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Tim Tebow - An Experiment That's Working

Johnie Freatman |
December 14, 2011 | 6:22 p.m. PST

Associate Sports Editor


Love him or hate him, Tebow is making it fun to watch the Broncos. (Creative Commons)
Love him or hate him, Tebow is making it fun to watch the Broncos. (Creative Commons)
In the midst of the Broncos latest improbable comeback marked, as usual, by Tim Tebow’s clutch play, fans and analysts alike are searching for the same thing they have been throughout this magic carpet ride: an explanation. 

How in the world does this team, led by a quarterback with such unconventional skills, keep getting it done? 

While this search for answers is understandable, predictable even, it misses the point. Many aspects of this simply can’t be explained, at least not in the conventional sense we’ve become accustomed to. Instead of searching for answers that aren’t there, explaining it away, or even arguing about Tebow’s future, people would be better served to simply enjoy something that we may never see again.

If nothing else, enjoy it because there’s plenty of room for cynicism elsewhere in sports. 

Just in the past week, we’ve seen numerous examples of the bad side of sports. The National League MVP testing positive for steroids, David Stern attempting to exert unprecedented control on his league, the ongoing Jerry Sandusky saga and his highly questionable legal tactics, and the list goes on.

In the Broncos, America has a true feel-good story. This is a team that, after five weeks, was closer to Andrew Luck than even the faintest of playoff hopes. They were 1-4 with an anemic offense and more questions about what quarterback they’d be able to get in the draft than about their prospects for even salvaging a respectable season.

Enter Tebow. 

Ever since training camp, there had been more scathing assessments of his playing abilities by people like Merril Hoge and Boomer Esiason than any quarterback in recent memory. Some even viewed his insertion into the starting lineup, and the team’s curious decision to trade wide receiver Brandon Lloyd the week before, as a concession of defeat. Conspiracy theorists argued it was a ploy to “tank” and get Luck. 

Instead, Tebow began to win…and win…and win. However, these weren’t your average wins. Of the seven Tebow has acquired in eight starts this season, five were fourth-quarter comebacks. Some of these wins seemed to defy logic, like Miami and, most recently, Chicago. After frequently playing poorly for three quarters, Tebow has seemed to turn into a totally different player in the fourth, especially in the last five minutes. His ability in the clutch is uncanny.

Thus, another reason to enjoy the Broncos and Tebow: he’s winning in a way that we simply have never seen before, both in volume and style. Tebow’s six fourth-quarter comeback wins are the most all-time for a quarterback with 11 career starts. 

Perhaps just as impressive are the mechanical limitations he’s overcoming. Those who criticize his elongated throwing motion and poor footwork have valid points. Tebow doesn’t possess the classic quarterback skills of a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady… or even Luck or Matt Barkley. 

Though it’s difficult at times to think of a hulking presence like Tebow as an underdog, that’s exactly what he is. Evaluating him solely on the basis quarterbacks have always been measured, the aforementioned talking heads may indeed have had grounds to dismiss Tebow as somebody who couldn’t succeed at the position.

However, perhaps the folly in those assessments was in underestimating what can’t be measured: heart, leadership, and will to win. Tebow possesses all of these in spades. His penchant for the moment, ability to galvanize his team when it matters, and demonstrated willingness to do whatever it takes to win mask his physical deficiencies. For a guy to be flourishing after being told by his high school coach that he couldn’t play quarterback is a testament to another intangible: Tebow’s resolve.

All of these intangibles have rubbed off on Tebow’s teammates too. 

It’s evident that this team has fostered a collective cohesiveness and belief that can’t be measured. Though many factors go into Denver’s improved performance on defense, it’s worth noting how much better they’ve been since Tebow was given the starting quarterback job. While it would be ridiculous to argue that Tebow is completely responsible for this, there’s evidence to believe he was the emotional spark that the entire team needed.

Tebow’s selfless example and unwillingness to care at all about his personal stats have set the tone. What was his post-game reaction when he threw a mere eight passes against the Chiefs? Unbridled joy because the Broncos got the win. 

He has sharpened his receivers too, at times when another quarterback may have been lamenting an underachieving pass-catching lot. There were six dropped passes by the Broncos on Sunday, including three by Demaryius Thomas. Thomas was disconsolate on the sidelines but Tebow was the first one by his side, encouraging him and saying he’d catch a pass to win the game. Indeed, Thomas played an integral role in the Broncos late-game heroics.

Tebow understands the nature of the position he’s been put in: the most polarizing quarterback of our time, and someone who will face a steady dose of criticism. However, he refuses to try to battle his detractors through the media. Whenever a reporter tries to bait him by repeating a denigrating soundbite, Tebow takes the high road. When informed Sunday of Brian Urlacher’s tongue-in-cheek remark that “he’s a good running back,” Tebow responded by saying, without a hint of sarcasm, “coming from a really good player, that means a lot.”

Similarly, Tebow’s post-game press remarks always attempt to deflect the attention from himself and focus on the contributions of his coaches and teammates, saying “they make me look a lot better than I really am.” To some, it could seem a little over-the-top… if Tebow weren’t so genuine in saying the same thing every time and demonstrating that that’s really how he thinks.

Selflessness, heart, resolve, modesty, and genuineness. It turns out Charles Barkley was wrong. Athletes can be role models. Ultimately, that’s the biggest reason to enjoy Tebow and this Denver Broncos season. 

The NFL, like the rest of pro sports, it littered with players setting bad examples. The repeated dirty play of Ndamukong Suh and James Harrison, DeSean Jackson effectively giving up on his team, and a litany of others to choose from. Indeed, there are far bigger things to criticize than how somebody presents their religious faith.

Not only does Tebow possess all of the aforementioned team-building football intangibles and character traits, he has the proper perspective, understanding that football isn’t everything. In reality, he sees football as a means to an end- like the hospital he just built in the Philippines. Or like Sunday, when he celebrated his victory by spending the evening with a nine-year-old boy who has cancer. 

For all these reasons, enjoy what Tebow and this Broncos team are doing. Embrace the total lunacy of one amazing fourth quarter comeback after another. Acknowledge that, at least temporarily, the conventional wisdom of the NFL is being thrown on its head by a certain left-handed quarterback who simply refuses to lose and happens to be a poster child for everything right about athletes.


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