Craig: Former Gophers WR Decker living the dream in Denver

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2014 - 9:27 AM

Standout wide receiver. Peyton Manning’s BFF. Sex symbol. Life is good for Minnesotan Eric Decker.

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– A young woman with neck-wrenching beauty was posing as a reporter when she walked straight up to Denver Broncos receiver Eric Decker at Tuesday’s Super Bowl XLVIII media day and asked him, point-blank, for a date later that night.

“Sorry,” said the Cold Spring, Minn., native, pointing to the hardware on his left ring finger, “I’m married. But I do have some cousins.”

Yes, it’s good to be Eric Decker. His cup — heck, his entire 26-year-old life — runneth over, and then some.

Married to stunning 25-year-old country music starlet Jessie James? Check.

Co-star with James on the E! network’s “Eric & Jessie: Game On”? Check.

Photo spread with James in this month’s issue of GQ? Check.

Decent looks, at least for those who are into the whole square-jawed, full-head-of-hair, Adonis thing? Check.

Highest Wonderlic intelligence test score (43) at the 2010 NFL scouting combine? Check.

Firstborn child en route at the end of March? Check.

BFF to Peyton Manning and a member of the AFC championship team that will play at MetLife Stadium on Sunday? Check and mate.

“I talked to my wife about this, and these last two years have been just unbelievable,” said Decker, the former Gopher and third-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2010. “It’s almost surreal, and after this game, if we are successful, I think I’ll look back and just kind of soak everything in of how lucky and how blessed I’ve been to have so many great things happen in my life in such a short time.”

He’ll also spend that time as an unrestricted free agent coming off a season in which he posted 11 touchdown catches and career highs in catches (87) and yards receiving (1,288) on the first 600-point offense in NFL history.

Yes, it’s definitely good to be Eric Decker. It pretty much has always been that way, too.

Minnesota guy

Born with an athletic gift for multiple sports, he was a decorated three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball at Rocori High School. His 2,156 yards and 28 touchdowns earned him a spot with Glen Mason’s Gophers, where he also was good enough to play outfield for the baseball team.

“My dream was always to be a professional athlete,” Decker said. “Whether it would be football or baseball, I didn’t know at that point in high school. I became more passionate about football in high school. Plus, the lifestyle, I thought football was better suited to me because in baseball, you’re on the road all the time and away from your family.”

The Milwaukee Brewers thought enough of his baseball skills to draft him 1,178th overall in the 39th round in 2008. He didn’t sign. A year later, the Twins thought even more of him, taking him 822nd overall in the 27th round. Again, he didn’t sign.

A year later, the Broncos took him 87th overall in the third round.

Being like Ed

“My favorite number is 7,” Decker said. “I wore it as a Gopher because it’s always been my lucky number since I was young.

“But,” Decker added, “I didn’t even ask for No. 7 when I got to Denver. I kind of knew that number was under lock and key and untouchable.”

That number belonged to Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, five-time Super Bowl participant, two-time winner and current Broncos executive vice president of football operations.

“I picked No. 87 because I was born in 1987, I was drafted 87th overall, and then [former Broncos receiver] Ed McCaffrey, a guy I respected and remember emulating when I was younger, wore 87,” Decker said. “Ed actually gave me a signed jersey that said, ‘Make this number your own.’ That was hung up in my locker the first day I got there. I’m not one to get blown away, but that blew me away.”

McCaffrey was no slouch, either. He caught 565 regular-season passes for 7,422 yards and 55 touchdowns. He also won three Super Bowl rings, with the 49ers during the 1994 season and the Broncos during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

Piling up numbers

Playing with Manning the past two years, Decker has caught 172 regular-season passes for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns. No, he’s not Manning’s favorite target because, well, every target is Manning’s favorite target. With Manning setting NFL passing records in yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55), the Broncos became the first team in NFL history to have four receivers with at least 10 touchdowns.

Asked if he’s made No. 87 his own yet, Decker said: “It’s too early. I still have a lot of time left to prove who Eric Decker is going to be as a football player.”

Despite their 11-year age difference, Manning and Decker have formed a bond off the field that other receivers don’t have with Manning. Decker said Manning’s outgoing personality made it easy for them to become friends, even if Decker and some of the other younger guys get lost when Manning uses lines from movies that the whippersnappers were too young — or unborn — to appreciate.

“ ‘Bull Durham,’ ” Decker said immediately when asked for an example.

“Bull Durham” came out in 1988. Decker was 1. Manning was drafted No. 1 overall 10 years later. Do the math and, well, Decker was still in elementary school.

Tight teammates

Decker’s youth landed him the back seat in Manning’s car when Manning, 28-year-old tight end Jacob Tamme and Decker began a ritual of car-pooling to home games last season. Tamme, who also played with Manning in Indianapolis, was asked how Decker horned his way into the back seat.

“Hey, Eric has his own reality TV show, so we figured if we put him in the back seat, we’d get some cameras in there,” Tamme said. “But, seriously, we’ve become really good friends. And we joke about his show. But he and Jessie have kept that from being a distraction. In a lot of locker rooms, I think a reality show would have affected the team. But Deck has a very level head.”

When the Broncos started winning, the music in that car pool stayed locked on The Coffee House station on satellite radio.

“I don’t know how that affects our reputation,” Manning joked this week. “But it’s good music. I like it. It’s working for us.”

These days, it seems everything in Decker’s life is working out quite well.

 

Mark Craig • mark.craig@startribune.com







 

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