INDIANAPOLIS -- On the Tuesday before the Patriots played the Jets in last year's divisional playoff, wide receiver Wes Welker was on the phone with his good friend, Mike Smith, a Jets assistant who never passed up a chance at some good trash talk.
Smith recalls Welker mentioning his own brash prediction -- that he planned to plant several hidden references about feet in his weekly media availability as a jab at Jets coach Rex Ryan's personal life.
"Here's what nobody realizes," Smith said during a phone conversation Wednesday. "Rex knew about it two days before. I told Rex about it. We all knew about it -- we just didn't think Wes actually had the (guts) to do it. I thought he'd be too scared."
That, in a nutshell, explains two important aspects of Welker's life. First, he isn't scared of much, as indicated by the way he throws his undersized body around the football field. And then there's this revelation, as discovered by thousands of outsiders in several different situations over the span of the past year: Welker is one ridiculously funny dude.
While the news conference cost Welker a few series in the next game (he was briefly benched for his actions although Ryan was never actually upset), the true resonating legacy of his creative jab might have been the disclosure of a side of Welker some didn’t previously know about.
"He's always doing something different than everyone else to get their attention or make people laugh," said tight end Aaron Hernandez, who neighbors Welker in the locker room. "A dry sense of humor -- more of an a-hole type of humor."
Although in small doses, Welker has slowly come out of his closely guarded shell recently, taking to Twitter on Dec. 20 to ask questions like, "Why do my teammates get naked when they weigh themselves? Does it make that much of a difference?" He has attempted to grow a mustache, while also trying to convince others to join him.
As his personality reveals itself more authentically, Welker says he's been surprised that people have often told him they didn't know he had this side to him.
"It's a shame!" Welker said. "It's been in hiding for so long. Beyond my football ways and my Belichick-type press conferences, I actually have a sense of humor in there. It's been fun to say some funny stuff finally -- get out there and say some things.
"At the same time, I'm trying to keep it clean and understand kids do look up to you."
Consider a few of Welker's all-time classic moves, mostly from college at Texas Tech:
» He and Smith went to a store in Lubbock called Walter's World of Pets, where they purchased two hairless rats that were each a foot long. When they got back to the school's athletic facility, they threw the rats into the running back meeting room (where players were watching film), turned off the lights and locked the door from the outside. "They were screaming so damn loud," Smith said.
» When the circus came to town, Welker and Smith filled up a huge garbage bag of elephant droppings. They then moved the ceiling tiles in a meeting room to the side and hid the bags. The next day, when nobody could stand the smell, former coach Mike Leach went straight to Welker and Smith. "He knew it had to be us," Smith said.
» As Smith learned early, you'd better be prepared for a fight if you want to prank Welker. Once, Smith lit black cat firecrackers in his room, waking up him and "scaring the hell out of him." But Welker returned with bags of flour, which he dumped everywhere, and bottle rockets, which he lit off. After Smith had finally cleaned up the mess, he turned on his ceiling fan. "Wes also put cups of flour on each blade," Smith Said. "Man, it went everywhere."
Welker would make for a great prankster in the pros, too -- if only he had the desire to put time into such antics. He said he thinks up elaborate plots all of the time, but he never ends up executing. Instead, it's his one-liners in the locker room, particularly the ones aimed at his good friend, Tom Brady, that draw the most laughs.
"You know, he'll come in with his UGG boots, and I pretty much just make fun of his life and how terrible it is," Welker said. "You go over and use his toilet and press this button and it sprays water on you. I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' I mean, the thing is heated. It's crazy.
"Sometimes I just want to go over to his house and use the restroom."
As those who know him will remind you, this isn't some new side to Welker. Just because he has been more vocal on Twitter, just because he has opened up a little bit as his career moves forward, just because he took his deadpanned humor public with the infamous foot news conference last year, it's been there all along.
Welker, who is entering a contract year, is just as focused as ever. He's in the prime of his career, putting up more receiving yards (1,569) and touchdowns (nine) than any other season. And he maintains the ridiculously diligent work ethic that has allowed him to ascend from undrafted free agent to one of the NFL's best.
All jokes aside, Welker knows as well as anyone when to get serious.
"I don't think you can be complacent, no matter how far along you get or well of a year you have," Welker said. "You always have to stay on top of things and work even harder the next year."
A little levity, though, never hurt anyone, either. And perhaps as his career flourishes, Welker is realizing it's OK to show some personality once in a while. Seven years ago, while living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a member of the Dolphins, Welker could go anywhere without being noticed.
If he wanted anyone to believe he was an NFL player, he'd need to convince them by providing details. When he had such great success with New England, his level of anonymity was lost -- but his personality still was disguised by his desire to remain quiet. That no longer seems to be the case.
"The ones who know Wes in the NFL know who he is," Smith said. "A little bit of that is coming out now, and I don't think he's been a guy who gets in front of the camera. He's not flashy at all. He does this for the love of the game, but people are seeing more of him."
And as a result, they are seeing the more authentic version -- the one who has so often been disguised by his desire to remain in the background.
Maybe he's growing more confident as a player and a person. Whatever the case, it is most certainly a refreshing tone for those already enjoying his success on the field.
After answering a few light-hearted questions during Wednesday's media session, a reporter then broke into the exchange with a question about the evolution of the way defenses defend the pass. Welker laughed.
"Alright, I guess it's back to the Belichick tone," he said.
Hopefully, not for long.
Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington