Tim Tebow has looked like he’s trapped in a Southwest Airlines commercial for some time now. (Kathy Willens / AP)

Breaking news: Because of an injury to Greg McElroy, Rex Ryan has passed over Tim Tebow again, giving Mark Sanchez the start Sunday. Read about it here.

Remember when Tim Tebow was “excited” to be joining the New York Jets and kept using that word that over and over and over?

Ah, the good old days. Less than a year later, the words he uses are “disappointment” and “frustration” as the Rex said/Tim said report that he’d asked out of the Wildcat formation, the only one in which he is used, continues to devour the Jets. He may have been hit in the helmet by a Mark Sanchez pass and leapfrogged by No. 3 quarterback Greg McElroy when Sanchez was benched and relegated to special teams and gadget formations, but those moments were more embarrassing than anything. This fresh humiliation concerns the worst word that can be applied to an athlete: quitter.

As has been the case his entire NFL career, Tebow found that he was back to being a polarizing figure. ESPN’s Merrill Hoge said Tebow is “phony as a three-dollar bill.” On the other side was Yahoo’s Jay Hart, who wrote, “One reported moment of a frustrated quarterback is enough for some to assassinate the character of a man who has proven time and time again to be as standup a human being as there is.”

On Wednesday, Tebow tried to explain what happened last week and denied the ESPN report that he had told Ryan he didn’t want to be used in the Wildcat after Ryan’s decision last week to start McElroy. It was clear that the story and commentary cut deeply.

“When people are talking about how you play football or how much, that’s one thing, it really doesn’t bother me,” he said (via Jets.com). “I think the only thing that has been disappointing for me these last few days, and frustrating, is the people saying, “Oh, you quit on the team” or “You’re not a good teammate.” I think that’s disappointing. You ask the people that I’ve played with, and I take a lot of pride in that, you ask the people that I’ve played with, my teammates, the people around me, and they know I’ll do anything for my teammates. I would go out there and play my heart out, be the first one at practice, the last one to leave, do whatever I can for my teammates.

“For people to not know the situation and loathe something, then start to bash your character, and say, “You’re phony” or “You’re fake” or “You’re a hypocrite,” I think that’s what’s disappointing and that’s what’s frustrating because it’s a football game. That’s one thing, if you’re good or bad at football, but your character, your integrity, that’s who you are as a man, and that’s a lot more important. I think that’s what’s disappointing for me and frustrating because I take that way more seriously than I’ll ever take a football game.” 

Tebow, who declined to say whether the Jets had promised him the first shot at replacing Sanchez when they recruited him, said he told Ryan that he merely wanted a chance to play “the position I love.” He admitted that Ryan, who wasn’t breaking his practice of not divulging conversations with players, may have misunderstood. In any event, Tebow couldn’t get onto the field Sunday.

“I went in there on Tuesday and had a man-to-man conversation with Coach Ryan,” Tebow said. “The conversation was great. I simply asked to get an opportunity to play quarterback. That was my passion and I did tell him I was frustrated with the Wildcat, the success we were having, some of the stuff we were doing. I was definitely disappointed and frustrated, and I let him know that, the same that I did Wednesday to you guys. I just asked for an opportunity to play quarterback. He definitely understood that.

“And then Friday I went up to him again and reiterated the fact that I would do anything for this team like I’ve done all year, from punt pro to hands team, cutting defensive ends to catching passes, and he appreciated that and he understood. We have a great relationship still. He knows that I’d do anything to help this team.”

Tebow admitted that he was frustrated running up the middle; he had cracked ribs to show for it earlier this month. The Denver Broncos, a team he led into the playoffs last season, tailored their offense around his athleticism and ability to make something happen on the edges, with rollouts. The Broncos were 8-5 with him starting and won a playoff game. The Jets never tried to adapt to him.

Mercifully, there is only one more game for the Jets and Tebow most likely has one more game with them, with reports surfacing last weekend that he’d play in Jacksonville next year. Ripped earlier this season by former Denver Broncos teammates and by anonymous Jets teammates, he was asked if he had spoken to his soon-to-be-former teammates.

“No, not really,” he said “I talked to one or two of my closer friends in here, but I’ve had guys come up to me and encourage me because they know that I would do whatever I could for this football team.”

So ends the Jets’ experiment and it isn’t Tebow’s fault, ESPN New York’s Ian O’Connor writes, that the laboratory exploded. It’s Ryan’s and Tony Sparano’s.

Tebow should’ve been a useful hybrid player when Sanchez was going OK, and he should’ve been the permanent replacement when Sanchez was not. The ascension of McElroy, career journeyman-to-be, wasn’t only unfair to the second-string Tebow, who bulked up on the coaches’ orders and who suffered all those Wildcat and punt protector indignities in respectful silence; it was unbecoming of Ryan, who was clearly afraid of what a 2-0 Tebow finish would’ve said about his own judgment.

Asked if he’d been promised the first crack at replacing Sanchez when he was hired by the Jets, Tebow said, “I’m not going to talk about assurances or what was promised or anything like that.”

He looked and sounded wounded, but if Tebow was tough enough to play a high school game with a broken leg, and tough enough to play an NFL game with broken ribs, and tough enough as a goodwill ambassador to assist in circumcisions and build children’s hospitals in the Philippines, he’ll survive this season with the Jets.

Follow @CindyBoren on Twitter and on Facebook.


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