Outside of rabid Colts fans, most mentions of Griff Whalen will cause people to say, "Who?" Then, of course, you have to go on and explain that he is a back-up wide receiver who was undrafted and only came to the Colts because he happened to have played at Stanford with Andrew Luck. After that explanation, most people would probably just shrug and forget he exists. Even rabid (non-troll) fans from other teams would probably say that he'll be lucky to even make the team.
But not us.
There is a vocal group of Colts fans (myself included) who cheer hard for Whalen. We support him. We even have the audacity to say that we'd rather have Whalen on the team than Lavon Brazill (if we have to choose between them).
Fans of other teams read what we write about Whalen and wonder how on earth we could be so gung-ho about the fifth or sixth WR on the team. They question why we care so much about someone who was on the practice squad for half of last season.
Even fellow Colts fans ask "Why is a fourth/fifth string wide receiver that played well enough last year the most controversial figure on this site?" (PowerO asked that). Why all the focus on someone who will never be the star receiver on the team? Why is it that we are so adamant about an undrafted guy who doesn't have the NFL "skills" that some other players on the team do (specifically Lavon Brazill)?
I'm here to explain. I'm not asking you to agree and be converted to WhalenMania. I'm offering this as an explanation. Hopefully, after reading this, you can at least see where we're coming from and respect why we think the way we do.
Let me first ask: Have you seen the movie "Rudy"? If you haven't, it's about a guy whose dream was to play football for Notre Dame. He worked hard, training with the team, and gave everything he had. By the end of the movie, you couldn't help but cheer for him when he finally got a chance to step on the football field.
Griff Whalen: The College Years
Griff Whalen was not recruited to play football at Stanford. In fact, he wasn't recruited to play college football anywhere. He earned a spot on the Stanford Cardinal football team as a walk-on. As a true freshman, he made the team and appeared in one game. No stats.
As a sophomore, Whalen's work ethic earned him a spot at the bottom of the WR rotation. He started two games, and finished the season with 7 receptions for 60 yards.
At this point, the coaching staff could have easily just cut him. After all, being on the team for two years with only 60 yards to show for it isn't much. But what kept him on the team was that he never quit. He gave everything he had. He put forth all the effort that his 5'11" frame could give. He is the kind of player every coach wishes he had--someone who won't quit, even when he knows he's surrounded by guys who are bigger and faster than him.
As a Junior, he scored his very first college touchdown, a pass from a certain Andrew Luck. He was still at the bottom of the roster, but he kept working and kept trying. He ended that season with 17 receptions for 249 yards and the one touchdown.
His senior year was the best, statistically speaking, but it still wasn't anything to catch the eye of NFL scouts. 56 receptions, 749 yards, with four touchdowns. In the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State, he had seven receptions for 85 yards.
And in the opinion of most football analysts and fans, that should have been his final game.
I give this information just to show the background of Griff Whalen. A guy without the necessary "skills" works hard, never quits, and EARNS his way onto the football team. He doesn't light the world on fire, but he does everything that's asked of him. And his teammates unanimously praised him as one of the most dedicated players on the team. It's the classic story of desire, determination, and overachieving. He's the underdog--everything says he won't succeed as a college football player, yet he put up respectable numbers as a senior.
On to the NFL
Griff Whalen was undrafted out of college, which was no surprise to him or anyone else. The fact is, hardly anyone expected him to even get a camp invite. The only place where there was even a chance for him to try out was Indianapolis--and that was only because Andrew Luck was there. When Whalen was signed as an UDFA, the comments were things like this:
Whalen was Luck's roommate at Stanford. The FO is just going out of the way to make him comfortable (as if you didn't know that after the draft).
Whalen won't make the roster unless he's a ST demon.
The consensus of Colts fans was that Whalen was signed just to be nice to Luck, and that Whalen had no real chance of making the practice squad, let alone the actual 53-man roster.
Then came the rookie mini-camp.
And Whalen was so impressive that even Brad Wells--yes, BRAD WELLS--was positive! You might not believe it, but here's the quote (taken from this article):
The consensus was that Griffin was signed as a UFA just to make Luck happy or to ease his transition into the pros. Maybe everyone was wrong. Maybe this kid can play.
Colts fans had someone who intrigued them. What could this kid do? After all, he and Luck are friends, and they played together in college.
He got injured during the OTAs, but came back to play in the second pre-season game. There, he caught 4 passes on five targets, including one touchdown. Those Colts fans who hadn't given him much thought before opened their eyes and said, "he wouldn't be the worst guy to have as a back-up."
The next week, he caught 8 passes (on 9 targets). Fans started to realize that Whalen is really good at catching the ball. He's not got measurables and "skills" that NFL teams look for, but he gives the best with what he's got. There were whispers of optimism among Colts fans that he might even make the 53-man roster. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken foot and was put on IR. A lot of people assumed that was the last we'd see of him, because someone else would come along and make an impression.
Whalen was very impressive in the two [preseason] games he played in last year and that very well could translate to the regular season if he continues to get opportunities.
Regardless of whether he is a starting wide receiver or a practice squad player in 2013, however, if he continues to work hard and stay healthy, in a few years he no doubt will be a big producer for the Colts. The only question is when that time will come. There is a chance we may even start to see significant production this season.
The 2013 season came, and Whalen made the 53-man roster (in part, because Lavon Brazill was suspended for 4 games). Then he went to the practice squad until the infamous Reggie Wayne injury. A second stint on the practice squad ended in week 15 when he scored his first NFL touchdown against the Texans. The next week, he put up 80 yards against the Chiefs.
But what does all that have to do with being rabid Whalen supporters?
Most of the Whalen supporters know that he's never going to be anything more than a slot receiver (possibly a really good one, but that's yet to be seen). Most of the Whalen support comes when people say that Lavon Brazill is a better option, and that Whalen should get cut if one of the two has to go. But let's compare stats:
25 games played.
23 receptions (on 51 targets--a 45% catch rate)
9 games played
24 receptions (on 40 targets--a 60% catch rate)
Brazill has played almost three times as many games, but Whalen has more receptions. Almost three times as many games, but leads Whalen by less than 90 yards. Sixteen more games than Whalen, but only one more touchdown. If you multiply Whalen's numbers out to the same 25 games, you would have the following stat line (each rounded down so as to not appear to be skewing things):
Griff showed that he is a great route-runner, and that he is reliable catching the ball. If he is put in a position to use these two skills, he can be an effective weapon. He's not Reggie Wayne, but he does indeed offer some similar skills that can be honed.
Whalen is the epitome of the hard-working middle-American. He gives everything he's got for the team. He knows that he's not the best, the biggest, or the fastest guy out there. But he won't stop trying.
We look at Griff Whalen and we see Rudy. The underdog story. The hard-working guy who earned the respect of everyone on the team because of his effort. The man who won't quit.
We look at him, and we can't help but cheer.
This is why we support Griff Whalen.