NEW ORLEANS — One is a laid-back native of Washington State who was so skinny in junior high that a coach once switched him to a pass receiver. The other is a fiery kid from the Mississippi bayou who had trouble getting a college scholarship.
On Sunday, though, when Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots and Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers jog through the tunnel at the Louisiana Superdome, they'll become the latest two initiates to one of the most exclusive fraternities in sports: quarterbacks who've played in the Super Bowl. Both will have arrived here within six years of joining the league. Both are powerful passers who've had franchises built around their raw athleticism. And both seem poised to make a lasting impact on a league in which good quarterbacks are a scarce commodity.
But that's where the similarities end. Bledsoe is about as squeaky clean and polite as professional athletes come. He's a stay-in-the-pocket passer who, until this year, has always thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Although Bledsoe fought off a shoulder injury last season - a year he finished as the NFL's lowest-rated passer - he has shown flashes of brilliance this season, chief among them leading the Patriots back from a 22-0 deficit to a victory over the New York Giants. Favre, by contrast, is scruffy and abrupt. He's an adept scrambler who has maintained one of the highest completion rates, and lowest interception totals, in the NFL. Although he has been named league MVP two years running, and has thrown more touchdown passes in a single season (1996) than anyone but the Miami Dolphins' Dan Marino, off-the field troubles, including an admitted addiction to pain killers, have led some to question his stability.
On Sunday, though, the past means little. "You're never going to be considered a great quarterback until you win the Super Bowl," says Joe Theismann, the former Washington Redskin signal caller. "This game is like a whole season."