Bledsoe can answer leading critics 1 way - by winning

ON THE NFL

November 23, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Drew Bledsoe had it all a year ago: a $42 million contract and a Super Bowl appearance.

Life doesn't get much better than that for an NFL quarterback.

He had only one problem. He didn't much like his coach, Bill Parcells.

When Parcells left, Bledsoe made it obvious he preferred the more low-key style of Pete Carroll.

But it hasn't worked out the way Bledsoe figured it would. With his New England Patriots at 6-5 after an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay, Bledsoe finds himself in the middle of a firestorm.

Even Carroll has publicly questioned Bledsoe's leadership qualities.

"I don't think he's the recognized leader of this team. He does lead at times, but he is not the obvious guy to step into the huddle of the whole team and lead the charge," Carroll said.

Those comments caused such a controversy that Carroll later issued a clarification. Sort of.

"I never meant to state that Drew is never a leader. There are times when he leads. He's just not the spokesman for the team. Bruce Armstrong is that."

Bruce Armstrong? He's an offensive tackle. Quarterbacks get the big money (although Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace are changing that for offensive tackles) and are expected to be leaders.

Defending himself, Bledsoe said, "Pete knows what my role is on this team. I know what my role is on this team. We have one vocal leader, and after that, there are a number of guys similar to myself who are leaders by what we do on the field. I am the way I am. If you want me to turn into Dan Marino and yell at people, that's not going to come across correctly. It would come off as fake, and I wouldn't be effective. I'm not going to change the way I am."

On top of this, Bledsoe was one of three Patriots players who dived off a nightclub stage a week ago. Although a woman was in- jured, police have determined none of the players was responsible.

Bledsoe apologized, but it didn't help his image.

Bledsoe and the Patriots were criticized by Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle for their dislike of Parcells.

"The old coach raised his voice and lowered their self-esteem. He hurt their feelings. He called them names. He was sarcastic, sexist and terribly insensitive. If you believed the adoring reports this summer by the incredibly provincial sporting press, he [Bledsoe] was destined to be the greatest quarterback in the history of the National Football League now that the wicked witch is gone."

There's only one way for Bledsoe to reply: winning games.

If he doesn't start today against the Miami Dolphins, he'll hear more such comments.

Marino feels heat, too

Marino is the anti-Bledsoe.

Nobody ever said that the Dolphins quarterback isn't a leader. He shows his emotions on the field and is quick to chew out his teammates.

But at age 36 and in his 15th season, Marino has problems of his own.

It may be hard to believe, but Marino could be in a different uniform next year.

Reports out of Miami are that coach Jimmy Johnson has become convinced he's never going to get back to the Super Bowl as long as the Dolphins remain a passing team.

It infuriates him that they're 29th running the ball. He doesn't care that they're seventh in passing.

He wants to get run-blocking offensive linemen to replace the finesse pass blockers the team has now and run the ball.

"I think you have to have an attitude to run the ball," Johnson said.

Marino said: "The more you throw, the more comfortable you're going to get with it."

Well, you know who's going to win this battle.

With Johnson, it's his way or the highway. He replaced Tom Landry and Don Shula. Shipping out Marino won't bother him.

Marino can stay if he wants to take a pay cut, fight with Craig Erickson for the starting job and hand off a lot.

If not, he can retire gracefully the way Shula did or move on.

That's why these last five games are Marino's last chance to prove the Dolphins can win his way.

Marino hasn't gotten Miami back to a Super Bowl since he did it in his second year in 1984. If he doesn't this year, the Dolphins will start doing things Johnson's way next year -- with or without Marino.

Jones shows his stripes

Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys who says he wants to become more involved in coaching, may have found his role: intimidating the officials.

Jones was in the face of an official in the fourth quarter last week when officials picked up an interference flag because the pass was uncatchable.

Jones was down on the 25-yard line screaming even though team officials are supposed to stay in the so-called coaching box.

Lo and behold, in the next drive, the Washington Redskins' Darrell Green was called for an 11-yard pass interference penalty during the Cowboys' game-winning 97-yard drive even though the ball once again appeared to be uncatchable. Green said it was the worst call of his 15-year career.

Jones said: "Overall, I don't think talking to officials on the sideline influences the outcome of the game."

Redskins coach Norv Turner, who once worked for Jones, complained to no avail.

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