It was 10 years ago Friday, on the first weekend of action following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that the direction of the NFL shifted forever with one crushing hit in Foxborough, Mass.
New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, scrambling for a first down against the New York Jets, was laid out near the sideline by linebacker Mo Lewis. Initially, it appeared like another physical play in another physical game, but it ended up opening the door for a skinny sixth-round pick out of Michigan named Tom Brady.
On the anniversary of the monster hit that had seismic consequences, let's take a look at where the principles of that famous play are now.
Drew Bledsoe: It's no stretch to say Bledsoe got the short end of the stick here. He entered Week 2 of the 2001 season as the Patriots' franchise quarterback and the owner of every relevant passing mark in team history. Bledsoe's Sunday ended in a hospital with a sheared blood vessel in his chest.
His backup quickly emerged and Bledsoe didn't see the field again until the AFC Championship Game, when he replaced an injured Brady and sparked his team to an upset win in Pittsburgh. Bledsoe was back on the bench for the Super Bowl, however, and shipped to the Bills two months later.
Bledsoe's contributions to the Pats were not forgotten, and he was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame this year. He leads a quiet post-NFL life coaching flag football, playing golf and making wine.
"I had a horrible backup, that No. 12 guy," joked Bledsoe when talking about Brady, according to NESN.com. "He didn't really understand the backup part."
Mo Lewis: A third-round pick in 1991, Lewis should be remembered as a durable and productive linebacker during some lean years in Jets history. Instead, Lewis' legacy is doling out some moderate internal bleeding and launching a divisional rival into the stratosphere. Lewis went on to play three more seasons before retiring as a Jet in 2005. Lewis has fallen off the grid since his retirement, possibly in fear of Jets fans holding a grudge for his unintentional role in NFL history.
In which case, someone get Robin Williams on the phone: "It's not your fault, Mo. It's not your fault, Mo. It's not your fault."
Shaun Ellis: While it was a teammate that delivered the historic blow on Bledsoe, it was Ellis who was hot in pursuit of the quarterback prior to impact.
"That particular play, I was chasing him, got to the sideline and I dove to try to knock the ball out," Ellis, 34, told the Boston Herald on Friday. "I guess he reached back to get the ball and that's when Mo Lewis hit him. I remember ... you know how when someone gets the wind knocked out of them? I didn't know the extent of the injury until after the game."
At the time of impact, Ellis was in the second season of what would become a steady 11-year run with the Jets. After a great performance in last season's AFC Divisional Playoffs in which he beat up on Brady (irony alert!) in a career effort, Ellis changed sides in the rivalry by signing with the Pats as a free agent. No word on whether Brady has bought him dinner or at least shared a deep embrace with some tears of gratitude involved.
Bill Belichick: On the surface, Brady gained the most from the events of 9/23/01, but you can argue Belichick was equally beneficial. Before Lewis' hit, New England was an also-ran destined for the middle of the pack in the AFC. Belichick was a second-year head coach coming off a 5-11 season with already one failure in Cleveland on his resume. Brady's emergence served as the catalyst in the Patriots' -- and Belichick's -- transformation to greatness.
"Obviously Iâm aware of (the anniversary) and all but no, I donât sit around and reflect on (it)," he told NESN.com Friday in his trademark grumpy old man persona. "I donât have to write a column about it."
Belichick, 59, obviously deserves loads of credit for New England's rise, but if Brady never gets his shot, is Belichick the genius who shoots the breeze with Bon Jovi and gets a two-part NFL Films documentaries reflecting on his career?
Is he a two-time loser head coach serving as the Jets' defensive coordinator, plotting ways to sabotage Rex Ryan? Is he spending his days in Nantucket, fishing on his boat "II Rings"? We'll never know.
Tom Brady: In case you need us to tell you, things worked out pretty well for Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.
A decade later, Brady is the league's signature star, putting up early numbers that suggest he's primed for his best season yet. But stay on your toes, Tom. If we've learned anything here, it's that everything can change in a moment.