Before we talk about the three super popular Patriots that wore #11, it behooves me to mention Joe Kapp. Kapp played just one season in Boston, but it must have seemed like the twilight zone for him. Why? You all remember when the 2016 Patriots traded poor Jamie Collins to the winless Cleveland Browns, right? Joe Kapp went from a 12-1 record with the 1969 NFC champion Vikings to a 1-9 mark with the 1970 Patriots. He took such a beating, it was his last season in the NFL.
Tony Eason was selected with the 15th pick of the historic 1983 NFL draft. He was a rockstar with Illinois, but never panned out the way that his counterparts Elway, Kelly and Marino did. Eason was not a poor quarterback; he actually was pretty good in stretches as he compiled a 28-21 mark with the Pats.
In the 1985 AFC championship game, Eason went 10 for 12 with three short touchdown passes. In the Super Bowl, the Bears annihilated him. He went zero for six and was sacked three times. He bounced back to have his best season in the pros in 1986. Unfortunately, a return trip to the Super Bowl was not in the cards as a bad trend was established for New England. Denver beat them in the playoffs in the Mile High city, 22-17.
Eason was limited to a role player the remainder of his career with veteran Steve Grogan and enigmatic Doug Flutie outperforming him.
Drew Bledsoe and a New Era
After Eason and Grogan left, the Patriots were flat-out awful. That all changed when they took Drew Bledsoe with the first pick of the 1993 draft. Bledsoe was one of the best college football players of all-time at Washington State. His arrival along with Coach Bill Parcells and Robert Kraft as owner one season later gave the Pats immediate credibility. They even won the division following the ’94 season in large part to the brilliance of Bledsoe.
In 1996, Bledsoe was excellent teaming up with Terry Glenn, Ben Coates, Keith Byars and the fantastic Curtis Martin to run away with the AFC East. They dominated Pittsburgh and held off Jacksonville for their second ever Super Bowl appearance. Bledsoe played fairly well in the first quarter of Super Bowl XXXI against the Packers, but struggled the rest of the way. He was sacked, intercepted and intimidated throughout the night. However, he would get a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots in his final season with the team, 2001.
The only problem for Bledsoe was he playing time was limited during the championship season due to his injury and Tom Brady’s remarkably swift ascension. Bledsoe did have a moment in the sun when Brady was knocked out of the AFC championship game at Pittsburgh. Bledsoe was workmanlike in helping New England outlast the Steelers, 24-17. His second quarter TD pass looked identical to Brady’s second quarter TD pass in the Super Bowl.
Bledsoe moved on to Buffalo and Dallas thereafter where he had a few good seasons. His lack of mobility caught up with him at the tail end of his career. Dallas coach Parcells opted for the younger, more athletic Tony Romo. Unwilling to be relegated to a backup position, Bledsoe retired before the 2007 season.
College QB Makes His Mark
Julian Edelman is one of the most popular and exciting players ever to wear a Patriots uniform. No doubt his friendship with Brady has been a motivating factor for the former college quarterback. He was drafted in 2009 and made the roster thanks in large part due to his electrifying abilities in the return game. He played a bit of everything in his first three seasons including kick returner, receiver and defensive back. Edelman’s career has been a case of what could have been as several of his seasons have been affected by injury. When Edelman is in the lineup, the Patriots already potent offense is even better.
Edelman’s two most recent Super Bowl appearances were the stuff of legends. He played a key role in the Super Bowl XLIX victory over Seattle by notching tough third down receptions and the go-ahead touchdown. In Super Bowl LI, he struggled for the most part, but came up with perhaps the most amazing reception in Patriots history grabbing a deflected ball in triple coverage about one inch from the turf. He added a big catch in the overtime period. His preseason injury in 2017 was perhaps the low point of the season for Patriots fans. He is exactly the kind of player that is easy to root for.
How about two quarterbacks that have worn #12 for the Patriots!? Before we get to the greatest player in franchise history and probably the greatest quarterback in the history of professional football, let’s mention a journeyman backup named Matt Cavanaugh. He played his first five seasons behind Grogan from 1978-1982 before getting traded to San Francisco. Cavanaugh won the Super Bowl as a backup for the 1984 49ers and 1990 Giants as well as an offensive coordinator for the 2000 Ravens, 2005 Steelers and 2008 Steelers. So, that makes five Super Bowl rings for a Patriots quarterback wearing number 12.
Another Patriots quarterback that has won five Super Bowls wearing the #12 is the incomparable Tom Brady. As a Bills fan, there are simply not enough superlatives I can shower on Brady. First, he has whipped Buffalo for seventeen years. Second, he is not just an outstanding player, but an outstanding person and a superb ambassador for the NFL. Everybody knows about his stats, accomplishments and championships. What stands out for me is the love he has for his family. His appreciation for his parents, wife, sisters and children is to be admired. I am the same age as Tom, but I look up to him.
The other thing that stands out to me about Brady are his defeats. I am thinking about six games that he lost that proved his greatness. The Super Bowl losses to the Giants and Eagles were literally not over until the final whistle blew. In Super Bowl XLII, Brady was down, but not out. He led his team to the go-ahead score with 2:35 remaining. Even when New England once again fell behind, Brady made two amazing “Hail Mary” attempts for Randy Moss that fell incomplete. In the Super Bowl XLVI loss, Brady was not at his best. Yet, he still threw a Super Bowl-record 17 consecutive completions and was a few drops away from victory.
In Super Bowl LII, Brady was marvelous. Had he not been strip-sacked, we would have definitely been acknowledging his Super Bowl performance as the greatest quarterbacked game in football history. He was truly fantastic in the second half especially on chunk plays to Amendola, Gronk and Hogan.
Championship Game Losses Add to Legacy
The other three losses were championship game losses to the legend, Peyton Manning. Sometimes, people push Manning’s greatness under the rug due to his many playoff failures, but to me, he was the second best ever. In the 2006 AFC championship game, Brady was surrounded by castoffs and has-beens and went toe to toe with Manning on the road. Peyton pulled it out in the end, but Brady was phenomenal in defeat. In the 2013 AFC championship game, Denver completely overwhelmed the Patriots defense. Yet, Tom battled to the end notching two fourth quarter touchdowns in a hopeless situation. He showed the heart of a champion when the odds were stacked against him.
Of all the losses in Brady’s magnificent career, the one that goes down in history for me as his best would have been the 2015 AFC championship game. He really struggled in the first half at Denver as the Pats fell behind. The Broncos defense was simply awesome in 2015. Von Miller, Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware, Chris Harris, etc. teed off on Brady. He seemed to get walloped every other play. He never gave up, though. In the fourth quarter, New England dominated Denver but could not come all the way back in a gutty 20-18 loss due to a missed two point conversion.
I only mention these losses because we all know about the wins. His final drive against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI would give any football fan goose bumps. His pass to David Givens in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles is the greatest short yardage pass I have ever seen. The incredible performances against Seattle in 2014 and Jacksonville in 2017 and their top-ranked defenses demonstrated that he gets better with age. And, finally, his signature win against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI in a season that started on the suspended list was according to Kraft, “unequivocally, the sweetest of them all.” We will do the history of the Patriots by jersey number till we get to #99, but we will not write about any better player or person than #12, Tom terrific.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills