about — I think it was really, really important. I’m really glad they were able to pull it off. I know it was extremely complicated. I just talked to Alex Van Pelt on that call and the Browns were ready to get on a bus to New York that Saturday and they find out their top four receivers aren’t available for the game. They’ve had to deal with some crazy stuff this year. But the fact that they were able to get it done and play ball was really, really important.

When people think of Drew Bledsoe, the quarterback, how do you want to be remembered?

Bledsoe: Hopefully they remember that I was a tough competitor who played hard every game and hopefully was a guy that fans were proud to have as their quarterback. Whether they were pissed off at particular plays here and there, I hope I was always a guy they could point to and say, “That’s our quarterback. We’re proud to have him.”

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