LAST JUNE the 500 people jammed into Vogue, a popular
Indianapolis nightclub, began a standing ovation midway through
that evening's concert. A few weeks later the crowd of nearly
1,000 who packed that city's Walker Theater reacted just as
wildly. They all cheered for Colt defensive end Bernard
Whittington, who, at each venue, was playing the piano with all
the talent and skill of a Carnegie Hall veteran.
"Football is my bread and butter--how I make my living," says
Whittington, whose Walker Theater appearance was featured on the
local TV news by all three Indianapolis stations. "But my music
is what gives me peace of mind."
Whittington, who joined the Colts as an undrafted free agent
from Indiana in 1994, started playing the piano when he was 13.
Growing up in St. Louis, all eight of the Whittington children
were required by their parents to take piano lessons. After a
year's worth of instruction, Whittington rebelled. As a freshman
at Hazelwood East High School, he decided that he wanted to play
football for the Spartans with many of his friends. However,
football practice conflicted with his piano lessons. "When I
first told my folks about playing football instead of piano,
they were pretty mad. They weren't going to let me do it," says
Whittington. "But when I told them I could earn a college
scholarship if I was any good at football, well, they changed
All through high school, Whittington ignored the ivories. He
played football in the fall and trumpet in the school band the
rest of the year. Then, as a lonely Indiana freshman wandering
through his dorm late one night, he discovered a piano in the
rec room and retaught himself to play the instrument.
Whittington kept his musical interests a secret from his
teammates until one day during his junior season. Having
traveled to West Lafayette for a game against Purdue, the
Hoosiers arrived at their hotel earlier than scheduled, so
Whittington entertained his waiting teammates by performing an
impromptu lounge act on a piano in the lobby bar. "Pretty soon
all the coaches and some players were standing around me,
singing songs," Whittington says. "It became a road-game
During the off-season Whittington devotes eight hours a day to
his music. In season, though, football takes almost all of his
time. Whittington's versatility--the 6'6", 278-pounder plays all
four defensive line positions--has kept him in the Colts'
starting lineup since he replaced 1994 first-round pick Trev
Alberts at end in the fourth game of this season. "The stats
don't show it, but to do what he's done after not getting
drafted is phenomenal," says linebacker Stephen Grant. "It's
amazing that Bernard can be so talented at football and music."
Inspired by musicians as diverse as John Coltrane and Kenny G,
Whittington has written 12 songs--mostly love ballads with soft,
jazzy melodies. He's hoping to cut an album soon and eventually
start a record company with his brother Kevin, an aspiring
composer who lives in Los Angeles. "There's even more money in
that gig than in football," Whittington says. "And by the time
I'm 30, I want to be knee-deep in my music."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG The Colts' unsung defensive end is making sweet music both on and off the field. [Bernard Whittington leaning on piano]