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By Kerry Eggers/Portland Tribune/In Q and A, former QB talks life, football, business and the Patriots

PORTLAND PHOTOGRAPHY - Former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe (center) shares a laugh with baseball pitching legend Roger Clemens (left) and ESPN sportscaster Sean McDonough during a fundraiser in Portland for the Children's Cancer Association.Thirteen years after he last threw a pass in the NFL, Drew Bledsoe is in a happy place.

Drew and wife Maura — a Beaverton native — have been residents of Bend since 2003. Now 47, he is owner of Doubleback Vineyards in his hometown of Walla Walla, Washington, a successful venture he began in 2007. Drew volunteers as an assistant coach at Summit High, where all four of his children have attended school. He is involved in many charities, both through and outside the Drew Bledsoe Foundation, which focuses on "Parenting with Dignity."

Bledsoe, who played in four Pro Bowls, threw for more than 44,000 yards and 251 touchdowns in his 14-year NFL career, was in Portland this week as a celebrity participant in the 11th annual Children's Cancer Association tournament at Oregon Golf Club. The former Washington State great sat down for a Q&A session with the Portland Tribune prior to the CCA event.

TRIB: How did you get involved with the CCA?

BLEDSOE: The minute you understand what they're doing, you don't need to be sold anymore. I'm a dad. Thankfully, our kids have been healthy, but it's every parent's greatest fear to have a sick child. CCA attempts to bring joy to the kids and their families as they go through cancer treatments. Bringing joy and happiness to a person's life has a great healing effect. But beyond that, anything that's a distraction from the terrible chemo treatments they have to go through, and something that gets a family going through this thing, is incredibly important. It's very easy to support.

TRIB: The last time we talked, you were offensive coordinator at Summit High.

BLEDSOE: I'll be back for my seventh season this fall, but (former Oregon QB) Tony Graziani and I are going to switch roles. He's going to be the offensive coordinator; I'm going to be the quarterbacks coach. It will be good for both of us. It's been a fun thing for me to do.

TRIB: One of your sons, John, starred for the Storm as a quarterback. He's now a redshirt sophomore as a walk-on at your alma mater, Washington State. How is he doing?

BLEDSOE: John just had hip surgery. He's rehabbing and will take a medical redshirt this year and still have three years of eligibility. I think he'll stay there and battle it out. He really likes it up there. They have three senior (quarterbacks). Going into spring ball, he'll be in the mix.

TRIB: One of the big sellers at the live auction for the CCA event was a "wine experience" with Drew Bledsoe.

BLEDSOE: Yes. We're giving a couple of magnums of Doubleback (wine), and we'll coordinate it where a group can visit Walla Walla and we'll do the whole song and dance. We'll play some golf out at Wine Valley, one of the best courses in the area. It will be a fun time for all of us.

TRIB: How is Doubleback Winery doing?

BLEDSOE: It's going really well. Estate Vineyard has come into its own. The wines have been continuing to improve. We recently released our 10th vintage. We own 180 acres, of which 75 are currently planted.

TRIB: What is the name about?

BLEDSOE: It's not a football term, though that's what a lot of people think. I grew up in Walla Walla. Rather than 'Dumb jock gets into wine,' we wanted the story to be 'Small-town kid goes off, has another career, and doubles back home.' It's the story about returning to my hometown.

TRIB: So you're living in Bend but regularly making the five-hour drive to Walla Walla to tend to the wine business. What else are you doing with your life these days?

BLEDSOE: The wine thing occupies a ton of time. Coaching is still fun. We have a couple of other business interests. Now with our kids scattered across the West, we're going to get out and see them. (Daughter) Healy is the only one left at home. She will be a junior at Summit and is playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse. When they were young, I told her brothers, 'Your little sister is going to be the best athlete in the family.' Sorry, guys.

TRIB: You've been retired from the NFL since 2006.

BLEDSOE: I know — it's crazy! It seems like yesterday. But I look at it now and think, 'Why would somebody do that? It looks like it would hurt."

TRIB: Are you concerned with the future of the sport, given the focus on CTE and brain injuries these days?

You took some big blows during your career — one knocked you out of action and opened the door for Tom Brady to take over as quarterback for the New England Patriots — and experienced chronic head trauma migraines late in your career.

BLEDSOE: Over the past five or six years, the game has become far safer than it's ever been at every level — in the NFL, down through college and certainly in high school. They're enforcing the rules. The rule has always been that you can't hit with your head; now that is enforced. There was a real statistical study — which never saw the light of day, of course — that showed that retired NFL players have a lower incidence of suicide, of mental health issues, of domestic violence than the general population.

Those stories don't get told because there is no sensationalism in that. They want football to be the enemy. I'm a firm believer that the benefits that kids get from playing team sports like high school football far outweigh the risks.

TRIB: I've always said the lessons I learned while playing high school football have helped me in every area of life since.

BLEDSOE: Every once in awhile, I will use something that I learned in school in running our business. But every single day, I use things that I learned from being a part of an organized team — leadership, teamwork, culture, perseverence, planning, execution. All those disciplines apply to my every-day life in almost every way.

TRIB: Is Brady the greatest quarterback ever?

BLEDSOE: He's the greatest backup quarterback ever (laughs). What Tommy has accomplished going on 20 years is amazing, but it's more about his leadership and passion than it is about his ability. His ability is very good, but the day-to-day leadership he supplies for that organization and the way he has conducted himself — I mean, he's become one of the biggest stars in the world.

But at his heart, he's still the same guy who came in as a skinny little kid out of Michigan 20 years ago. And I tell him that all the time. I'm proud of what he's done, but I'm way more proud of how he's done it, how he's handled all the stuff that's been thrown at him. He's done it in every way with a ton of class. We keep in touch. I love him to death.

TRIB: What do you think of Patriots coach Bill Belichick?

BLEDSOE: I didn't like him very much when he decided to let the other guy (Brady) play. But Bill is able to completely shut out anything that doesn't pertain to winning games. It sounds simple, but it's incredibly difficult. You develop emotional attachments with players as a coach. You don't want to make the cutthroat decisions you have to make. Bill has always been able to do that.

They do an amazing job of managing every single thing they do in the organization. It starts at the top with (owner) Robert Kraft, but Bill is such a huge part of that, and he's been able to sustain it in a league that is not designed for teams to be able to stay great.

TRIB: You played your first nine seasons in New England, starting 123 of 124 games in which you played. Do you pull for the Patriots?

BLEDSOE: Tommy is the only one left I played with, but I cheer for them. Robert Kraft is a dear friend. Love the family; love the organization.

TRIB: Your parents, Mac and Barbara Bledsoe, have run the Drew Bledsoe Foundation out of their home in Kalispell, Montana, since 1996. You donated more than $1 million to get the foundation off the ground. How is it going?

BLEDSOE: Very well. We focus on giving parents skills for communicating their morals and values to their kids. My folks have put together a curriculum. At last count, I think we've reached over 4 million people.

TRIB: Since you retired, you've given to your community and to charities in a number of ways. Is that gratifying?

BLEDSOE: It's truly a blessing for people such as myself and (former baseball star) Roger Clemens to be able to have an impact by showing up (at charity events). We talk and actually have an impact. It's a gift that we've been given in being able to try to effect change in the world by being role models, by giving some of our time, which is awfully easy to do. It's the same now with the wine business. One of the things that's so great is you can show up, donate some wine and raise money for worthy causes.

It's a wonderful world we get to live in, but there are thousands of charitable endeavors out there that need our support. Closest to my heart are the ones that target kids. To have the great privilege to be able to support some of these worthwhile causes is something that makes me feel good.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers


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