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Tim Tebow’s not like other athletes and maybe that’s the point


If the Tim Tebow parade started its initial descent after the highly-scrutinized ex-Gators QB, and former Heisman winner made a game of what seemed like a lost cause against San Diego, then at the time, I would have been the one sending the parade route the opposite way.  Or like the epic end scene in Animal House, I would have directed the marching band into a corner so they ran into each other.  To say I was a skeptic is the understatement of the century.

Tebow was a media creation — a dynamic college quarterback who benefited in Urban Meyer’s system and flourished with play makers surrounding him. He was beloved and despised because of his unorthodox style of play, and because the media couldn’t lap him up enough.  For many, he was the perfect person.  The second coming. 

“The passion, the fire of Tim Tebow, who is the unquestioned greatest leader in college football today,” FOX Play by Plan man Thom Brennaman once infamously stated during the 1st quarter of the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, as Florida went on to win a second national title in 3 years.  “What an unbelievable player and an even more impressive young man,” he went on.  “You know in such a cynical, sarcastic society often-times looking for the negative on anybody or anything: if you’re fortunate to spend 5 minutes or 20 minutes around Tim Tebow, your life is better for it.”

With Tim Tebow’s emergence as a winning NFL QB — albeit unconventional — I was thinking about how much disdain I’ve had for the guy for so many years.  My hatred stemmed originally from being a Seminole and watching him and the Gators torch FSU time in and time out for 4 years.  But as the media slurped him up like a lapdog, my resentment towards him exploded. I could not stand the guy. I openly rooted for him to fail and I completely resented ESPN for their glorification of the man and how they treated him as if he was larger than life itself.

Which brings us full circle to today: December 12, 2011.  The day after Tebow led yet another Broncos comeback, upping his record this season to 7-1, as he continues to be the face and the leader behind a completely revived Denver Broncos team.  Denver wasn’t just listless to start the year.  They were lifeless.  You know the rest: Tebow led Denver to the improbable 15-0 comeback in Miami on Gators Appreciation Day (That only triggered more hate and more resentment), and the comebacks week in and week out with the lone exception being the white-washing Denver took at home against the Lions.

The point is this: For all the Tebow haters out there (and there are many), do you dislike the guy because of what the media has done with his persona, or do you dislike him, because of who he is?  I myself, am just starting to realize that Tebow has done little to earn such disdain. He’s not the one who turns SportsCenter into an hour long Tebow-Center (literally).  He doesn’t write columns in the Wall Street Journal entitled “God’s Quarterback.”  He doesn’t have his own reality TV show or even his own breakfast cereal (Tebows? None that I know of).

He has a book. And that infamous pro-life Super Bowl ad with his mom.  And he has his religion.  Lest us forget the statue outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with his infamous speech.

This isn’t an article where I bow down in the House of Tebow.  I’m not converting my stance that his style will be effective long-term. I still think he’s a project at the QB position, and that he needs to improve his accuracy in quarters 1-3 if he wants to survive and thrive in this league.

But I am man enough to admit when I’m wrong, so here goes:

Nice work Tim Tebow.  Seriously.  I don’t know how you’ve done it, but you’ve turned skeptics into believers all across the country and you’re the most fascinating must-see sports persona at the end of a game or match since Tiger Woods, or before him Michael  Jordan.  That doesn’t mean you belong in the same discussion as those two as professional athletes.  As of now, you don’t.

But that doesn’t change the fact that you have become must-see TV.  You are riveting drama.  Your team I mean. I don’t get how your style doesn’t work for 3 quarters and then a magic switch turns on in the 4th quarter leading to OT.  It’s like you have Angels in your Endzones or something.  But who am I to knock you, when there are so many throw-away QBs in this league who have better tangibles than you.

Like a trademark, you are all about intangibles, things you really can’t measure.  We’ve seen teams across the league lose their QB or start their highly drafted rookie, with most suffering mostly failure.  On paper you’re goofy, and you don’t make sense.  But on the field something you do materializes with your teammates.  Your kicker, Matt Prater is playing in another stratosphere right now.  You’re the ultimate tag team.  You drive down the field, and tag him in to boom 50 and 60 yard kicks in the most critical of moments.

I think that’s why we’re so confused by you.  The great ones like Tom Brady and Drew Brees don’t flip switches.  They’re just superbly consistent.  You however, have the uncanny ability to literally turn on the engines and fly by other cars, when you start basically 5 laps behind them.  We’re not used to this.  We’ve never seen this.  Week after week all you do is win, each week more amazingly then the next.

And each week, with the chance to hog all the glory, you defer to your teammates (who all play their part).  We’re not used to this in pro sports.  In a world of me-first athletes and guys who want to hand-pick their destination, you’re loyal and thrilled to be given a chance – no mater where it is.  Most QBs would be distraught and disgusted with what you’ve dealt with, and many would probably have blown their lid by now.  But you stay level-headed (how do you do it?) when everyone wants to crash the world on top of your head.

You’re not perfect, and I’ve never met you, so I can’t really say what you’re like in person or over the phone.  But you seem genuine.  You seem like you mean what you say. You don’t sign autographs out of obligation, you do it out of appreciation.  You’re not the first guy like that. You won’t be the last.

Heck, if it wasn’t for the media’s love-hate affair with you, I think most people would openly root for you.  If you toned down the religious overtones just a little bit, I think the people on the fence about you would finally cave.  But it’s not about me or what any of us wants: what you’re doing works for you. I don’t know if you’re the answer long-term in Denver at QB. I’m not even sure if you ‘truly’ know.  But I believe you when you say you work hard every day and that you’re driven to improve.

Listening to John Fox field answers at the press conference, it really felt like something out of a cheesy sports movie.  You know the ones, where the whole world is stupified by the success of a huge underdog, who does it in unconventional fashion.  As the reporters began their flurry of questions, each one was cheesier than the next.  Each one merited.

Some of us are watching this from afar.  Others, next to your locker. I don’t know how this is all going to play out, and I’m not going to say I’m ready to root for you yet, but I think I’m ready to put aside my biases against you, and take my annoyances out on the media.  You never asked to be a cultural phenomenon, or to have  your name transcend sports.  But here we are: and you’re the trending guy.  You’re the ‘it’ figure in sports right now.  People want to know what you’re going to do next.

Can you beat the Patriots?  I’m not sure.  Denver will either lose by 20+ or win on a field goal.  That much I am sure.  You’re like me cramming for a test: you could study days in advance so that you only need to briefly review the day or two before the exam, but instead you wait till the last second to cram as much into the last few moments as possible.  Cramming isn’t supposed to work on tests, just like cramming greatness into fourth quarters isn’t supposed to be good enough to win games you weren’t in before.

After the game — another maddening, Twitter-massacre-ing gem of a comeback, capped off by a superb defensive strip, great clutch play by your receivers, and another picture perfect performance from your trusty kicker (I shall call Prater, the White Bronco!) — my friend tweeted me this:

“Why can’t he just lose like all the normal QBs?”

I thought about it for a minute.  The answer was clear.

Because there’s nothing normal about him.  For better or worse, Tim Tebow is a unique breed. He may play to his own tune.  But he’s got the #1 hit in the country right now.  Who are we to tell him that he needs a better sound?

That’s my epiphany.  Tebow is who he is.  Sometimes we try to mold people into something that they’re not, when they just need to go off and play to the beat of their own drum.

No one knows what Tebow can be, will be, or what the future has in store for this wild 2011 Broncos team.  But this much I know:

I’ll be watching.  And if I have to, I’ll have ESPN on mute.

Photo: *****

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