Wes Welker has doubters and detractors again.
And he loves it.
The Oklahoma City native and New England receiver tore up his left knee in the Patriots’ regular-season finale last December. The ACL ripped, the MCL shredded and the doubts emerged.
"You can’t do it,” some suggested.
"You’re done,” others whispered.
For Welker, it’s nothing new. This is a guy who’s been questioned every step of the way, who’s heard every reservation and hesitation and suspicion.
"I hate hearing it, but I love hearing it,” said Welker, whose annual charity weekend in Oklahoma City kicks off Friday with the Cleats and Cocktails fundraiser. "To me, that pushes me. That drives me.”
Look where it’s taken him.
When he was a standout jack-of-all trades at Heritage Hall High, everyone said he wasn’t big enough for major-college football. But he went to Texas Tech and became one of the most exciting players in the game.
Then when he finished his Red Raider career as a record-setting receiver and returner, everyone said he couldn’t make it in the NFL. But he went to Miami as an undrafted free agent and became such a pain in Bill Belichick’s backside that the Patriots coach traded for him.
Only when Welker became one of the NFL’s most prolific and feared receivers did the doubts subside.
He caught 112 passes in his first season with the Patriots, then followed that up with 111 catches. Last season, his third in New England, was his best. Despite missing a couple games with a tweaked knee, he went into the regular-season finale against Houston with 122 catches already under his belt.
No. 123 is the one that everyone remembers.
Welker caught a short third-down pass, turned up field and looked for more yards just as he always has. But as he dodged defenders, his knee gave forward slightly, then buckled and collapsed to the inside. He went down and started writhing in pain before referees had even blown the play dead.
"I knew it was bad,” said Welker, who has granted few interviews since the injury.
He walked off the field after the play, but as he sat on the bench, everyone could see that something was terribly wrong. Tears ran down his cheeks.
"You work so hard through the off-season and through the season ... to get to the point where we were at, which is getting to the playoffs and trying to make a run,” Welker said. "All that work and everything you put into it ... all of a sudden, your year’s over.”
Without Welker, the Patriots were done, too.