Column: Welker, Harvin and the pain of football

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Associated Press

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 6:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 28 at 6:03 PM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Wes Welker ditched the orange suit for media day, much as he did comparisons between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks he's had the privilege of catching passes from.

The stuff about concussions wasn't so easy, especially since the big helmet he now wears to protect his head will stick out in the Super Bowl just as much as the orange suit he had on getting off the plane on arrival here.

"I get a lot of tweets about my big helmet and how ridiculous I look," Welker said. "But it feels good and seems to work. I haven't had a concussion since wearing it."

That's only been two games, so it's not quite time to declare the oversized helmet a cure-all just yet. But after suffering two concussions in the space of three weeks late in the season, it seems to offer a bit of comfort for a small receiver who makes his living catching balls across the middle.

Not that Welker needs that much. He spent six years as Tom Brady's favorite go-to target, and this season on the receiving end of passes from Peyton Manning. He's also played in two Super Bowls, tying the big game record of 11 receptions in a single game in the New England Patriots' 1714 loss to the New York Giants after the 2007 season.

But at a time when the effects of repeated concussions on players in later life are just becoming known, Welker seems relatively unconcerned about what playing football in the NFL will mean for his future.

"A little bit, but not really," he said. "I enjoy the game so much and being around my teammates. I really don't think about all the other stuff."

Neither does fellow receiver Percy Harvin, who missed almost the entire regular season for the Seattle Seahawks with a hip injury only to return for the playoffs and be knocked out in the divisional-round game against New Orleans with a concussion.

Either of them could be a game breaker in the Super Bowl. Neither is too worried about the possibility of taking more hits to the head.

"I took the steps and followed the protocol and everything worked out for the best," Harvin said. "I'm glad."

Harvin said Seattle coach Pete Carroll came to him after the NFC title win over the San Francisco 49ers and asked if he was ready to play in the Super Bowl. Harvin didn't take long to give Carroll the answer he wanted to hear.

"I feel great. I'm feeling fine. I feel normal," he said. "I have been practicing well. I'm just happy to be here."

Welker and Harvin, of course, are hardly the first players to return to the field after getting hit in the head. But the fact they share a history of recent concussions and could both play pivotal roles in the game highlight the dilemma both the players and the league face when it comes to concussions.

While the NFL has put stricter protocols in place for concussion related injuries in recent years — and acknowledged the seriousness of the issue in a $765 million proposed settlement with former players — there is still no real way of determining the risks of any individual player in future years when it comes to blows to the head.

Even if there was, the chance to play in a Super Bowl might outweigh all. Welker intimated as much when asked if he would play in the game even with a concussion.

"What do you think?" he asked. "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."

Harvin didn't take well to the thought he might be on the sidelines, either.

"I've had good practices, and I have full confidence in my game," he said. "Once I am out there on that field, I only know one speed and that's full force."

That's the kind of talk you expect from football players, who are for the most part are tough guys in a brutal sport. They dismiss the thought of injury or brain damage the same way they've scoffed off talk of the cold in the Meadowlands, and they'll fly around the field Sunday at the Meadowlands with little regard to their own personal safety.

Like everyone who plays the game, they know in the back of their heads that every play could be their last.

But they don't allow themselves to think that they might be one of those who ultimately pay the price.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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