Week 17 of the NFL season is a magical wonderland of random players. Whether they've already been eliminated or they've already clinched playoff spots, NFL teams suit up teams that barely resemble the teams from the first 16 weeks of the year. Some of them are names you've forgotten about for years. Some of them are names you've just never heard of. They are the NFL's least valuable players, the guys who can suffer injuries without derailing the franchise.
Although the games may be meaningless in the grand scheme of things, to these players, Week 17 can be a career-defining moment. Here is the story of one of those players,
The Alex Tanney story starts at Monmouth College in Illinois. Not the Division I school which has an internet-famous basketball team, the Division III team in rural Illinois with 1,300 students. There, Tanney set the record for most career touchdown passes thrown by any player in any division. He also holds the Division III career passing yardage record.
But what really made Tanney famous was a trick shot video he and his pals made the February before his senior year.
Tanney is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college history, but that became a footnote next to a video watched by millions. Literally. The description of the video, which has probably been ignored by 3 million of the 4.2 million people to view the video, mentions his records, but you have to click to expand to see it.
While the video started out as just a fun internet thing, there's no doubt that it helped draw attention to him and his college accomplishments. After college, he got looks from NFL teams. Let's explore his career, in headlines.
June 5, 2012: Alex Tanney, YouTube Star, gets chance with Chiefs, NFL.com
July 21, 2013: Dallas Cowboys sign 'Trick Shot' QB Alex Tanney, Bleacher Report
Nov. 26, 2013: Browns sign trick-shot quarterback Alex Tanney, Pro Football Talk
May 21, 2014: Buccaneers sign trick-shot quarterback Alex Tanney, Fox Sports
Dec. 16, 2014: Titans add trick shot artist Alex Tanney to practice squad, Pro Football Talk
Sept. 7, 2015: Trick shot QB headed to Buffalo, WGRZ
Sept. 29, 2015: Colts sign trick shot quarterback Alex Tanney to their practice squad, NFL Draft Diamonds
No matter where he went, the video followed him.
"It always the first thing that comes up, every place I've been," Tanney said. "It was good was good exposure for Monmouth College and Division III football I think. When we made it, we didn't have the intention of, 'Hey, this is going to go viral and maybe this will help me in my career.' It was just kind of me and some friends having fun."
But something weird happened. Tanney kept proving he was good enough at throwing footballs to be on an NFL roster. Back in 2013, our Cowboys blog sang his praises after watching him in preseason. When the Titans brought him in before this season, they didn't just do it because of his trick shots:
"Sometimes I think overcoming the aura of the trick-shot guy works against you," (then-head coach Ken) Whisenhunt said. "We weren't so much interested in that as we were in him having been in other places where I had information about the type of player he was.
"He came strongly recommended from some offenses that are similar to what we do. He's done a nice job. He hasn't gotten a lot of reps, but when he has he's been effective with them, he's handled practice well, he's played well in the game."
This year in preseason, Tanney went 18-for-25 with two touchdowns and no picks. Sure, against third- and fourth-stringers, but many have performed worse against third- and fourth-stringers.
After Marcus Mariota got hurt Week 15, the Titans turned to Zach Mettenberger, but couldn't decide on a third-stringer to serve as a backup. They'd already cut Charlie Whitehurst and brought in Mike Kafka, who they promptly cut. So they turned to Tanney, who had already been on the team in preseason, signing him from the Colts' practice squad.
A week later, the Titans were playing those same Colts. Mettenberger got the start, but was trash. He went 5-for-13, culminating with a pick-6. In the second half of a game the Titans needed to lose to maintain their No. 1 draft pick, the Titans decided to turn to Tanney.
And he was great. He started 7-for-7, including a touchdown. He finished the day 10-for-14 for 99 yards. Titans fans will consider Sunday a success because they were still able to lose, thanks in large part to Mettenberger's abysmal performance. But to Tanney, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
This might shock you, but a guy who set a college record for successful football-throwing and then became famous for incredibly accurate football throwing is actually okay at football-throwing.
Tanney's performance doesn't guarantee anything. Next year, the Titans will continue to develop Marcus Mariota, their future at quarterback. The person the Titans bring in as their permanent head coach won't care that Tanney had experience playing under Whisenhunt. Tanney's Week 17 performance might be viewed as meaningless in the eyes of coaches looking for backups next year.
But Tanney has spent five years trying to get people to call him something besides "trick shot sensation." After Sunday, he can finally put something else on the resume: NFL quarterback. Even if it was Week 17, it still happened.