Wes Welker wanted to enjoy the beautiful Boston weather Wednesday and once more take in the sights of the city that he called home for six years.
But he knows how passionate Boston sports fans can be, and expected the worst when he hit the town in the afternoon. He did, after all, break the hearts of many Patriots fans when he signed a two-year deal with the Broncos in March.
“I was afraid maybe they might throw stones at me or something,” Welker said in his first trip back to town since leaving the Patriots. “[But] it was cool. I was walking around Boston, and people were coming up and saying, ‘Thank you for everything,’ and stuff like that. It’s been really cool to come back and see that. They’ve been more than great to me.”
Welker even managed to score two tickets to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, but this wasn’t a sightseeing trip. Welker, 32, was in town to promote Dr. Robert Leonard, who performed a successful hair transplant surgery on Welker last summer. Welker signed autographs for about 100 fans and showed off his thick new mane.
“I don’t have to hide underneath the helmet anymore,” Welker quipped. “I can actually style it a little bit and do some different things.”
Welker acknowledged that being back in Boston “made me a little bit sad,” but also said he doesn’t regret leaving the Patriots. He negotiated with the Patriots right up until the end, but ultimately sided with the Broncos, who gave him $12 million over two years, fully guaranteed.
In six years with the Patriots, Welker caught 672 passes — more than any NFL player during that stretch — for 7,459 yards and 38 touchdowns. He caught over 100 passes in five of the six years, and led the league in receptions three times.
He also went 0 for 2 in Super Bowls, and his drop late in the fourth quarter prevented the Patriots from sealing a victory over the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
“We had so many years here, such a great time and everything else, but you don’t try to think about it too much, and move onto the future and hope for the best,” Welker said. “Never want to have any regrets, so I never look back like that.
“Unfortunately it’s the business side of football, and as a player you don’t like it, but you understand it.”
Welker said he didn’t have enough time to catch up with any of his old Patriots teammates while in town, but he remains close with several of them.
Welker said he still speaks with quarterback Tom Brady “every once in awhile,” and clarified that Brady wasn’t angry at him.
“I don’t know if I ever said he was angry. I just said we’re obviously really good friends, so any time you lose a friend from your team, like we have every year, you’re upset about it,” Welker said.
And it’s not like Welker chose to play with any old team and any old quarterback. Instead of Brady, he’ll have another future Hall of Famer throwing passes to him this fall — Peyton Manning.
“It’s obvious that [Brady and Manning are] the best in the game, and you get to see why they are the best,” Welker said. “The way they study and prepare, it speaks volumes to why they are successful.”
Welker’s real return to the area will come on Nov. 24 when the Patriots host the Broncos on a nationally-televised Sunday night game, but Welker — perhaps channeling his inner Bill Belichick — downplayed the significance of that matchup.
“You definitely want to play your best at certain times, especially on Sundays,” he said. “I look forward to coming back and playing, and I look forward to all the games.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin