It is standard football operating procedure for the backup quarterback to be one of the most popular players on any roster.
The appeal is rooted in potential. It’s a grass-is-greener mindset in regard to arguably the most scrutinized position in all of professional sports. Outside of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and a few others, every starting quarterback in the NFL is not much more than one interception from losing the fans’ trust.
Not so for a Tennessee Titans, a team for which the backup has emerged as a central figure a surprising number of times. Since 1999, when the franchise changed its nickname and uniforms, there have been seven seasons when the player who began at number two on the depth chart started at least five games – often with positive results.
With Jake Locker now sidelined by a hip sprain, Ryan Fitzpatrick has a chance to do the same.
Before he makes his first start, here’s how the previous backups stack up.
1) Neil O’Donnell (1999-2003): He’s most remembered for the fact that he went 4-1 during the Super Bowl season of 1999 when back surgery following the opener sidelined Steve McNair for more than a month. It should not be overlooked, though, that for the majority of his time with the franchise he ran the scout team in practice, which allowed him to get his work but also gave the defense a clear sense of how each upcoming opponent likely would attack it.
His return from retirement for the final game of 2003 – a victory over Tampa Bay – was one of the more satisfying moments in team history.
• Titans stats: 24 games, 215-367 2,664 yards, 16 TD, 11 INT
• Record as Titans starter: 6-2
2) Vince Young (2006-2010): Say what you will about all the nonsense that led the Titans to cut him with one year remaining on his original contract, Young could save a season.
As a rookie, he took over after the team lost its first three games, went 8-5 and was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. In 2009, he went 8-2 after a woeful 0-6 start capped by a 59-0 loss at New England.
Those two relief performances accounted for more than half his wins with the Titans.
• Titans stats: 54 games, 689-1190 8,098 yards, 42 TD, 42 INT
• Record as Titans starter: 30-17
3) Kerry Collins (2006-10): Like Young, his teammate for the entire time he was with Tennessee, Collins’ best work came when he was not expected to be the starter. He took over in Week 2 of the 2008 season and went 12-3 as the Titans finished with the league’s best record and earned homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
He went 1-4 to close out 2010, though, after Young’s tantrum against Washington created a sour mood in the locker room that never relented.
• Titans stats: 42 games, 613-1,081 (56.7 percent), 6,804 yards, 33 TD, 29 INT
• Record as Titans starter: 15-17
4) Matt Hasselbeck (2011-12): The starter in 2011 was relegated to a reserve in 2012 but started five straight games beginning in early October while Locker was injured. That stretch included the only back-to-back Titans’ victories of that season, one touchdown pass every game and a completion percentage of 60 or higher three times.
• Titans stats: 24 games, 457-739 (61.8 percent), 4,938 yards, 25 TD, 19 INT
• Record as Titans starter: 11-10
5) Billy Volek: His first start, late in 2003, was a victory over Buffalo but left him hospitalized with a lacerated spleen. He started half of the games in 2004, including the final five when he kept folks entertained with some huge passing numbers (he threw for more than 400 yards in consecutive games) but no victories in what was (at the time) the worst season of the Titans era.
His exit from the franchise was nearly as dubious as Young’s. He fell out of favor with coach Jeff Fisher and was traded to San Diego days after the Titans lost to the Chargers in Week 2.
• Titans stats: 24 games, 312-517 (60.3 percent), 3,505 yards, 26 TD, 13 INT
• Record as a Titans starter: 3-7