Chang learns from baptism under Fire
By Michael Preston
Special to The Advertiser
By Michael Preston
DUSSELDORF, Germany — NFL Europe has been a learning experience for Tim Chang.
He has learned to forget the role he once played as a starter and a star.
He has learned that his future on the football field, for the time being, will be on the sidelines. At least he hopes for that much.
Unaccustomed to watching a teammate start under center while he waits patiently for playing time, the former University of Hawai'i and NCAA record-setter spent the spring settled into the job of No. 2 quarterback for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe.
When he arrives at mini camp with the Philadelphia Eagles next month he will have a new target: No. 3.
Chang split time during the 10-week NFL overseas venture with former Michigan star Drew Henson, slated to be the backup to Drew Bledsoe with the Dallas Cowboys for the 2006 NFL season. Henson emerged as the team leader, Chang as a reliable substitute, playing perhaps a quarter of each game.
"I knew the situation I was coming to and knew I had to win a backup role and from there move forward," Chang said Saturday after the Fire's final game of the season, in which he played no part. "It is definitely different being a backup compared with being a starter, but from my point of view I enjoyed the role and just made the most of it.
"The opportunity to come here and play some football and become a better player and take this all back with me means it was worth coming out here and a lot more."
The Eagles, having signed Jeff Garcia to back up Donovan McNabb, might regard Chang as a cheaper salary cap alternative to 10-year veteran Koy Detmer when it comes to filling their third quarterback spot. That coupled with Chang's steady play for the Fire — 50 of 89 for 659 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions — could find him a home in Philadelphia.
"That's their decision," he said of the Eagles, who sent him to Europe to gain experience in a pro offense. "I'm going to make it tough on them and perform and throw the ball well and do what I can to make the roster. Right now all I can concentrate on is myself and doing well and getting stronger and learning the system so I can play in some preseason games."
Chang's downfall, at least in the opinion of analysts who critiqued his Rhein Fire performances on the NFL Network, will be his preference to operate from the shotgun as he did in college. His arm strength, explosiveness and leadership are proven qualities that shone on limited occasion in Rhein. When lined up under center in a more conventional setup, he took one more step toward becoming an NFL quarterback.
"I'm a lot better than I was and I'm feeling more comfortable the more snaps I get," he said. "That's why I came out here, to put together parts of my game that need to be worked on and just become a better player.
"I didn't actually set myself goals in terms of stats and playing time. I just tried to make the most of my opportunity. I thought I did that."
The Fire closed a frustrating season with a 6-4 record having burned out after a blazing 4-0 start made them odds-on favorites to reach this Saturday's World Bowl XIV. Two 7-3 teams, the Frankfurt Galaxy and Amsterdam Admirals will instead play for the championship.
While those two remaining teams bid for glory, Chang will make the long trek home, eager to reacquaint himself with Hawai'i and his family. The industrial German city of Dusseldorf that was his home for three months will become a distant but pleasurable memory.
"I'll go home with my girlfriend and meet up with my son. We're very happy to be here and sad to leave, but we're pleased to be going home, too.
"My girlfriend was here for a while, but my son is back at home and I haven't seen him for almost six months. I'm badly missing him and I can't wait to get home and see him. He'll be a lot bigger now.
"This was an experience that I'll always remember. The culture is very different. I'm halfway across the world and I never imagined I'd be in Germany some day. The best thing is the friendships that I made on this trip. I'll always remember these guys that I've played with."
Football will always remember Tim Chang. But will it be for the NCAA records he set at home in Hawai'i, or is his true legacy yet to be written in the NFL in Philadelphia? Only the Eagles coaches can tell.
ELIMIMIAN IN TITLE GAME
Former Warriors cornerback Abraham Elimimian will start in the Amsterdam Admirals secondary in World Bowl XIV.
Allocated to NFL Europe by the Chicago Bears, the native of Nigeria posted 32 tackles, leads the team with seven passes defended, has one interception and is a special teams standout.
Elimimian's 12 career interceptions at UH rank second in school history.