The text messaging started shortly after Tampa Bay held off Orlando to win the American Conference championship Saturday night.
Spokane’s Huey Whittaker spent roughly a year and half with Tampa Bay. He knows perhaps 10 current Storm players and trained with several, including quarterback Brett Deitz and receivers Hank Edwards, Tyrone Timmons and DeAndrew Rubin, prior to the 2010 season. Whittaker exchanged congratulatory texts with Deitz and Edwards following Tampa Bay’s victory.
On Friday, Whittaker and the Shock will entertain Tampa Bay in ArenaBowl XXIII – just the way the 6-foot-5 receiver expected it to play out. The same little voice in the back of his mind that told him Spokane was the right place for him also suggested that Tampa Bay would reach the Arena Football League’s championship game.
“I just really felt Tampa Bay was going to be in the championship for whatever reason,” Whittaker said. “I really feel that’s part of the journey of why I was supposed to be here and all of the things that have happened this season. They’re really the last of the best teams that we haven’t beaten yet.”
To recap, Whittaker was with the Storm in 2006 and part of 2007, but playing time was scarce. He moved on to Utah where his AFL career took off. After the league went dark in 2009, Whittaker selected the Shock over Tampa Bay, Orlando and Jacksonville, three Florida teams within driving distance of his Florida home.
“I say it this way: I felt, as well as other people felt, I should have been out there playing or at least had the opportunity to play to show if I could or couldn’t,” Whittaker said of his time with Tampa Bay. “But there’s also a lot of good that came from it, a lot of learning from the head coach and the players. Yeah, I felt I was supposed to get on the field, but I can’t really hold that against any one person.”
Whittaker hasn’t played against Tampa Bay since his departure in 2007. For that matter, he hadn’t spoken with Storm head coach Tim Marcum since leaving. The former will change Friday. The latter changed prior to the 2010 season.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised that he wanted me to play for him, but that he called, and called my phone, I was definitely surprised,” Whittaker said. “It was good for me because I needed to let a lot of things go. It just really flowed right off me when I did speak to him and I was done with it. Whatever ill feelings it’s all passed.”
Marcum declined to talk about the phone call – “We’ll let that plane fly and we won’t fart with the controls,” he said in his homespun manner – but indicated Tampa Bay had a talented group of receivers/linebackers in 2006-07.
“We had one of the best guys ever in the AFL in Lawrence Samuels and Ronny Daniels, who was All-SEC at Auburn,” Marcum said. “You had to go both ways in those days, you had to play that (receiver) position and turn around and play Jack linebacker. He’s made himself into being a heck of a player and good for him.”
Whittaker, as you might guess, will be highly motivated Friday, but that seems to be the case every game. He was fourth in the AFL with 144 receptions, including 37 for touchdowns, in the regular season. He has 17 catches for 199 yards and six TDs in two postseason games.
His stats should put him in contention, along with Tampa Bay’s Edwards and Timmons, for All-AFL honors.
Whittaker always checks when the schedule comes out to see if Tampa Bay is on the list. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Tampa to his home, but he opted for Spokane for a number of reasons.
“I really felt like I was supposed to be here,” he said. “I don’t know if the best-case scenario was being around home; maybe the best case is being here with a chance to win the championship. So far it’s panned out the way it was supposed to.”
That includes Tampa Bay being the opponent Friday.
“I’m keeping it at a place where it’s just another game and you have to play good defense, offense and special teams like any other game,” Whittaker said. “I’m familiar with a lot of their guys. I’m ready to go out and have a good game against them and I’m excited to see what they do as well.”
Spokane’s Huey Whittaker and Kyle Rowley have been selected for weekly AFL awards. Whittaker was named Ironman of the week. He had 14 catches for 165 yards and also assisted on a tackle. Rowley, who passed for 334 yards and seven touchdowns, was named Playmaker of the week.
Chicago LB/WR DeJuan Alfonzo has been named Ironman of the year, the AFL announced. Alfonzo had 63 tackles and four interceptions. He also had 28 receptions and rushed for 26 yards. Alfonzo was joined on the All-Ironman team by Tulsa WR/KR Jeff Hughley, Dallas WR/KR Kenny Henderson and Alabama FB/LB Dan Alexander, OL/DL Aaron McConnell and WR/KR CJ Johnson.