Bengals wide receiver – and Stanford grad – Ryan Whalen has a personal connection to one of the biggest recent newsmakers in sports.
But I’m not referring to his former college teammate and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
One week ago, former Secretary of State –and Stanford professor – Condoleezza Rice accepted an invitation to become one of the first two female members of Augusta National Golf Club. When Whalen was a Stanford student, he had the privilege of having dinner with Rice.
“One of my teammates had scholarship donors who were friends with her and knew her from the Hoover Institute at Stanford,” said Whalen. “Once or twice a year, scholarship donors were allowed to have their players over for dinner, so he invited a few of us to attend. There were maybe 10 people sitting there having dinner with her and it was great to take part in the conversation and ask her whatever. She is a great woman and it was definitely a great dinner.”
Rice is a big Cleveland Browns fan and was briefly engaged to former NFL wide receiver Rick Upchurch. So did she ask Whalen and his teammates football questions at the dinner table?
“I think it was more a case of us asking her questions,” said Whalen with a laugh. “But she is a big football fan. She had been our honorary captain a few times and came to all of our games and I believe that her father was a football coach. You would see her on the sidelines – that was really neat to see.”
This Thursday, Whalen is looking forward to seeing three of his former Stanford teammates – including Luck – when the Bengals face the Colts in Indianapolis. All three play on offense and Ryan says he’ll attempt to watch from the sidelines when the Colts have the ball.
“I’ll try to follow it as much as I can,” Whalen told me. “Coach Simmons is always getting us ready on the sidelines for special teams, and you’re catching a break during that time, but I’d like to watch Andrew, and Coby Fleener, and Griff Whalen (no relation). They’re good friends and great players so it should be really fun.”
Before the Colts selected Luck with the first overall pick in this year’s draft, one NFL scout told me that the rookie quarterback was the best college prospect that he had ever seen. Did Whalen realize he was playing with a potential superstar when they first met at Stanford?
“Yes I did,” said Whalen. “Not based on any expertise that I have because I’m not a quarterback expert, but it was just based on the way that our staff at Stanford spoke about him. Between what Coach Harbaugh and Coach Shaw said about him and what I saw at practice, I could definitely see that in the making from the time that he walked on campus.”
After making four catches in the regular season as a rookie and two more in the Bengals playoff loss at Houston, Whalen is battling for a roster spot in his second year in Cincinnati.
“You can’t let yourself start thinking about those things because some of those things are out of your control,” said Whalen. “All I can do is focus on my effort, how I’m going to execute the plays, and going out and making plays. I trust God with what’s going to happen and I’m going to go out and do everything that I can to help myself and help the team and then let the chips fall where they may.”
“Any time that you want to show somebody how to run a route, you’re going to watch Whalen run it,” said quarterback Andy Dalton. “He runs it perfectly every single time. He has a great understanding of leverage and where to attack. He’s put a lot of time in and understands route running really well. I think that’s why he’s able to do the things that he’s able to do.”
Ryan has practice squad eligibility, but the Bengals fear that he’ll be claimed by another team off of waivers if he is not kept on the 53-man roster. So while the final preseason game is not crucial for established veterans, it is important for Whalen.
“In the position that I am in, this is a huge game,” Ryan told me. “We have a ton of depth and the receivers are having a really great camp and there’s a lot of competition. It’s a last chance for this team to see what we can do and what I can do – as well as any other teams that may be looking. It’s important for guys in my position to go out and put it on film in that last game.”
With four former Stanford players in action in Thursday’s Bengals-Colts game, perhaps Condoleezza Rice will be looking for highlights or checking the box score to see how they did. As a matter of fact, another famous female golfer could be doing the same thing.
“One of my friends and teammates who was in my class is dating Michelle Wie, so I was friends with her and would see her around campus,” said Whalen. “It was great to meet these people. It wasn’t like anyone was treated like they were famous or a superstar – you could be who you are around campus and people like that felt comfortable. That was a really cool thing to be able to see people in their own skin.”
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