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NFL #3 Wide Receivers: It's A Tough Road

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The greatest team sport in the world is football. It's players have to be in sync on every play to win, in this muscle bound, scarred helmet ballet. Some players rise to fame, garnering notice above others. Then there are those who form the back up band; their musical contributions lost on the crowd.

Most - if not all - NFL teams feature a #3 wide receiver. He's the guy who impresses enough in training camp to be the "other guy" on the field with two talented starters. His name is pulled from a cloud of contenders, but there isn't much separation between the other receivers on the team's roster. Rarely paid all that well, these guys quietly catch a key third down pass, or score at the right moment, before TV cameras shift back to more heralded stars.

It's odd, but #3 WRs are kind of mythical creatures and by their very nature doomed to obscurity. There isn't a section in the NFL Hall of Fame for #3 WRs. He'll always be the guy fans can't remember. Oh, they'll recall a key statistic from a big game, but any conversation about him will inevitably end with people scratching their heads, wondering what ever happened to him... These guys are the unsung "red shirts" of the NFL. If you've ever watched an episode of Star Trek, the guys in the red shirts were destined to be eaten, crushed or killed. Gone in a flash, they were never a part of the ensemble cast of stars. Like Captain Kirk, the NFL life throws them under the proverbial career bus for "the good of the show".

I have a soft spot for #3 WRs. To me, they are the every day workmen who make their bosses look good. They toil and sweat each day, never really receiving their due. It reminds me of a friend of mine's story from long ago. He worked for an aerospace firm, working in their aircraft parts department. One day, the people responsible for Air Force One called, frantic to get a part for the President's primary aircraft. My friend watched as memos and calls swirled around him, all asking someone else to see about getting their order filled and doubting if the part in question could make to the customer in time. My friend knew his company had the part in question, so he pulled it, packed it in an innocuous box and drove his car to the airport. He bought a plane ticket, and through his friends with the airline, had the box strapped to a seat at the back of the plane. Then he called the person with Air Force One who made the original part request, since the phone number was all over the many memos still being passed around. He told the man - who happened to be an Air Force colonel - that the part would arrive soon, and to have someone meet it at the arrival gate of the airport near him.

The colonel was ecstatic, effusive in his thanks for my friend's ingenuity. He even sent my friend a letter, copying the executives of my friend's employer. Well, Air Force One never missed a beat because of my friend, but he never heard a word from his company. Let's face it, my friend was a WR3...

Look, I know every NFL player can't get the recognition they're due... Wait? Why not? It's not like there's limited space on the internet? We tend to forget the supporting cast of players on our favorite teams, and the media helps this along by turning a blind eye to all but a few players.

The lott in life for a #3 WR is earned though. He'll be the guy who dropped a couple passes at the wrong moments in training camp, or injured just as he was about to get the notice he's due. Teams move on fast, and rarely look back at the "what might have been" for players who missed their tides.

I'm not saying the guys who wind up with the WR3 - or more - monikers are better than those above him on the roster depth charts. The guys who start for NFL teams have earned their positions through sheer physical ability and talent. Plus, there are only so many spots to fill on the field each Sunday.

I'd be willing to bet every WR3 in the NFL is thankful for their jobs. They're living the dream, and most are inspired to do whatever they can to take that next step; looking forward to the next training camp to show they have what it takes to start in the NFL. They'll sign their NFL minimum pay contracts as fast as they can, and we all would too. The life expectancy for an NFL players is a tad longer than that of a fruit fly in most cases. I love stories of the guys who have lasted through an NFL journey around the league, trying to find a team that'll give them a chance. It isn't a wanderlust that makes these guys keep traveling for city to city. It's a passion to play a role on a team, and take the field on as many Sundays as they can before fading away...