HOUSTON He imitates Tom Brady. That's his role this week. Chris Weinke's winding road once led him to pro baseball, where he spent six years in the Blue Jays' chain, topping out in Triple-A. It took him to Tallahassee, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 2000 as a 28-year-old quarterback at Florida State. As a NFL rookie, he started his very first game.
Now, he's the football equivalent of Rich Little, a quarterbacking Frank Gorshin. He does impressions. Three weeks ago he was Marc Bulger. This week he's Tom Brady.
"We're similar, drop-back quarterbacks, so I guess I give a pretty good simulation of what the defense is going to look at on Sunday," said Weinke, the Panthers' third-string quarterback. "I'm hoping to be the best Tom Brady I can possibly be this week."
Weinke is the star of the scout team, which wasn't exactly the happy ending he had in mind to his long, improbably athletic journey. Two years ago, he won his pro debut, beating the Vikings, completing 13 of 22 passes. His coach was George Seifert, who had been Joe Montana's coach and Steve Young's coach. He couldn't have soared any higher.
"I should have enjoyed it more, I guess," he said.
The Panthers lost their last 15 games of that 2001 season and Seifert got fired. Weinke suffered through the kind of year most rookies suffer through, throwing 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He took a pounding and he made a vow.
"I went through that 1-15 season and I remember saying to myself, 'I want to be here when we turn this thing around, I want to be here when this team goes to the playoffs and beyond,' " Weinke said, before adding with a smile, "and I am. I'm still here. Although it's not exactly what I had in mind."
John Fox replaced Seifert, and he named Rodney Peete his starting quarterback in 2002. In 2003, Jake Delhomme was signed and blossomed into a big-time quarterback.
"All I can do is hope that I get my shot," Weinke said. "If not here, somewhere. I know I can do it. I just have to believe there's someone else around who believes I can also."
Special to CANADIAN BASEBALL NEWS 28 January 2004