February 4, 2005

Big Wheel keeps on turning for Ex-Charger Whelihan

by J.D. Hawk

Like Tina Turner’s hit-song Proud Mary, former San Diego Chargers’ big, 6-foot-5 quarterback Craig Whelihan is still rolling, rolling, rolling on the river — a riptide river that is. Whelihan is now member of the Riptide, San Diego’s Arena Football League 2 team. “I will win every game. The personnel that coach Ponder has brought in are real quality players, and I’m looking forward to bringing home a championship,” Whelihan said.

To watch Whelihan’s confident demeanor while engaging the press, and to hear him speak of his love and continued aspirations for football, is to observe optimism incarnate.

Yet below the surface, there’s been a career-tugging undercurrent that has sucked up Whelihan from the NFL, to the XFL, to the AFL, to AFL2. “I’ve been on this long road the last 10 years, probably with at least seven or eight teams, and I’m just looking for a place to settle down, play some football,” he said last Friday.

When Whelihan left the Chargers after the 1998 season, he spent time on the Oakland Raiders roster before leaving to join the XFL’s Memphis Maniacs and Chicago Enforcers. Since 2001 he’s played for a variety of teams in the AFL.

Now the aging Whelihan, 33, enters his eleventh season of professional football. And the announcement by the Riptide to re-assign quarterback Kevin Feterik just days after Whelihan’s announcement, means that despite Whelihan’s positive attitude, the starting position is far from a certainty. “The best player will play,” said Riptide Head Coach Sean Ponder. “It’s a competition out there for the starting spot and we can only keep 21 on our roster.”

Feterik won three of the last four games for the Riptide last year after recovering from a hand injury. “It’s going to be a great competition,” said Federik. “I’m sure (Whelihan) is a good quarterback. I’m just going to concentrate on having a good training camp. I’m back to 100%.”

Though competition promises to be intense, and many bone-crushing plays no doubt lay ahead for him, Whelihan’s “big wheel” keeps on turning — rolling down the career river, seemingly enjoying the ride along the way. “Why am I playing? Because I love playing,” he said. “I’m not ready to give it up.”

Some may view Whelihan’s participation with the Riptide as merely a home-town hero’s final football hoorah. But Whelihan himself hasn’t begun singing his swan song just yet. Whelihan not only claimed he’d win every game this season, but that he wasn’t necessarily giving up the idea of an eventual return to the NFL. He cited other unlikely success stories as examples. “If it happens, it happens. You hear all those stories about [Tommy] Maddox made it, Kurt Warner made it and did the same thing — if it happens, great,” he said. “I want to put a good product on field, put people in the seats here in San Diego, and if that happens, maybe something good will happen.”

Arena football uses a smaller field than regular football ( 50 yards) which results in typically higher scoring games than traditional football. The average score in arena football is in the high 60s. Punting isn’t allowed and the space between the goal post uprights is 9 feet across.

Go to www.sandiegoriptide.com

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