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49ers set to embark on historically difficult three-game stretch – San Francisco 49ers Blog

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — To say the San Francisco 49ers’ schedule is about to get tougher over the next three weeks would drastically understate what’s coming.

The journey the Niners are about to begin — with games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints — could be the most difficult stretch any team has faced this late in the season in the Super Bowl era.

Through Week 11, those teams have combined for a 24-6 record (all three are 8-2), good for a winning percentage of .800. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, no team has played three straight games against teams with an .800 or better winning percentage this late in the season in the Super Bowl era. If the Ravens and Saints can win their games before facing San Francisco, the Niners would be the first team to face such a stretch.

What’s more, only four teams in the Super Bowl era — the 2007 Detroit Lions, 1999 Cleveland Browns, 1990 Washington Redskins and 1990 Minnesota Vikings — have played three such games (not consecutively) in their 11th game or later.

None of those teams entered such a gantlet with as much on the line as these 49ers, who are 9-1 and in control of the NFC playoff picture.

“This is why you play football, for this kind of a stretch,” Niners right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “We have put ourselves in a pretty solid position here, but it means nothing if we don’t get our jobs done over these next few weeks. … We’ve got our work cut out for us but we’ve got the right coaching staff to get us in the game plan, and I believe in this locker room to execute and get the job done.”

For much of this season, the 49ers’ turnaround has been met with raised eyebrows. Even after manhandling teams like the Rams, Panthers and Browns, the Niners’ lack of top-tier victories has left skeptics questioning how good they really are. Suffice it to say, definitive answers are coming soon.

ESPN’s Football Power Index rates the 49ers’ remaining strength of schedule the most difficult in the NFL, with the next three games providing the stiffest of tests. FPI gives the 49ers a 61% chance to beat the Packers on Sunday but those numbers drop to 34% against the Ravens and 40% against the Saints. The latter two are the lowest-percentage chances for wins remaining on San Francisco’s schedule, and a Week 17 trip to Seattle offers the only one lower than the Green Bay game.

It all starts with the Packers traveling to Levi’s Stadium as the Niners look to win the one home game of the three. At a combined 17-3, the combined .850 winning percentage is the best in a game between these historic rivals in the Super Bowl era.

At stake? A spot in the driver’s seat for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. FPI gives the 49ers a 45% chance at the NFC’s top spot with a win and just a 10% shot with a loss. Green Bay would have a 44% chance at the 1 seed with a victory and 4% with a defeat.

None of that includes juicy subplots such as the first meeting between quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo and the offensive battle of Mike Shanahan coaching-tree luminaries Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur.

“It will be another unique battle,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It’ll be a play style similar to what we see week in and week out with Kyle and their offense. So we’ll prepare for that. A-Rod is one of the best to ever do it. So it will be a tremendous challenge for us, and we’re excited about it.”

A win against the Packers would go a long way before heading on another weeklong stay on the other side of the country. Like they did earlier this year — when they went to Tampa Bay and Cincinnati with a week in Youngstown, Ohio, in between — the Niners will travel to Baltimore, play the Ravens, travel to Florida for the practice week and then head to New Orleans before returning to the Bay Area.

If the 49ers can pocket a victory against Green Bay, it would mean a split of the two road games would keep them in a prime position for a bye and the top seed, especially if that win came in New Orleans. It would also likely mean losing both games wouldn’t be a death knell to their hopes of advancing directly to the divisional round.

“Week in and week out, you always find out stuff about your team,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You find out about people. There’s lots of football here to play. Each game’s going to be huge, so just trying to take it one week at a time and make sure we don’t look too far down the road because everyone’s in this it seems like right now.”

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Justin Herbert helps draft cause with MVP showing at Senior Bowl

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MOBILE, Ala. — Justin Herbert might have had more at stake than any other player at the Senior Bowl this week, with the Oregon quarterback trying to prove he is worthy of a top-10 draft pick.

He responded by being named as both the “Practice Player of the Week” and the MVP of Saturday’s game.

Herbert’s South team wound up losing the game 34-17. But he staked them a 7-0 lead while completing his first seven passes, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Florida running back Lamical Perine on the game’s opening drive. Herbert also showed off his legs with a 19-yard run on that opening drive.

He completed 9 of 12 passes for 83 yards with one TD and no interceptions and ran the ball three times for 22 yards before calling it a day.

“We could’ve won. That’s one thing that could’ve gone better. But I had a lot of fun this week,” said Herbert, who said his main focus between now and the combine and his pro day is “getting better.”

“I love competing, and that’s one of the things I wanted to come here and do,” Herbert said. “It was so much fun, it was such a great learning experience, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Herbert said at the beginning of the week that he was well aware of how the Senior Bowl boosted the profile of recent top QB picks like Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield and Daniel Jones. But he insisted that more than anything, he was honored to be invited because he grew up watching this game.

“Not a whole lot of people get this invite. To come here, it’s special,” Herbert said.

It has to feel even more special after the way this week went. The 6-foot-6, 227-pounder showed off his big arm throughout the practice week. But he also showed consistency and drew praise for his leadership with a group of new teammates — something Herbert said he knew NFL teams wanted to see after he had a reputation for being a quiet personality.

The biggest knock on Herbert is that he needs to do a better job of working through his progressions. But he did as much as he could in this type of format to help his stock.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay wrote that Herbert “truly established himself as the best quarterback on the field all three days,” with perhaps the “defining portion” coming during the two-minute drills on Thursday.

Draft analysts have been mixed on Herbert’s potential as anywhere from a top-five overall pick to later in Round 1. This week should only help his case.

Herbert’s running ability hasn’t always been a huge part of his game. But he continued to flash it Saturday after he opened eyes with three rushing TDs in the Ducks’ Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

“In this day and age in the NFL, you’ve got to be able to make some plays with your feet and be able to create a little bit,” said Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who coached the South team this week.

It was also a solid week for Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who was selected as the North team’s top practice quarterback of the week. Love, who is considered more of a high-risk, high-reward prospect after throwing for 20 TDs and 17 interceptions in 2019, wanted to prove he is a bona fide first-round draft pick in this showcase alongside a higher level of talent.

“I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the week and had an open mind. But it was a good week,” said Love, who said he believed he was able to answer teams’ questions about his ability to learn and execute a pro-style offense since the one he ran at Utah State was “not really a NFL offense.”

Love completed 4 of 6 passes for just 26 yards in Saturday’s game. But he barely missed connecting on an effortless deep ball.

Meanwhile, Washington State‘s Anthony Gordon had the most prolific day of any quarterback despite being the third North QB into the lineup.

Gordon finished as the winning team’s MVP Saturday after completing 8 of 12 passes for 69 yards and two TDs.

“Like my career at Washington State, I spent a lot of time waiting. But when it was my time, I was ready,” said Gordon, who sat behind future NFL QBs Luke Falk and Gardner Minshew in college.

Gordon also honored another former Cougars teammate this week. Gordon switched to jersey No. 3 to honor Tyler Hilinski, who died by suicide in January 2018 and would have been a senior himself this past season.

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NFL Pro Bowlers cite safety issues as deterrent to 17th regular-season game

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ORLANDO — If the players participating in the Pro Bowl are a true representation of the rest of the league, NFL owners are going to have a fight on their hands during negotiations to potentially add a 17th regular-season game to a new collective bargaining agreement.

Only a few of the players polled at Pro Bowl practices ESPN’s Wide World of Sports this week were receptive to the idea of a 17th game, with most against the idea because of safety concerns.

Defensive end Calais Campbell is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ union rep and he said he’s talked to a lot of players over the last several months and his feeling is that the 17th game could be the biggest sticking point in CBA negotiations and it’s going to take a lot of haggling to make it work.

“When I talk to the guys, I don’t think many people want to do it,” Campbell said. “Really, you talk to guys and I don’t think anybody wants to do it. It’s going to be very, very tough. I know the ownership’s really hard on it. We’re definitely talking, trying to figure out what we need to do, how we can make this thing work.

“It’s going to be a process, but 17 [games], that’s very tough.”

It would take significant concessions from owners for the players to consider a 17th game.

Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey suggested dumping all, or the majority of, training camp.

“At the end of the day, it’s more paychecks. But at the end of the day, your body gets worn down,” Casey said. “Your body goes through a whole lot through this sport. Honestly, if you add more games, you take away something else. If they take away more practices, I guess, more camp, I’d play more games.

“Get rid of those camps and we can do [more] games, baby.”

Casey was partly joking because he knows there’s no way teams will do away with training camp, but it does show that eliminating one preseason game — which is one of the things being considered — isn’t enough to get payers to agree to an additional game during the regular season.

More money, expanded game-day rosters, an additional bye week, expanded playoffs, guaranteed contracts and a higher percentage of the revenue split between owners and players are among the potential inducements that the league could offer to the players.

“Most of the starters don’t play in that last [preseason] game anyway, so if you take away that one preseason game, you’re not taking away anything for us,” Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said. “You’re just adding a game. I’m not for the extra game. I think the game’s long enough. It’s physical enough, tough enough on people’s bodies to play 16 games and also playoffs, so I’m just not for that.

“I understand that it’s going to be hard to stop it, but I’m not for increasing the games at all.”

Ravens safety Earl Thomas said he’s not sure what kind of package the owners could offer that would make players seriously consider approving a 17th game, but Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper said a second bye week would have to be included.

“I don’t have the answers, but I think if the NFL says they care about player safety and tell the parents of kids in youth football how much they care about player safety, then it doesn’t make sense to play football without more rest,” Hooper said. “So it’ll be interesting to see if their actions align with their words.

“… I mean, the NFL is coming under a lot of player scrutiny — there’s a lot of former players taking their own lives and having a lot of issues — and their answer now is to play more football and have more traumatic brain injuries. If they care as much as they say they do publicly, I feel that they should add another bye week.”

An increased risk of injuries was an overwhelming concern of nearly every player asked — especially among linemen, who are involved in contact every single play. Teams averaged 63.5 offensive plays per game in 2019, according to Pro Football Reference, which means an additional game would mean roughly 130 more snaps.

“Player safety should be at the forefront of what they’re doing,” Hooper said. “Because more and more players are put in adverse medical situations and do horrific things. It makes football look bad. And the answer isn’t running into each other for another week. So again, I don’t have all the answers. I’m just willing to give some insight on the things that I see that I think could be changed. Again, if they want more money, meaning another game, they should add more rest as a part of it.”

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter said players want a longer offseason. After the regular season ends in late December, voluntary workouts ramp up all over again in April and are followed by OTAs.

“I would say they need to give us a longer offseason, shorten down OTAs,” Hunter said. “If they’re gonna do that, make OTAs less weeks — and give us more bye weeks during the season — that would be OK with me.”

“They’ve gotta take something away, because the season just ended for me last week. I got 14 weeks until I’m back to football again. The [regular] season is like 16 weeks (plus a bye), plus the preseason — that’s 21 weeks. And then you come back in the offseason for OTAs — that’s another three months — so 14 weeks is not enough.”

Perhaps no players would be impacted more by a 17th game than rookies.

Their first NFL season begins from the moment they either finish their senior season or declare for the draft. There are all-star games such as the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game, two months of training for the NFL combine, pro days and a grueling schedule of team visits and workouts. After the draft (or signing as an undrafted free agent), there are rookie minicamps, organized team activities, mandatory minicamp, training camp, the preseason and the regular season.

Teams also require rookies to remain at the facility for several additional weeks once the veterans are dismissed after the mandatory minicamp.

Their heads are spinning as they try to learn a new offensive or defensive system, figure out the proper way to prepare for games and take care of their bodies. Some guys obviously handle things better than others, but adding another game to the rookies’ plate would be “a bloodbath,” Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said.

Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen, who led all rookies with 10.5 sacks, agreed.

“We’re the ones that are the future, and I feel like if they don’t consider us, if they don’t consider the rookies’ bodies and minds, that’s how guys get lost,” Allen said. “I guess they say they’re going to pay us more, but my body, my mind comes before money. I think about my family. I think about myself. That means a lot. Mental health is really serious thing and I feel like that can play a part into that.

“… You’ve got all those different things. It’s not just the season. You’ve got OTAs. You’ve got minicamp, training camp. You’ve got preseason. You’ve got all the things, and then rookies don’t have time [to adjust].”

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Drew Bledsoe on Brady, Barolos and life after the NFL

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For more on Drew Bledsoe’s life after football, watch the full feature, reported by Jeremy Schaap and produced by Max Brodsky, Sunday night on E:60 at 7 ET on ESPN2.

DREW BLEDSOE PULLS a sip of red wine into his mouth. He makes a swooshing sound, like he’s trying to imitate a vacuum cleaner. “The one on the right, the ‘B,’ has a little harder edges,” he says. “‘D’ still has structure, but it also has more balance.”

He’s sitting at the head of a long wooden table in the tasting room at Doubleback, the winery he owns in Walla Walla, Washington. Samples of three pinot noirs from Oregon’s Willamette Valley have been poured into glasses in front of him. The wine in two of them has been made from grapes grown in specific vineyards. The third wine is a blend of the two.

One of these samples will be bottled by Bledsoe/McDaniels, the former NFL quarterback’s third wine project. Josh McDaniels, no relation to the Patriots offensive coordinator of the same name, is a trained enologist who does the actual winemaking for all of Bledsoe’s labels. But Bledsoe’s opinions carry at least equal weight.

Bledsoe tastes the wines again. “‘D’ is the most purely pleasurable right now,” he announces. “‘B’ is pretty structured. And it just seems to me that, for what we’re trying to accomplish with this blend, we want a little more of that friendly ‘wow’ factor. We want people to drink it and smile.”

Bledsoe finished his NFL career in 2007 after 14 years, 44,611 passing yards, 251 touchdowns and two Super Bowl rings. But his tenures as the starting quarterback for the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys all ended abruptly, and with bitterness. At 35, he was being offered backup positions on NFL rosters. Compared with that, starting a second career in wine seemed too enticing to put off.

Bledsoe was seduced by wine’s magic about five years into his career, as a 25-year-old living outside Boston. From there, he set out to learn everything he could about it — or, at least, more than his teammates knew. “It would be this whole kind of discussion about the texture, and how it tastes in your mouth, and what was the best food to eat with it,” says Ted Johnson, who played with Bledsoe in New England. “We’d go out to dinners, and you knew he was going to order the wine and it was going to be this whole process.”

Plenty of big names in sports were already dabbling in wine, from Tom Seaver to Ernie Els to Mario Andretti. Nearly all of them considered it a hobby. Bledsoe was looking for more. “This isn’t just ‘dumb jock throws money at a winery,'” he says. He smiles. “Or even ‘smart jock.'” If it was merely a hobby, he wouldn’t have bothered to get involved. “I wanted to learn,” he says. “And if you come into it with that attitude, with true humility, it’s amazing what people will tell you.”

Since he’d left Walla Walla for fame and NFL fortune, the unprepossessing farming and manufacturing town on the Oregon border had developed into one of the better places in America to grow wine grapes. It made sense for Bledsoe to start his business there, rather than in California’s Napa Valley, which tends to attract most of wine’s wealthy amateurs. Not everybody was thrilled to see him. “My first thought was, ‘Yeah, just what we need,'” says Greg Harrington, a New York transplant whose Gramercy Cellars is one of Walla Walla’s most respected wineries. “‘Some former pro athlete who knows nothing about wine.'”

Thirteen years on, Bledsoe’s Doubleback cabernet sauvignons have earned a reputation as some of the region’s best. They’re also among the most coveted. He launched a second project, Bledsoe Family Winery, so he could use other grape varieties, such as syrah and chardonnay, and also sell some wine for less than the $90 to $120 a bottle that Doubleback commands. The Bledsoe/McDaniels label is designed for small lots of geeky wines, such as three Walla Walla syrahs that are each made from fruit grown in different types of soil. “He’s truly into learning and tasting,” an admiring Harrington says now about Bledsoe. “Not just the wines you’re ‘supposed to’ appreciate but esoteric stuff. Sommelier stuff.”

Merely starting a wine business helped ease Bledsoe out of the locker room. He admits it would have been difficult otherwise; the sport he’d built his life around since childhood had left a football-sized hole. But Bledsoe is also preternaturally competitive. Only when the critical and commercial success of his wines was assured was he able to put his playing career, the business finished and unfinished, safely in the past.


AS LATE AS 1990, the year that Bledsoe graduated from Walla Walla High School, tumbleweeds still blew down Main Street on windy afternoons. The town of some 27,000 was known for its euphonious name, the state penitentiary and the quality of its sweet onions. High school sports brought a measure of pride. “It’s the kind of place where the stores close on Friday nights and everybody goes to the football game,” says Adam Bledsoe, Drew’s younger brother.

But like many of the former processing and manufacturing centers of eastern Washington, it was slowly dying. “We lost two canneries, two lumber mills, a can manufacturing plant,” says Chris Figgins, who grew up on the same street as Bledsoe and made his Doubleback wines until 2014. The wine industry hadn’t yet emerged to take their place. At least 120 commercial wineries are operating in Walla Walla today, but only five were producing wine as of 1990. Few of the wines they made ever left the state.

One of those was owned and run by Gary Figgins, Chris’ father. He’d started making his Leonetti wines with an Army Reserve buddy as a glorified home ec project. He did it in Walla Walla only because he happened to live there; the grapes came from many miles west. By the time Bledsoe, who’d played three seasons at Washington State, became the first player chosen in the 1993 NFL draft, Leonetti merlot and cabernet had started to develop a cult following. The mailing list had a waiting list.

The Leonetti name meant little to Bledsoe. And once he started to care about what he was drinking, he gravitated toward the juicy, unsubtle Napa cabernets that earned the highest scores from the critics and, not so incidentally, cost the most. Those were wines that seemed appropriate for an All-Pro quarterback. As his interest deepened, he’d invite teammates to his house — Mike Vrabel, Bruce Armstrong, Damon Huard, others — and ask each to bring a bottle. They’d taste all the wines without knowing which was which. Eventually, Bledsoe noticed that when a Washington wine was included, the bottle nearly always ranked the highest. And emptied first.

Soon he was scouring wine shops in greater Boston in search of Leonetti and some of the other emerging Walla Walla labels. One day, he called Chris Figgins, who’d started working with his father. Chris was two years younger than Bledsoe. They’d hung out together a bit in high school, at opposite ends of the same social group, but hadn’t crossed paths in years. With a laugh at his own brazenness, Bledsoe remembers the conversation like this: “Hey, Chris, it’s Drew. We haven’t talked in a long time. Listen, do you think you can move me up on the list so I can buy some of your wine?”

After he retired, Bledsoe flew to Walla Walla to figure out how to start a winery. He’d been among the best at what he did since he was 13, reaching the highest echelons of his sport. With wine, for the first time, he was an unheralded rookie. He relished the challenge. “I was successful as a football player,” he says. “Can I start over at something totally different and become successful at that too?”

By then, Chris Figgins was making the wine at Leonetti. “He’d become this winemaking rock star while I was off playing football,” Bledsoe says. Bledsoe called, explained what he was hoping to do and asked whether Figgins would be open to a partnership. One afternoon, they jumped into Figgins’ truck and went for a drive. Ostensibly, they were scouting vineyard sites. But Figgins also wanted to make sure that Bledsoe was the same benevolent neighbor he used to know. “Fame and fortune changes people,” he says. “I wanted to see what kind of guy he was.”

Figgins didn’t want to work with anyone, famous neighbor or not, whose ambition was merely to see his name on a label. “I call it ‘just add wine,'” he says. “If all he wanted me to do is make some wine that he can slap ‘Bledsoe’ on, I wasn’t interested.” Bledsoe remembers sitting at a traffic light, not far from what would later become the site of Doubleback. Figgins turned to him and asked a question. “He tried to just slide it in,” Bledsoe says, “but I knew that my answer would be really important. He goes, ‘So, what kind of wines are you into?'”

Rather than naming one of the upscale brands of Napa cabernet, the answer that Figgins expected, Bledsoe explained that his favorite wines came from the Barolo area in northern Italy. “He kind of looked over at me, like ‘maybe this could work.'”

That test was the first of many indications to Bledsoe that his status as a football star wasn’t always going to be relevant in his new surroundings. Soon after, Figgins brought him to a national wine conference in Reno, Nevada. After the program ended, they visited a local wine bar.

Bledsoe stepped forward and made the introductions to the owner. “I’m Drew Bledsoe,” he said. “And this is Chris Figgins.” Instantly, the owner knew he had a celebrity in the house.

“Chris Figgins?” he said. “Really? Would you sign some bottles for me?”


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Danny Amendola and Damien Woody analyze what would’ve happened to the Patriots if Drew Bledsoe never got hurt, leading to Tom Brady taking over.

ONE SNOWY NIGHT in January, Bledsoe sits sprawled across a restaurant banquette in downtown Walla Walla. “Haven’t seen you in a while,” the manager says with a laugh as he passes the table. It turns out that Bledsoe was there the previous night.

Bledsoe has a bottle of one of his own syrahs in front of him and a 2005 Barolo that someone has given him. He pours some of the Barolo and moves his nose close. A whiff makes him rhapsodize: “I love this. It’s just so different than anything else.” He takes a sip. “It’s not obvious,” he says. “It’s intricate. It’s layered. It’s complex.”

McDaniels arrives and sits down across the table. Bledsoe slides him two glasses. As he pours, he reminds McDaniels that the best wine he’d ever had was a Barolo. It was made by the producer Giacomo Conterno from grapes harvested in 1961, which means it was about half a century old by the time Bledsoe tasted it. “It was this ethereal, magical sensory overload experience,” he says. McDaniels nods vigorously, his eyes wide.

After the 2014 vintage, Figgins handed off Doubleback to McDaniels, his protégé. These days, Bledsoe and McDaniels talk daily. And though Bledsoe has raised his three sons and a daughter in Bend, Oregon, where his wife, Maura, has family ties, he travels to Walla Walla nearly every week, sometimes multiple times. That much travel is unsustainable, he knows. When the youngest of his children leaves for college in a year and a half, he and Maura will move their primary residence to Washington.

On the big screen above them, and lots of little screens around the room, Clemson and LSU are playing for the national championship. Since his retirement, Bledsoe has stayed close to the game. In Bend, he served as the offensive coordinator for all three of his boys’ high school teams. (One of his sons, John, is now a quarterback at Washington State.) That’s over now, but Bledsoe still likes to throw the football when he can. “It just takes a little while to get warmed up,” he says.

He also follows football as a fan. “He’s the real thing — he’s going to be terrific” he says, watching Trevor Lawrence complete a pass. “I like watching good quarterbacks. I do wish they’d pull back the camera angle more often so you can see the whole field.” He wants to see where the receivers are and whether the quarterback makes the right decision. “Timing,” he says. “Accuracy. Going to the right place at the right time. That’s what makes a quarterback. Not the strength of your arm. There weren’t many balls that I threw as hard as I could.”

Dabo Swinney appears on the screen, nodding hard and clapping his hands. Watching him, Bledsoe can’t help but compare him with Alabama coach Nick Saban. “If you have the chance to go anywhere and play for any of the top programs,” he says, “you want to play for Dabo or you want to play for Saban? Dabo actually looks like he’s having fun out there.” Saban, meanwhile, brings to mind his former coach in New England, Bill Belichick. “Just a machine,” Bledsoe says.

During the Patriots’ 2001 championship season, Belichick made the controversial decision to keep Tom Brady as the team’s quarterback once Bledsoe, who had been the starter, recovered from a gruesome chest injury. At the time, Brady seemed like an unpolished striver who already had exceeded expectations. Belichick had a career losing record in the NFL. Eight more Super Bowl appearances later, they’re both considered the best ever at what they do.

Bledsoe has watched their ascent from a unique perspective. He finds it difficult to assess Belichick’s achievements because they’ve all happened with Brady as his quarterback and Robert Kraft as his owner. “It would be really hard for him to do what he does without those two bracketing him,” he says. “He’s got Kraft, who supplies the heart and soul. He really loves his players. And then he’s got Tommy, who still has an underdog’s chip on his shoulder 20 years in.”

That attitude, more than the way Brady plays on Sunday afternoons, is what Bledsoe believes sets the Pats star apart from every other quarterback. “It’s the example he sets for everyone else in the building,” he says. That’s far from unconventional wisdom, but coming from the man who lost his job to Brady, it’s easy to wonder whether there are layers of emotions coloring his perceptions.

Bledsoe denies it. “Tommy’s a great friend, and I have more respect for him than anybody,” he says. “He’s always kind of been a mid- to low-tier talent, but he’s at the pinnacle of leadership, and example, and work ethic. I mean, here’s Tom Brady, married to Gisele, these kids have grown up watching him. And you show up as part of the Patriots organization, and that dude’s working harder than you? You’re like, ‘I’d better get here earlier tomorrow. I’d better make sure my stuff is all done.'”

Asked to compare making wine with playing football, Bledsoe pauses and considers. “There’s nothing that could ever match the thrill of playing quarterback in the NFL,” he says. “Seventy thousand people screaming. Or even more fun, 70,000 opposing fans going quiet.” He seems wistful for a moment, as if the highlight reel of his pro career is spooling somewhere inside his head.

Then the young Drew Bledsoe fades back into the past and a middle-aged businessman takes his place. “But there is an equal feeling of accomplishment in wine,” he says firmly. “And it feels a lot better on a Monday morning.”


RUNNING A WINERY is farming and chemistry, marketing and customer service. Bledsoe knew he’d love the wine part of the wine business. What he couldn’t predict was how easily he’d take to the business part.

How could he? His father was a football coach; his mother was a teacher. It wasn’t as if he had entrepreneurship in his blood. But he taught himself how to run his company just like he learned how to appreciate wine, not by reading books about it but by doing it. “As a person now, I see him as a business guy,” Maura says. “He’s got a brilliant, brilliant business mind.”

“I think the thing that I enjoy the most about the business is that it’s so multifaceted,” he says. “You’re a farmer first … and then you’re into production, winemaking, and there’s so much to learn there. And then marketing and distribution and fulfillment and customer service. And I’ve had to learn way more about accounting than I ever thought I would ever learn in my life.”

He shows off the unconventional design of his Bledsoe/McDaniels bottles, which are designed to make a consumer look at the label on the back to get information about the wine. “If you pick up a bottle,” he says, “you buy that bottle 87% of the time.”

“Drew is a very smart guy,” Figgins says. “He dove into the business side of things with a lot of time and effort.” Bledsoe remains the most famous athlete in the history of his hometown and probably will be for a while. But slowly, he’s becoming known as more than just an ex-quarterback.

He was sitting outside a restaurant the other day when a couple walked past. The man stopped and stared hard. “I think that’s Bledsoe,” he said.

The woman with him grew excited. “You mean the wine guy?”

Telling the story, Bledsoe breaks out in a grin. “And that,” he says, “is super friggin’ flattering.”

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