Wednesday, January 30, 2002
By now, it should be no secret with which institution my college sports loyalties lie. You have heard me ramble on all football season long about the Crimson and Gray. The Palouse Posse. The perennial underdog you typically find at the bottom of the Pac-10 standings. My alma mater, Washington State University.
Not only am I a devout Cougar supporter, but I’m also a dogged believer in the power of the underdog. So it’s no wonder which team I was cheering for in Sunday’s AFC championship game.
Imagine my surprise when one of WSU’s greatest field generals, Drew Bledsoe, made his triumphant return in the second quarter for the Saint Bernard of underdogs, the New England Patriots.
Watching old No. 11 trot onto the field inspired memories of some of the most glorious NFL playoff moments of all time. The Immaculate Reception. Namath’s Guarantee. The Comeback. Montana to Clark.
Although Bledsoe’s performance Sunday may not hold the same historical significance as the aforementioned events, no Patriot or Cougar fan will ever forget his heroism.
After losing his starting job to injury almost four months ago, Bledsoe hadn’t even stepped onto the pitch during a game. For the first time in his career, he had been forced to watch from the sidelines as Tom Brady guided his team to within one game of the Super Bowl.
But being the classy, ultra-professional guy that he is, Bledsoe accepted his back-up role and never once raised a stink. Then when the time came for him to shine, he lit up Heinz Stadium like the Northern Lights.
Only four plays into the drive, Bledsoe found David Patten in the corner of the endzone to put the Pats up 14-3 at half, all the while showing the world that he’s still the same franchise quarterback the Pats drafted in 1993. And although Bledsoe’s numbers (10-21, 102 yards, TD) didn’t rank among the best all-time playoff performances, he made sure he took care of the most important stat of all — the W.
Watching Bledsoe lead the Pats to victory was most gratifying for any WSU or underdog fan. But while we reveled in the thrill of victory, another Cougar alum was involved in a very different kind of battle. Rob Ramsay had become the underdog in the fight for his life.
Almost as surprised as I was to see Bledsoe guide the Pats to the Super Bowl, I was equally dumfounded Sunday when I read the headline, “Ramsay recovering after brain surgery.”
For those who don’t follow Seattle Mariners baseball, Ramsay is a left-handed relief pitcher the M’s acquired from Boston in 2000. He saw most of his playing time in Tacoma last year and, after being waived in November, is now a member of the San Diego Padres.
He is a soft-spoken, well-liked kid from down the street (Camas, Wash.), who possesses a wealth of talent and the character to match. He is the rare professional athlete who is truly thrilled to be there — not because of the bright lights or the TV cameras, but because he’s a sports fan. Like Bledsoe, he is the guy you are always pulling for.
Now, as we await word on the nature of his recently removed brain tumor, we are pulling for him like never before.
It was different back in college. We would pull for “Bob” to win his next start or to be named to the travel team. When we heard he was drafted, we would pull for him to make it to The Show. When he was traded to the Mariners, we hoped we would one day see him pitch at Safeco Field.
Now, we just hope he makes it back at all.
But knowing Bob, he won’t just come back. He’ll end up leading a team to the World Series. In college, we believed in Bob so much that we had him autograph a few baseball cards “in case you ever make it to the majors.” I still have mine. And just as we believed back in college that our buddy had the talent to play Major League Baseball, we now believe in his ability to make a strong recovery.
He may not return to the field on the same stage or with the same fanfare as Bledsoe, but Rob Ramsay will find his way back to the pitching mound some day. It may not even be in a major-league uniform, but you can bet that as long as his arm is healthy, this iron-willed southpaw will have a place on someone’s team.
Ramsay and Bledsoe are two of the best examples of class in professional sports. They possess the winning personality you want and need on your team. Each is engaged in a different battle right now, but both will always stand on top of the mountain in my book.