Is there anything more gaily entertaining than the NFL establishment’s disregard for Tim Tebow ? Opponents insult him and analysts scoff, former coaches and players loiter on the sets of pregame shows in their wide-shouldered suits, issuing loud pronouncements only to eat their words. Tebow is a one-man Occupy movement, a squatter at the quarterback position for the Denver Broncos. Everyone knows he’s not supposed to be 3-1, but how do you move this guy out?
“What gets us, what gets a lot of people is, you look at pro football and you don’t want to believe it,” ESPN’s Herman Edwards said.
They don’t want to believe that a player can succeed outside of the blueprint. What happens when Tebow takes the ball is simple enough. He either runs with it or he gives it to someone else, or, very occasionally, he throws it downfield. What happens after that is more mysterious, and how you feel about it depends on your perspective and which of the chattering jackdaw commentators you listen to. His supporters say he is streaking toward a God-sped destiny. His critics like Merril Hoge believe he is an embarrassing fluke whose time will shortly be up — maybe against the New York Jets on Thursday night. Surely the Broncos can’t keep winning with their run-heavy game plan, behind this throwback, wedge-headed young leader. “Not for a whole season,” Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis predicts.
All Revis can muster for Tebow is some partial, balking, reluctant, half-mystified credit. “You’ve got to respect everybody,” Revis said. “He’s a professional NFL player. He worked hard to get here. Don’t get me wrong, watching the film, he’s made some throws. . . . He can definitely play this game.”
But the real problem in their Thursday night matchup, Revis suggests, will be ennui. “We can’t fall asleep back there in the secondary,” Revis said. “It can get boring, especially when a team just keeps running the ball, series after series, play after play.”
Can’t you just imagine Jets defenders watching film this week? The muffled laughter as Tebow absorbs those rib-aching sacks. The snickering at his footwork — not the dainty steps of a Tom Brady, but the dodgings of an angry stag. The sneers at his windup and delivery, slow as a winch. Then the baffled exhalation as he competes a 53-yard scoring pass and leads a team that is down to its third-string running back to yet another victory. The sudden silence in the room at the realization that he’s got seven touchdowns to just one interception, and his teammates will apparently follow him anywhere.
“The thing he brings to the table is, he has tremendous will,” Edwards said. “No matter how bad it looks, he will continue to compete, and that’s something players see and feel, and you can’t coach it.”
Yet even his own coach, John Fox, audibly struggles to compliment what he is seeing in Tebow. You can hear his quandary in game planning for a quarterback who can’t be trusted to throw more than eight or 10 times a game, this guy who never strikes the statue pose. The offense has been sketched on the go, cobbled together from collegiate option stuff, veer plays so old-fashioned as to be considered taboo. Listen to Fox talking to NFL.com:
“I mean, What the hell?” he said. “You don’t get points for style in this league. Let me tell you something: My man is really good in this offense. You know what I mean?” Then he felt compelled to add, “If we were trying to run a regular offense, he’d be screwed.”
Fox is right, of course: In a high-scoring game that required Tebow to throw 30 or 40 times downfield, he’d look like a laughingstock. But as it happens, he has a superb young offensive line and a stout defense that has so far kept games close enough for Tebow’s sheer primal force to be a factor. The hope is that eventually he can become a consistently accurate thrower, too.
Everyone seems to have an emotional stake in the tantalizing question of who Tebow will turn out to be in the NFL, from the TV analysts who call him a joke, to defenders who mock him, to his own front office. According to the whisper-net, Broncos management may be quietly rooting for him to fail, so they can return to a “regular” offense run by a regular quarterback.
“There are guys on both sides of this saying he can be successful in certain situations, and others saying it’s a passing league and he has too many flaws and he needs to change positions,” Edwards said, “and as this thing plays out we’re going to have a good picture of who he is.”
If Tebow can survive as the Broncos’ starter, what it would say is that a lot of experts have miscalculated the qualities an NFL quarterback must possess. It would say that the so-called geniuses are often wrong – especially lately, when you consider the performance of not just Tebow, but also Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. It would say that a quarterback need not slide every time he carries the ball, flop to the grass like a lady trying to pull down her skirt over her knees. It would say that when the most valuable and famous player on the team tries to run over people instead of away from them, it does something ineffable for a football team.
It would also help us zero in on what we mean by the phrase “all he does is win.” Already, Tebow has illuminated a seldom-discussed aspect of winners: their profound lack of vanity. They are willing to be embarrassed in any number of ways, if it gets them where they want to go in the end. “I don’t really care how it looks,” he said a couple of weeks ago.
The fact is, there are players all over the NFL who don’t meet the standard measures of talent for their position, but they succeed anyway. That’s what makes the league such an interesting human laboratory: great players come in all different sizes and forms. “There are more guys that are not the prototype in pro football than there are prototypes,” Edwards pointed out. “You can’t judge a guy’s heart, and you can’t measure his will.”