To be honest, I have no idea what to expect Sunday night.
Should Wes Welker even play – he was held out with concussion systems at practice Wednesday – against his former team when the Broncos visit the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, the reaction from the evening crowd should be a resounding, positive welcome for the wide receiver. Should be.
It should have been the same with Adam Vinatieri, and the former Patriots hero got a worse welcome in Foxborough than Bob Kraft’s casino plans when he returned with the Colts in 2006.
Not coincidentally, that was also a late kickoff, just as this weekend’s NBC showdown between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, with the former trying to lead his team to the second seed in the AFC playoff picture. Lots open at noon. That’s eight hours to imbibe “debate” over Welker’s departure.For the most part, Boston sports fans understand when appreciation is warranted for the town’s former athletes, and when they should receive a frustration level that would even make Debbie Clemens cry. (The “Have another donut” signs should have been the least of her worries.) Yes, there are those who will forever hold it against Boston fans how they treated Johnny Damon’s return with the Yankees in 2006, but it’s always been the long-standing position in this space that the jeering was warranted following an offseason when Damon simply wouldn’t shut up about how “special” it was to put on the Yankee uniform weeks before he had ever even stepped foot in their Tampa spring training facilities. The “tsk, tsk” to this day from some members of the esteemed BBWAA over the whole incident shows they never got that evening right. Then again, what do they?
When Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford eventually return to Fenway Park? Maybe that should be more hysterical laughter than anything else following the events of last month. The reaction to Tyler Seguin was generally surprising when he returned with the Dallas Stars, and the debate over whether Tim Thomas should have been booed and cheered had he played in net for the Panthers two nights later began as ridiculous and delved into absurdity.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett? Please. Doc Rivers? Boo, jeer, hiss.
When it comes to Welker though, the outcome is far less predictable. Mind you, the Patriots fan base isn’t into giving any kudos to the opposition, no matter what the case. If you disagree on any one point, the Internet mafia will come after you with claws better suited for digging their dignity in the sand, and will go on to no end to defend their religion. It’s a mentality that has even seeped into the media, and notable this week as writers and radio hosts sniped at each other over the end of Monday night’s loss to the Panthers. Was it interference or not? Who cares? It was a bad pass. End of discussion.
These are the same fans who remember the two dropped playoff catches (again, the one in the Super Bowl was a bad pass, but mea culpa there) and conveniently forget that Brady’s interception sealed the Colts’ win over the Patriots in the 2006 AFC championship game, and was a Troy Brown strip away from doing the same against the Chargers a week earlier. Where are the sour grapes there? Welker caught 100 passes in five of his six seasons here and set the team record for receptions. But he’s remembered for two drops instead of being a pillar of consistency (hello, Danny Amendola).
Whether it was money or friction with Bill Belichick, we’ll never know the real story why Welker isn’t still here, but all he’s done with Manning this season is score nine touchdowns and is projected for another 1,000-yard season. As for how he’ll be received Sunday night, unfortunately I lean toward more of a disgruntled welcoming, one that will only get worse should the Broncos pull away.
With a loss, the Patriots would be 7-4, and could be closer to the Jets and Dolphins than the Broncos in the playoff picture come game’s end. Welker would be 10-1 with his new team, with the inside track to another Super Bowl appearance.
But hey, who really knows what to expect anyway.