Ryan Tannehill and Malik Willis have an “Any Given Sunday” vibe


Life mimics art: Ryan Tannehill and Malik Willis (right) feel like the plot of Any Given Sunday.

Life mimics art: Ryan Tannehill and Malik Willis (right) feel like the plot of Any Given Sunday.
illustration: Getty

“The child is breathing down my neck.”

That’s a line from Cap Rooney — played by Dennis Quaid — in the 1999 cult classic Any Given Sunday, in which Rooney plays a beloved but aged and injured quarterback staring in the face of his mortality on the field as the team behind the game by “Steamin” Willie Beamen – played by Jamie Foxx – heaves while out with a bad back.

It could also be how 33-year-old Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill feels about Malik Willis, the 22-year-old QB the Titans won in the third round with the 86th overall pick in last week’s NFL draft.

Tannehill made headlines with this comment:

“I don’t think it’s my job to be a mentor [Willis]’ said Tannehill. “But if he learns from me on the side, that’s a great thing.”

Meanwhile press conference, Tannehill went on to explain that he had texted Willis after he was drafted but that he was unaware that the team was selecting a player who he felt could take over his job sooner or later. In case you forgot, the Titans had home field advantage throughout the playoffs, losing in the divisional round to eventual AFC champions Bengals, losing 19-16 in a game with 3 interceptions by…Tannehill.

“It’s a deep scar” explained Tannehill, when he revealed he needed therapy after the season. “Every time I closed my eyes, I watched the game again. I haven’t slept much in weeks. I was in a dark place and it took a while, a lot of work, to get out of it.

“I worked through it, but therapy, talking to people, time helped. It took a lot of work to get through that.”

Since Tannehill showed up in Nashville, the Titans have made the playoffs. But if you check the box scores of the games that ended each Tennessee season, you’ll see that Tannehill’s touchdowns (4) match his interceptions (4). That’s probably why the team drafted a quarterback in the third round that many believed would come off the board in the first.

With quarterback being the most important position in the NFL and the sport, you’d think teams would have figured out how to design it by now. They don’t. Most of the time it’s a total crapshoot. But what we do know is that Tannehill will be looking over his shoulder until Willis proves he’s not the next face of the franchise.

It’s an unspoken rule in sport that veterans should mentor the youngsters, especially in football. But playing quarterback is different. Similar to the movie highlanders, There can only be one, so it can be a slippery slope to help the person trying to take your job. And instead of giving us a template answer, Tannehill kept it true. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to help someone who could be your eventual replacement in a highly competitive job where millions are at stake. That’s why the humor in this situation is so wry, considering it kind of plays out like it does in the movies.

“Come on, that’s how it starts,” Cap Rooney told his coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) during a scene urging the quarterback to take it easy during practice. “Don’t kid me Tony, I know what you’re talking about. I know you when your mind is working. ‘Rest, let the boy play some games. You know you’ve been great, but time flies.”

By the end of the film, Cap Rooney and Willie Beamen have gained a lot of respect for each other and eventually start working together. Rooney even gives Beamen his job, knowing it’s the best decision for the team. It leads to a big win. Let’s see if the Titans follow the same script.

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