If the Patriots needed a tough catch, Tom Brady would seek out No. 80 then and No. 83 now.
Just as Drew Bledsoe had Ben Coates, Brady has been blessed with two players in his career that seemed to read his mind.
Brady threw it and they caught it.
Simple as that.
Brown and Welker were cut from the same cloth and Brady was their tailor.
They all helped sew up many victories for the New England Patriots franchise over the last 10 years.
Brown and Brady.
Welker and Brady.
They were interchangeable.
Troy Brown and Wes Welker were carbon copies of each other and travelled down very similar paths to the NFL.
Brown was drafted by the Patriots in 1993 during the eighth round and was cut during the season.
Welker went undrafted in 2004 and was signed by the San Diego Chargers. He made the team, then he too was cut during the season.
Both players didn’t crack the starting lineup right away and earned playing time on special teams.
They contributed by returning punts with spot duty as wide receiver.
Brown and Welker both clawed and scratched for everything in the early stages of their careers.
There were no handouts and these men are too proud to accept them.
They knew that hard work and the will to compete would pay dividends soon enough.
And they did.
Brown finally cracked the starting lineup as a wide receiver in 2000. Welker’s road was not as long, as he became the third wideout for Miami in 2005.
The difference between great football players and good football players is that great ones exceed expectations and good ones just meet them.
Troy Brown and Wes Welker have proved that good is not good enough.
Troy Brown flourished in the new millennium. As a first time starter in 2000, Brown caught 83 balls for 944 yards and 4 touchdowns from then-Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
The 2001 season was a magical year for the Patriots and Troy Brown.
However, the beginning of the season was far from memorable.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The loss of franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe to serious injury.
The team was able to salvage their season on the shoulder of second-year player Tom Brady and the hands of Troy Brown.
Troy Brown had a team record and career high 101 catches. He also helped the team in their run to an improbable Super Bowl victory.
In the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Brown ran back a punt for a TD and recovered a blocked field goal which resulted in another score.
He also made an impact in the Super Bowl catching a key 23-yard catch on the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVI. It was a key play in setting up Adam Vinatieri’s game winning 48-yard kick.
Brown came back with 97 catches, 890 yards, and 3 touchdowns in the 2002 season. With the emergence of Deion Branch and David Givens, Brown became the No. 3 receiver in 2003 where he posted 40 grabs for 472 yards.
However, Brown had a knack to come up with huge plays in the most crucial and high pressure situations. He was the leading receiver in the 2003 AFC Championship with 88 yards on 7 catches.
Brown had another impactful performance against Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Yet again, he was the target of Tom Brady during the game’s final drive. Brown caught 3 passes for 46 yards which helped set up Vinatieri for his second Super Bowl-winning kick in three years.
Troy Brown always performed under pressure and was never fazed by the magnitude of the situation. He just did his job and sometimes the jobs of others.
In 2004, Brown only caught 17 passes but he played defensive back for the injury riddled secondary. He ended up finishing second on the team that year with 3 interceptions. Only true heady football players like Troy Brown could make such a positional transition with such ease.
His contributions on both sides of the ball and leadership on the sidelines helped the Patriots win another Super Bowl title and become the millennium’s first NFL dynasty.
As his physical skills started to diminish, Brown’s mental skills seemed to sharpen. The prime example of this took place during the 2006 AFC divisional playoff game versus the Chargers in San Diego.
The Patriots were down 21-13 with five minutes left. Tom Brady uncharacteristically threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by the Chargers’ Marlon McCree.
Game over right?
The game is never over if you are Troy Brown.
He stripped McCree and the Patriots recovered. They would go on to tie the game and later win to advance to the AFC Championship against the Colts.
Troy Brown signed with the Patriots over the summer of 2007 to become the second longest tenured Patriot behind QB Steve Grogan. He was put on the PUP list due to injury and wouldn’t play his first game until November 27.
Step in Wes Welker.
After two productive seasons at Miami usually at the expense of the Patriots, Welker was traded to New England for their 2007 second- and seventh-round draft picks.
Belichick saw the true potential in Welker and knew he would flourish with Tom Brady as his quarterback.
The lack of receiver talent and depth was a glaring problem in the 2006 season after the departures of Branch and Givens.
Troy Brown was not the wide receiver he once was.
These offensive deficiencies may have cost the Patriots a shot at another title.
Welker and former Raider and Viking Randy Moss were both acquired prior to the start of the 2007 season.
Welker was a nice little player but could he be a contributor on week by week basis?
Would Moss “dog it” like he did Oakland?
It only took one game for these questions to be answered.
In the notorious Spygate game, Moss made 9 catches for 183 yards and a score. Wes Welker chipped in with 6 grabs for 61 yards and a TD of his own.
The greatest offensive attack in NFL history was born.
New England steamrolled through most of the season and Wes Welker became a force to be reckoned with. With Randy Moss able to stretch the field and demand double coverage, Welker was able to eat teams alive in the middle of the field.
He may not have had the physical size and skills as a Randy Moss, but his grit, tenacity, and the will to compete could match anyone in the league.
Welker’s playing style is something Troy Brown could truly appreciate because he played the game the same way. Ironically, Welker broke Brown’s team record for catches with 112 catches for 1175 yards and 8 scores.
Just like Brown in previous Super Bowls, Welker also shined on the league’s biggest stage. In the 2007 Super Bowl, Welker made 11 catches for 103 yards.
The 2007 season would be Troy Browns last as a NFL player, playing his whole career for the Patriots. He retired as one of the most beloved Patriots players and the team’s all time reception leader with 557 catches.
Welker in many ways has carried on Troy Brown’s blue collared style of play. He gets dirty and he always puts team first before himself.
He plays only one way, all out just like gritty predecessor.
When Tom Brady needed a big catch he would target Troy Brown; now his security blanket wears No. 83.
If Brown could pick one player to break his franchise record for catches, there is no doubt he would choose Wes Welker.
Welker, in three seasons (123 catches in 2009 which is the second most in a season all time), has 346 catches.
On his current pace, Welker should break Brown's record by the 2011 or 2012 season. He would do accomplish this feat in just five years where it took Brown 15 years. Of course, this all depends on how Welker heals from his knee injury and if OTAs are any indication, he will be just fine.
Brown and Welker are cut from the same blue collar cloth.
They do not take no as an answer and they do not quit.
They play to the last whistle and they put team first.
It’s no coincidence that fans in New England love and adore them.
Brown and Welker may have hailed from South Carolina and Oklahoma respectively but their values are New England values.
Work hard and you will be rewarded.
All New England Patriots fans have been truly rewarded to see Troy Brown and Wes Welker leave it all out on the field.
Joe Gill writes for Boston Sports Then and Now.