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.”
“But I'm sure thankful it did.”
About a week into training camp, Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a hand injury. With tight end Ed Dickson already sidelined by injury, the Ravens needed another tight end.
Bajema was their guy.
Less than 48 hours after getting the call, he was in the Ravens' camp, but he wasn't guaranteed a roster spot. In Baltimore's four preseason games, he caught seven passes, including two touchdowns, but with Pitta and Dickson poised to be the primary pass-catching tight ends, Bajema was going to need to be more of a blocker.
He showed during the preseason that he could do that — and anything else the team needed.
One teammate nicknamed him “Crazy Bill.”
Bajema vaulted ahead of the other tight ends on the fringe of making the team and earned one of the Ravens' final roster spots.
He and others around him knew then what an opportunity he had in front of him.
“You could go to a Super Bowl,” his wife told him at one point. “That's a good team.”
Still, it's been a bit surreal for Bajema the way things have turned out. Up until a few weeks ago, he'd never played in a playoff game. Now, he's a week away from playing in the Super Bowl.
It's every kid's backyard dream.
And Bajema has had a hand in getting the Ravens there. While he has no catches this season, he has become a regular in the team's short-yardage and goal-line packages.
When Ray Rice scooted into the end zone for Baltimore's first score at New England last week, Bajema had a dominating block. He smashed the defender across from him, put him on the ground and helped open the way for the Ravens tailback.
When Joe Flacco connected with Anquan Boldin for a go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown, Bajema blocked a defensive end and gave the Ravens quarterback a little more time in the pocket.
Bajema admits that he'd love to catch a pass or two — wouldn't the Super Bowl be the perfect time for his first of the season? — but he's not hung up any of that. He will gladly be a blocker “if it means being part of a Super Bowl championship,” he said.
Earlier this week, Bajema received a text from one of his former pastors.
“Only God could write a script this good,” the message said.
“The whole thing has been a blessing,” he said. “Six months ago to this day, I had no idea if I'd even get a chance to play this year. Now, I'm getting ready to head to New Orleans for the Super Bowl.
“It's kind of surreal.”
And absolutely cool.