NORWICH – Unlike Gale Sayers who would juke his way around or vault over his would-be tacklers like a spirited steed on an open Western range, or a pirouetting Jerry Rice saving an errant aerial with a one-handed catch that was so soft to the touch you’d feel safe with your two-day-old baby in his hands, or Tony Dorsett displaying the grace of a fast-charging cheetah en route to an antelope entrée – none of these gridiron visions would ever be confused for Tim Whitney.
And, on the hardwoods, you’d never mistake the 6-foot-1; 215-pound barrel-chested Whitney for a soaring Michael Jordan who donned butterfly wings whenever he needed to hover over the rim, or foolishly think that the pinpoint accuracy and deft ball handling of point guard John Stockton mirrored Whitney while he was playing the same position.
Whitney’s style of play on the football field and the basketball court was more like the opening line in the 1971 Ike & Tina Turner classic “Proud Mary.” There the St. Louis duo warbled “You know, every now and then I think you might like to hear something from us nice and easy. But there’s just one thing you see, we never do nothing nice and easy. We always do it rough.”
Whether you thought Whitney’s athletic style was rough and tough or full of finesse, there’s no mistaking that it was great enough to earn him a place among the inductees to the seventh annual Norwich High School Sports Hall of Fame.
“Tim was a big, strong quarterback. He was a great passer, but he reminds me most of Ben Roethlisberger (present day Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback) in both his physical stature and style of play,” recalled former Norwich football coach Dan Chrisman, who mentored Whitney during his first season (1977) as the Tornado signal caller when he was only a sophomore.
And, if he mirrored Roethlisberger while on the gridiron, he was more than a carbon copy of Charles Barkley when he was tearing up the hardwoods. Sir Charles known predominantly for his bruising play under the nets, could also tickle the twines from the outer regions, too.
“Tim had a good jump shot, but he had the ability to put it on the floor and take it to the rim,” noted Corey Wolford, who was the Norwich junior varsity coach when Whitney played varsity under the late Bill Carson and late Ken Stewart Sr. for three seasons (1977-80). “On defense he had great anticipation and that enabled him to steal a lot of passes. He was just very athletic; a great competitor.”
Tom Seary, who as a junior played with Whitney during his senior year and who tabulated 414 career points during his two varsity seasons, remembers his combativeness well. “Tim, known to many as ‘Whit’ or ‘Moose’ because of his large stature, had the uncanny ability to score even when being double teamed. Although traditional players of the shooting guard position are often shorter, leaner and quicker than forwards, he had the desire, determination and physical attributes to seemingly score at will. Whit was more than a shooter, he was a scorer. At times it seemed as if he was a man playing amongst boys. In an era before the three-point arc, opposing coaches often were of the mindset ‘you know Whitney’s going to get his 20-25 points, we just need to contain the rest of their team’.”
Whether it was his fierce competitiveness, God-given athleticism or keen anticipation, Whitney used a concentrated mixture of all three in becoming one of Norwich’s greatest basketball players. Despite playing his last game seven years before the advent of the three-point field goal, he ranks in the top 10 in almost every pertinent Tornado cage category.
At the apex of that register is his 23.2 points per game average during his senior campaign of 1979-80, a figure more than a full point better than runner-up Bobby Lazor. That all-time best Norwich scoring average enabled Whitney, who was elected to the Section IV Hall of Fame in 2007, to lead the Southern Tier Athletic Conference (STAC) and all Chenango County cagers in scoring. Playing in all 20 of the Purple’s outings, Whitney finished in double digits in each of those contests, with respective highs of 36 and 32 coming in a 63-52 victory at Oneonta on Dec. 29, 1979 and a 68-58 loss at Seton Catholic Central two days prior. In all, he topped 20 points or more 15 times, with a most-respectable low of 16 coming on two occasions. Those 36 markers versus the Yellowjackets rank ninth in game scoring as do his 14 free throws made in that same Oneonta fray.
“I remember that Oneonta game really well,” recalled Whitney. “While we were warming up, the door to the gym opens and in walks Mark May. That kind of pumped me up and I had a pretty good game (11 field goals and 14-for-17 in free throws).”