George Fant began this season as a backup tackle for the Seahawks, an important role in terms of depth, but not one that allowed him to actually see the field on gameday with any frequency. But initially because of injuries at tight end, then eventually because it worked well for the offense, Fant began seeing regular playing time, starting each of Seattle's past four games while usually playing anywhere from a third to half of Seattle's offensive snaps in any given game.
Because Fant is still a tackle on the roster who wears No. 74, he is required to report as an eligible receiver—basically making him a tight end—every time he takes the field. So in theory, every time the referee announces, "No. 74 is an eligible receiver, No. 74 is eligible," Russell Wilson could throw him the ball on any given play, but through 12 games, a lot of blocking and yes, some occasional route-running, Fant was never targeted.
Finally, much to the delight of his teammates and the crowd on hand, Fant got his moment to shine in the third quarter when Wilson hit him with a short pass that went for a 9-yard gain before Fant stumbled and fell just short of a first down.
"That was a great experience," said Fant. "I'm just glad they gave me an opportunity to have the ball in my hands… It was a great, great time. All my teammates were excited for me, we had a good time."
Fant, who played college basketball at Western Kentucky before switching to football for his final year, had just one catch as a part-time tight end in college, meaning he has now matched that production while playing tackle in the NFL. As Fant talked about his catch, he held in his hand the football he caught for his first NFL reception, Wilson having made sure to save it for him. When Wilson walked through the locker room, Fant asked his quarterback to sign it for him, and of course Wilson was happy to help commemorate the moment for a player who has quietly been a big part of Seattle's offense this year.
"I kept saying he was going to get the ball and sure enough," Wilson said. "He's been a special player for us, he's been one of our MVP's in my opinion with how he's stepped into his role as being great. He's got a great attitude, he's passionate about the game, passionate about the details. He's just fun to play with. He made a great catch there. I threw it pretty firm too, there was no holding back on throwing it to him. He made a great catch. I thought he was going to get even more yards, I think he tripped up on his own feet. It's just really cool to see him make that play."
On the particular play, Wilson had options to his right and his left, but thought to himself, "George is probably going to be open right here so let's go to the right. Like I said, I didn't second guess it, I just let it rip and he caught it easy and smooth. He's such a tremendous athlete, he's a basketball star, he's a great player, great athlete and he's got a great attitude too. He can do anything for us, he can play tackle, he can obviously play tight end and be the extra blocker for us and he can catch it too. That was cool to see."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, like everyone else on Seattle's sideline, was thrilled to see Fant with the football in his hands.
"Wow, George, man," Carroll said. "How about that?"
Carroll then joked that Fant, who even if he hadn't fallen still had a linebacker closing, as well as 55 yards more of field between him and the end zone, "almost scored. That's how he saw it. 'Gosh, if I just didn't slip I would have scored.' It was good. He's been playing a lot of snaps for us and done a great job at blocking for us, and he's run some routes and all that. I don't know if you saw the sidelines, but they went crazy to see George catch the ball. He didn't quite get all the yards that were there. Maybe next time."
While Fant wished he'd have kept his feet and gained more yards, the play still went better than it did the first time they ran it in practice last week.
"It's funny because in practice, I dropped that play," Fant said. "We ran that play and I dropped the ball. I told him right away, 'give me another chance at that one. I'm not going to drop that ever again.' They ran it tonight and Russ threw the ball and I just had to make sure I secured it, and after that, I was trying to get out as I fell. I tripped up a little bit. I'll work on that next though."
For fans of offensive tackles catching passes—honestly, who isn't a fan of that—we can all only hope that there's a next time soon for Fant to work on finishing the run.