EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When Wes Welker made his Denver Broncos debut last Sept. 5, he caught nine passes from Peyton Manning and scored two touchdowns.
When long-time Denver tackle Ryan Clady suffered a season-ending injury on Sept. 15, the Broncos needed a new offensive captain. It voted for Welker, who had played all of two games with the franchise.
When former President Bill Clinton was interviewed Friday night in Brooklyn at the Thunder-Nets NBA game and asked for a Super Bowl pick, he mentioned two players. Peyton Manning and Wes Welker.
As Super Bowl XLVIII arrives Sunday night, with the Broncos playing the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium for world supremacy, Welker is 32 years old and bigger in status than ever before. Not stature; he's still the same 5-foot-9 Everyman who leaves you wondering how he's carved an all-star career in a behemoth sport.
But the little guy who long ago became an Oklahoma City folk hero still is going strong. Still an NFL lightning rod, be it his beard or his Old Spice commercials or his oversized helmet or his one-sided feud (not Welker's side) with Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“Very fortunate, very blessed to have this opportunity again,” Welker said of his third Super Bowl, “and that's all you really ask for.”
Well, a victory would be nice, too. A Super Bowl championship and maybe the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that's all that's missing from Welker's career. He's got 841 NFL receptions, 24th-best in league history. But two Super Bowl disappointments with the Patriots have kept Welker from the ultimate prize. You never know the future. This could be Welker's final chance.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Welker said. “You can't sit there and think in your mind, this or that or whatever. Whatever happens, happens and you just go out there and try to play the best you can. It's a lot of hard work, and you have to have some luck along the way to get to this point ... You don't take these moments for granted that's for sure.”
Welker suffered two concussions this season and has missed three games. That led to the new helmet that caused him much grief but has kept his head relatively secure.
Welker caused a stir at Super Bowl Media Day after he was asked if he would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion: “What do you think? I mean, you want to be out there. The Super Bowl, this is what you dream about. You're going to be there, I don't care what it takes, you're going to be out there in this game.”
That's the same kind of ornery spirit Oklahomans have seen since Welker was a high school star at Heritage Hall in the 1990s. Despite his size, Welker was a do-everything player.
In 2000, historian Ray Soldan, a half-century follower of high school football for the Oklahoman declared Welker the best Oklahoma prep player ever. At the time, Welker had yet to catch a pass even for Texas Tech.