By Chad Peters
DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer
April 1, 2004, 5:04 p.m. (CST)
- Drew Bledsoe has been taught a thing or two over the course of his 13-year NFL career, having been the recipient of some of the finest football instruction around.
Why Bledsoe first played for Bill Parcells in New England, where the two paired up to gain a berth in Super Bowl XXXI. The Cowboys' newly-signed starting quarterback then made a return appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI under the jurisdiction of latest coaching guru Bill Belichick, who recently matched the Cowboys' unique accomplishment of winning three Super Bowls in four years with the Patriots.
But it wasn't Bledsoe's understanding of the game that came into play when his career was at a crossroads four years ago.
Bledsoe, reunited with Parcells here with the Cowboys, instead drew upon his father's definition of honesty to help him digest the news of losing his starting job to a young Tom Brady, four weeks after suffering a collapsed lung and internal bleeding against the New York Jets during the 2001 season while still with New England.
"I heard someplace that honesty means saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and doing what you said you're going to do," said Bledsoe's father, Mac, recalling the time his son broke the news he was no longer the Patriots' starting quarterback. "And he said, 'That's what I'm going to do. I told everybody on this football team I was going to give my best, so that's what I'm going to do.'"
Mac Bledsoe, who runs Parenting With Dignity
along with his wife, Barbara, had taught Drew that lesson at an early age while coaching high school football. Drew and his younger brother, Adam, sat on the grass outside the locker room from the age of three listening to their heroes - Mac's players - discuss the meaning of honesty, one of the many weekly themes Mac taught after practice every season.
For more information on Parenting With Dignity or the Drew Bledsoe Foundation, visit:
Drew Bledsoe must have listened well, keeping true to his word when called upon by New England in 2001.
After Brady went down with a knee injury in the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game against Pittsburgh, Bledsoe answered the call by leading his team to a 24-17 comeback win over the Steelers in part because of the foresight his father had provided him some 25 years earlier.
"This taught me that teaching something to a child does not necessarily involve intent to teach," said Mac Bledsoe, whose son Drew signed a three-year, $14 million contract with the Cowboys on Feb. 23 after being released by Buffalo, where he had spent the previous two seasons. "I was intending to teach my players, but our own children were the unexpected beneficiaries of the lesson."
Mac and Barbara Bledsoe have been assisting struggling parents for nearly three decades now, highlighted by the 1996 inception of their non-profit organization, Parenting With Dignity
. The program is a parent education curriculum that focuses on promoting and teaching effective parenting skills, emphasizing the importance of education and successful planning.
After teaching high school English courses for eight years in Waterville, Wash., nearly 30 years ago, the Bledsoes became increasingly frustrated with the existing culture in their classrooms. Students were arriving to class without much ambition to learn, and the Bledsoes believed the problem began in the children's homes.
"One day a boy on my football team had been kicked off the team by the principal who caught him drinking in the parking lot at noon," said Mac Bledsoe, discussing the time things finally reached the boiling point several years later while teaching in Walla Walla, Wash. "We got home that night, and we were totally frustrated. It suddenly hit us that we're the ones who see the problem, but we're not doing anything about it."
Deciding it was time to do something, they received permission from the school district to conduct a meeting with parents to discuss solutions to the problems the Bledsoes had been witnessing. The session proved so beneficial that it ultimately led to the birth of the Parenting With Dignity
program, which has since served nearly two million families through its various books and instructional videos.
The Bledsoes are now actively spreading their effective parenting techniques in 41 states, but the impact perhaps would have never been as widely felt if not for the help of son Drew, who approached his parents with a dream of his own nearly eight years ago.
"I think we have an opportunity as a family to make a huge impact," Mac Bledsoe recalled Drew telling him. "My dream is I'll build a foundation around your parenting program and the foundation will exist with the sole purpose of supporting your program. I will give you the same spotlight that shines on me as an NFL quarterback. I will allow that spotlight to shine on you."
Drew's dream came to fruition with the formation of the Drew Bledsoe Foundation in 1997, which has enabled Parenting With Dignity
to spread its message beyond just eastern Washington, thanks in part to monetary contributions also made by Drew and his wife, Maura.
His efforts in the community have not gone unnoticed either, as Drew Bledsoe, the 10th all-time leading NFL passer with 39,808 career yards, was the recipient of the NFL Alumni Association Spirit Award in 2004, becoming the first active player to ever win what is considered one of the most prestigious service awards in all of sports.
"I genuinely think Drew does make a good role model because he's used his position in the spotlight to try to do a greater good for our society," Mac Bledsoe said. "That's pretty impressive."
The elder Bledsoe's philosophy on parenting applies to many other societal problems today as well. While the use of steroids in sports is drawing national attention thanks to the recent Congressional hearings, Mac contends the true problem is being ignored.
"I think that steroids need to be a controlled substance, but thinking that Congress is going to make a change in the steroid usage in this country is misleading . . . they've been virtually powerless against all the other controlled substances," Mac Bledsoe said, adding he actually thinks steroid usage is on the decline. "It all has to do with education and making solid and sound decisions. If every family taught their children that drugs are never the answer in life, the drug culture of America would simply disappear because there would be no demand."
Mac Bledsoe is well versed on the subject of steroids. He saw the drug's harmful side effects firsthand while playing college football in the 1960's at the University of Washington, where his roommate began using steroids when the team's trainer introduced both of them to the growth-enhancement drug after becoming available on the market.
The teammate, who enjoyed a short-lived career in the NFL, died several years ago of an aortic aneurism, an attributed side effect of steroid use.
"I had some pretty up close and personal experiences with steroids from a really, really early date," said Mac Bledsoe, who does not disclose the name of his fallen former teammate. "Consequently, when my kids were coming along, I was very careful to point out to them the inherent dangers of steroids. I tried to teach my sons the truth . . . that steroids are a shortcut that does not work very well and is very dangerous."
Mac Bledsoe took that same approach in teaching sound decision-making about a number of issues confronting his children when they were growing up - an education that has continued into the adult lives of Drew and Adam.
"I think you've gathered already that I'm a pretty strong believer in education," said Mac Bledsoe, sticking firm to his roots. "I believe the solution to the problem of raising a generation of happy and self-directed kids lies in education." An education that has served Drew Bledsoe well.