As has been publicized in several forms of media, including on a billboard in Times Square, three former Red Raiders will not only start in the Super Bowl today, but all on the Denver Broncos' offense. Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Wes Welker will have a major impact on who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy tonight.
In terms of team accomplishment, prestige, and talent, the Super Bowl is the pinnacle of the sport of football. The two greatest teams in the game, comprised of the best collection of players and coaches, duke it out on a stage that is truly global.
The Super Bowl may well be the most prominent single-day sporting event on earth. Certainly in the United States, its presence is overwhelming. “Super Sunday” has become an unofficial holiday in America, and may be seen as the concluding event of the holiday season, which commences on Halloween night.
Such is the intensity of the spotlight shined upon the event, such is the Super Bowl’s exposure, that it is a tremendous badge of honor for a college football program to have even a single alumnus start in the big game. Anything more than that is a phenomenal adornment to the program’s prestige.
Later this afternoon, Texas Tech will have not one, not two, but three starters take the field in the Super Bowl. Only Tennessee (5), and North Carolina State (4), can boast more Super Bowl starters than Texas Tech.
Interestingly enough, all three Red Raiders not only play on the same team—the Denver Broncos—but start on the same unit—the offense. Consequently, the success of Denver’s offense will be dramatically affected by how well Texas Tech luminaries Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Wes Welker perform. No other college football program in America will have such a concentrated impact on a single Super Bowl unit as will Texas Tech. Thus, if you’re a Texas Tech football fan, it behooves you to wish Denver’s offense the very best, even if you’re a diehard partisan of the Seattle Seahawks.
Center Ramirez, guard Vasquez and receiver Welker all matriculated through Texas Tech when the Red Raider offense was in its heyday. Welker, the oldest of the three, was the final recruit of Mike Leach’s first recruiting class in 2000. Vasquez, the youngest, completed his Tech career in 2008. And it was during those years—particularly 2002 through 2008—that the Texas Tech Air Raid rose to high prominence in the game of football and established a tradition of passing excellence that endures to this day through coach Kliff Kingsbury, who threw the pigskin to Welker as a Red Raider quarterback.
That Tech’s offense busted NCAA passing records left and right during the Welker-Ramirez-Vasquez years is anything but coincidence. Marvelous players, not just the brilliance of a head coach and the ingenuity of his schemes, make for great football teams. And in Welker, Ramirez and Vasquez, Texas Tech enjoyed offensive talent of the very highest caliber. The sort of talent one normally finds in places like Austin, Los Angeles, Tuscaloosa and Columbus.
Welker, of course, is the best known of the great Red Raiders, and his rags-to-Pro Bowls story is well known. He is a living indictment of the astigmatism of coaches and scouts at the collegiate and professional level.
Despite a spectacular prep career that included being named Oklahoma Player of the Year, Welker’s only scholarship offer came from Tech, and that only happened because defensive back recruit Lenny Walls chose Boston College over Tech.
You’d think negative lightning wouldn’t strike Welker more than once, but it did. Thrice actually. Hence, despite an All American career at Tech as a punt returner and receiver, Welker was snubbed on NFL draft day. Then, after signing as a free agent with San Diego, Welker was waived. Had the Miami Dolphins not picked Welker up off of the waiver wire, it is possible that his potential NFL Hall of Fame career never would have happened. This is why Welker is a reproach to those who evaluate football talent.
Ramirez and Vasquez didn’t experience the tribulations of Welker. Both were well regarded coming out of the high school ranks—Tech beat Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns for Vasquez’s services—and both were drafted by NFL teams. Ramirez went to Detroit in the fourth round, while Vasquez was taken by San Diego in the third.
The lone bump in the road for the two hulking linemen came when Ramirez was waived by Detroit on October 3, 2010 and didn’t play football that season. He’s now the starting center in the Super Bowl for one of the most prolific offenses in the history of the game.
Vasquez has been a monster from the very beginning of his NFL career. He started 14 games as a rookie and garnered All Rookie notice. But 2013 was his greatest season thus far. Starting at right guard, Vasquez didn’t allow a sack and was named All Pro (first team) and will play in his first Pro Bowl.
If Vasquez’s career continues to arc upward, it is not inconceivable that he will join Zach Thomas and Wes Welker as potential NFL Hall of Fame inductees. Thus far, no Red Raider has received this highest honor in all of football. Perhaps that is the next step for the program with three starters in Super Bowl XLVIII.
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