Henry Bledsoe grew up thinking everyone's dad played pro football. He spent his autumn Sundays watching his father play and would then typically join Daddy Drew on the field with his brothers Stu and John as the Bledsoes tossed the ball around.
It wasn't until after his dad retired that Henry realized that all fathers got to play a game for a living, and ironically that's when he understood just how cool it was – and watching his hero get inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame only added to the excitement.
"The two older boys, Stu's 13and John's 12, they understood when I was playing that what I was doing was different from what most dads did," Bledsoe explained. "Henry, my 10-year-old, when I was playing he was 5 or 6 at the oldest. It was a pretty big deal to him because he just thought everyone's dad played football and when you went to dad's job you went down on the field and threw the ball around after the game. So now he's pretty fired up about it."
Bledsoe joined six-time All-AFL center Jon Morris as this year's inductees, taking part in ceremonies outside the Hall on Saturday afternoon in front of a large crowd that filled in the plaza to show its appreciation. The huge crowd showered the former franchise with a hail of "Dreeeeews" as he stepped to the podium following Robert Kraft's words introducing him: "If not for Drew Bledsoe, I'm not sure we would have paid so much to keep the team here."
"I really had a horrible backup … he didn't understand the backup part," Bledsoe cracked about Tom Brady as the crowd roared.
"I was very fortunate to play with some great men of great character. I'm standing here because of them. I thank you fans for bestowing me this honor," he said.
Bledsoe thanked a host of his former teammates, starting with the lineman before moving to the receivers and then the running backs. Among those he mentioned were Bruce Armstrong, Todd Rucci, Max Lane, Dave Wohlabaugh, Pat Harlow, Damien Woody, Vincent Brisby, Troy Brown, Shawn Jefferson, David Patten, Michael Timpson, Ben Coates, Terry Glenn, Kevin Turner, Sam Gash, Curtis Martin and Kevin Faulk.
Morris, who anchored the Patriots offensive line from 1964-74, also holds the distinction as the team's first-ever Pro Bowl selection, earning that honor in 1970. He is a member of the Patriots 50th anniversary team, 35th anniversary team and is part of the 1960s all-decade team. Having played in a variety of homes during his career including Boston College, Harvard and the old Schaefer Stadium, Morris could only look in wonder at the expanse of Gillette Stadium Patriot Place and the Hall itself.
"Back when I was playing for the Patriots if we'd have gotten a crowd this size to come and watch we'd have played a doubleheader for you," Morris cracked as he began his speech. After thanking the Kraft family, including a touching tribute to Myra Kraft, Morris explained how surprised he was to be recognized.
"This honor is really an overwhelming experience. It's especially overwhelming because it came as a complete surprise. I thought my time had passed. This induction is the crowning achievement of my football life. It's been 37 years since I last put on a Patriots uniform. It's just nice to be remembered at all," Morris said.
"When I retired from football there was no Hall of Fame, there was no alumni association … once it was over, it was over," Morris said. "I don't mean that as a criticism of the Sullivans, that's just the way it was. But when the Krafts took over they immediately welcomed all the alumni with open arms. And not just come on out to a party once in a while, but anytime you want to come to a game, you're welcome. We got this Hall of Fame and we're going to put some of you guys in there.
"They really made you feel you were part of this organization and I still feel that way and I don't even live here. You can see the results of it. Three Super Bowl rings don't just happen. It's just a wonderful thing they've done and you can see it starts from the top and it's worked."
For all the sights and sounds of the afternoon's events be sure to check out Lyndsay Petruny's update on "Patriots Today" on Patriots.com.