Billy Bajema probably won't catch any passes in the Super Bowl. He isn't likely to have his name called by the announcers. He might not even be noticed on the worldwide broadcast except by a few die-hard fans who knew him during his Westmoore High or Oklahoma State days.
But that's fine with him.
For the Baltimore Ravens tight end, playing in the Super Bowl is a reward that he intends to treasure.
“There's been a lot of things in my NFL career that make me appreciate this moment more than I would have if I would have just been successful with every team I've been on,” Bajema said.
During a week in which much attention will be paid to the big-time stars and the can't-miss storylines, Bajema will be largely forgotten in the Super Bowl circus. But his journey to this moment has been as hard-fought as any.
If you don't have a rooting interest in this game, this unheralded blocker might give you reason to cheer.
Bajema spent the first four years of his NFL career in San Francisco. Thing is, those Niners weren't like these Niners, the Ravens' Super Bowl opponent. San Francisco never finished above .500 or sniffed the playoffs during Bajema's time in the Bay Area.
He then spent three years in St. Louis. The Rams won a total of 10 games during those seasons.
But as rough as those years were, nothing was a tough as becoming a free agent after last season.
“I didn't know what would happen with St. Louis,” Bajema said via phone earlier this week, “but I wasn't surprised that I didn't end up back there.”
The Rams changed coaches, with Jeff Fisher taking over and overhauling the staff, and when that happens, free agents are often cut loose.
He spent last spring and summer doing what he had always done during the offseason. He worked out. He stayed in shape. He prepared himself for the upcoming season.
The only difference?
He had no idea if he'd have a chance to play.
As the opening of training camp approached, Bajema hadn't heard much from teams. No offers. Few nibbles.
His agent told him to be patient.
“Something will happen,” the agent said.
But all that Bajema saw happening was the other players he had been working out with heading off to training camps. Slowly but surely, they cleared out and left him alone.
Bajema never wavered in his workouts, but the doubts started to creep into his mind. What would he do if no one called? What if his NFL career was over?
“There were no guarantees,” he said. “I was open to the possibility of it not happening.”
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