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“A Football Life: Wes Welker” shares story of legendary underdog

Zach Mason chats with NFL Films producer Chip Swain about upcoming feature

Oklahoma v Texas Tech Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

“You look back at that, and if I had every school to choose from, I don’t think I could’ve chosen a better school to go to.”

Wes Welker reminisced about the days he spent in Lubbock during a conversation for the upcoming NFL Films feature in which he is the sole focus.

“Getting into the early parts of that Air Raid offense, playing in that slot position, it really fits my style of play and my skill set,” he said. “The stars just kind of aligned.”

There’s no question Wes Welker is one of the greatest to ever put on a Texas Tech uniform, and some of his experiences in Lubbock are highlighted in this NFL Network special that airs Friday, October 6 at 8 p.m.

I was fortunate enough to talk about one of the film’s producers, Chip Swain, about some of the behind-the-scenes developments and his experiences putting together a fantastic film. I transcribed a portion of the interview below, but if you want to listen to the entire conversation, just scroll down to the bottom of this page and click “play.”

Zach Mason: So, we’ll start with this: Who all did you interview for this project?

Chip Swain: I don’t have the exact list in front of me, but it was a pretty good list. I mean, we started in Oklahoma City at his house with his parents and his brother, and of course we interviewed Wes and his wife, but then we started trying to figure out other people who touched his life along the way. Rod Warner, who was his high school coach at Heritage Hall, was a big part of that. We talked to him, we talked to a couple of his childhood friends, Graham Colton, who was his quarterback in high school sort of rounded out the high school part of it. Texas Tech part of his life, we talked to Mike Leach, then we talked to Tommy McVay, who was part of the link between high school and college. He and Rod Warner had a connection, that was sort of how he wound up at Texas Tech. Then we talked to Kliff Kingsbury as well, so that was pretty good. For the pros, we have Jason Garrett, who was the quarterbacks coach at Miami when Wes Welker was at MIami. We have Chris Chambers who was a teammate with him with the Dolphins. Then we have Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and Tom Brady, and Bill O’Brien, who’s a dual connection with Wes because he’s his coach now, and he was his coach when he first started back with the Patriots. And then Peyton Manning as well.

ZM: Had you ever been to Lubbock before working on this project?

CS: No, I had never been. It was really neat, the whole town has a real college vibe. Everybody there, obviously Texas Tech football is a big thing, but everybody there was so excited to talk about Wes, he’s got a pretty good legacy there.

ZM: Before you started working on this, what did you know about Wes Welker, and what did you know about Texas Tech and the whole culture of that program?

CS: Not much, I mean I knew a lot about Wes in researching and obviously working for the NFL for the bulk of his career. I started with the NFL in 2005 and Wes came in the league in 2004 so I knew his NFL part of his life and his career but I didn’t know much about where he was from and his roots and how he’s journeyed. I knew he was undrafted and sort of was a little man makes good story, which I thought was awesome, but I didn’t know anything about Texas Tech or anything about how he got there and what he did to pull it off.

ZM: In the film, Wes says looking back, if he could’ve picked any school, Tech would’ve been the best fit for him, even though it was the only offer, it was still the best fit. What do you make of that statement and what did you learn about his connection to the university?

CS: Well I think it was mainly the fact that that particular style of offense in football, it was a good fit for somebody with his skill set. People like that, people with his dimensions and things that he did, usually got relegated to smaller programs. Because of what he could do and what Mike Leach was trying to do with the whole spread offense, as Wes called it, the Air Raid, they really took advantage of it. He proved with his punt return ability, you get Wes Welker open in space, and he can make people miss. Wes always liked to say on camera he was always as fast he needed to be.

ZM: Did Kliff Kingsbury elaborate at all about what it was like playing with Wes Welker beyond what he said in the film?

CS: Yeah, I talked to Kliff, I did that interview on campus. I think the thing that his whole overall impression of Wes I think was that he was the kind of guy that would always just be there. He would always just make those plays. People underestimated him a lot and I think it was, once Kingsbury realized what he was capable of, he became a pretty reliable target for him.

ZM: After talking with coach Kingsbury, what did you learn about his relationship with Welker, and do they still keep in touch?

CS: Oh yeah, they still keep in touch. I think they may have had a couple of trips to the derby together, if I’m not mistaken. I think maybe one was at the other’s wedding or something along those lines. But I know I asked Kliff and he said that they’re definitely still in touch and there’s a fondness for one another when we talked to Wes about it, when we told him. One of the first things we do when we agree to do the show, we ask them who they think would be good people to talk to. He mentioned Kliff and their relationship and going back to when they played and even today that they’re still friends. Always good to talk to somebody who has a strong relationship with them or a fond memory of them, one or the other. It makes things easier. Kliff’s a busy guy, coaching a team now, we came down there in late July, early August, he was busy and getting ready to start the whole camp season so it was nice to be able to take half an hour or 40 minutes, or whatever it was. It was pretty good.

ZM: How long did that take, from the inception of the idea to wrapping up?

CS: We start really talking about which episodes are going to get produced internally, then we pitch it to the players we would like to do them on. I think the first conversation we had with Wes was sometime in either April or early May about, “Hey, this is what we want to do, are you interested, etc” and he agreed, which was great. We sort of laid out the schedule, he was just starting with the Texans at the time, so we went down and shot OTAs with him in Houston, was the first time we met with him. It was cool ‘cause you get to see, pull back the curtain a little bit about what Wes is doing now. That part is sort of toward the end of the film. We interviewed Coach O’Brien at that time. That was probably after the draft sometime in May was when we shot that. Then we went down there in late June or early July and did the whole Oklahoma and Lubbock trip. The drive from Oklahoma City to Lubbock which his parents used to do every weekend, I got the firsthand glimpse of what that was like.

ZM: Not a fun drive, to be sure.

CS: You know, it’s just long and flat.

ZM: What do you think Texas Tech fans will enjoy most about this film?

CS: Well, I think reliving it to a degree, or learning about him for the first time. Maybe they haven’t seen a lot of that footage in a while. Or hearing how he even got on the team in the first place. Kingsbury is great when he talks about how big he is, and he’s like “Wait, what?” I love his overall reaction. He was skeptical. That’s the thing that every single person comes across him, they’re skeptical at first until he proves himself. I think Texas Tech fans will like to hear that story and then to relive some of those moments, to see the punt return against A&M that everybody remembers that knows that team and knows that era of Texas Tech football. I think everybody will enjoy seeing that moment again.

That covered about half of the interview. Click below to listen to Swain talk about his interview with Tommy McVay, his impression of Mike Leach, his favorite part of the project, and Wes Welker’s legacy.