Monday, November 21, 2011

Polarizing Tim Tebow

I'm genetically predisposed to hate two things: the New York Jets and the Florida Gators. One of my favorite movie lines of all-time comes from the film "10 Things I Hate About You" when David Krumholtz (Michael in the film) tells Heath Ledger's character that the girl (Julia Stiles) "hates [him] with the fire of a thousand suns". That's how I feel about the Jets. That's how I feel about the Gators. I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns. (For the record, that's pretty hot.)

You might wonder why, as a Canes fan, I hate the Gators and not say, the Seminoles. Truth is, I did hate the Seminoles for a time, but after the Tim-Tebow era in Gainesville, coupled with the fact that a few close family members root for the 'Noles, the Gators take top-hated billing. Also, I can't hate Leonard Hamilton, FSU basketball coach. He's a former Canes coach, and, he's awesome.

What bothers me the most here might be rooted in Media exposure. The Jets are the brash, loud-mouthed child born from the country's biggest Media market. The Gators, while calling the small town of Gainesville home, were thrust into the national spotlight with Tim Tebow. ESPN forced Tebow down the throat of their viewers, exalting him as the greatest college athlete since the dawn of organized sports. Viewers had to suffer through extended spots on Sportscenter regarding the greatness of Tebow, or flip-over to the Food Network to learn how to roast a pork shoulder.

The one solace many so-called Gator Haters had was simply this: Tim Tebow had no shot to succeed in the NFL. He was (is) by no means a conventional quarterback, lacking the polished throwing-motion, the ability to analyze defenses, and the accuracy required to win at the professional level. There was no way he'd be a first round draft pick. He'd toil into the middle rounds and ESPN would have to watch their Media-driven creation flutter to the turf after their lofty touting of the young man. Well, they would've had to if Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos not lost their collective minds and traded up to draft him.

My aversion to Tim Tebow was based more on the fact that ESPN told its viewers they needed to love him. They espoused his virtues, purity, and greatness. We were all lesser humans in comparison. But, in the same commercial break from College Football Live to NFL Live, the network and all its analysts turned on Tebow. It was a curious development. All of a sudden, he would never make it in the NFL, he would never succeed. They granted he was a great college player, but he wasn't an NFL-caliber quarterback.

Well, suddenly I felt bad. The coverage swung to the opposite pole. However, I agree with the analysts. I don't think he's has long-term viability as a quarterback, but tide turned so quickly on him that it left me not regretting my hatred, but certainly no longer stoking the flame. NFL analyst Merril Hodge was among the many who called the Denver Broncos idea of starting Tim Tebow patently absurd. Some of his most publicized quotes included this: "It's embarassing to think the Broncos could win with Tebow!"

At the moment, the Broncos have won four out of their first five games with Tebow. Despite one of those wins coming against the Dolphins (I reveled in it at the time... hoping for the number 1 pick then... alas) and another coming in glorious fashion against the hated Jets, I find myself still rooting against Tebow. By all reports, he's a wonderful person. He's performed circumcisions in the Phillipines. He's a very good footbal player. But I just don't see him as a very good quarterback. Not even average, really. That said, I still feel bad when analysts pile on him because it's the easy thing to do. (Much like analysts praised him while he was at Florida because that was the easy thing to do.)

What it comes down to it this. Tim Tebow might be the most polarizing figure in sports these days. To me, the coverage of him has evolved from nauseating to facinating. By all accounts, the offense the Broncos are running these days should NOT work in the NFL. The Option has never consistently worked in professional football. But what makes this all so interesting is the amount of questions it has produced.
 
Miami Killian-grad Stephen Tulloch
tebowing after a sack of Tebow.

Can the Spread Option really work in the NFL? Did Stanford grad and Bronco VP John Elway insert Tim Tebow thinking the team would lose and he'd get the opportunity to draft Stanford's Andrew Luck? Can Tim Tebow win at the NFL level despite his unconventional style? Will the Broncos stick with the Option or will Tebow evolve into a more traditional pocket passer? Are the Broncos trying to sabotage Tebow? Does Tebow have long-term viability as a starter in the NFL? Why is Tebowing a Internet-phenomenon?

I think it's incredible that the Broncos retooled their offense in a matter of weeks and have found success. They have simplified things for their quarterback by limiting the reads for him and provided him with an attack he is comfortable running. But perhaps the most facinating thing about this entire discussion is the irony. Tebow is proving both his doubters and his supporters right... at the same time.

Doubters (myself included) feel he'll never be a true quarterback. Look at his abysmal 44.8 completion percentage, by far the lowest in the league. Look at the fact he didn't complete a single pass over the course of 60 football minutes, the equivalent of an entire game. Look at the fact he completed just 2 passes in a single game. But Supporters can point to his 4-1 record as a starter through 5 games. And, to echo Herm Edwards, you play to win the games.

For me, this Bronco offense feels like David Lee's Wildcat offense the Dolphins used in 2008. They didn't manufacture the offense. It had been used by the Vikings and Falcons in 1998, and former Dolphin offensive coordinator (and Wildcat implementor) Dan Henning used it with the Carolina Panthers in 2006. But the Dolphins used the unconventional style of play to wiggle into the playoffs that year. Teams didn't know how to defend it, so it caught them off-guard. Well, that is until Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the Baltimore Ravens came to town for a playoff game that year. The Ravens killed the Wildcat, and once other teams around the league saw the blueprint to dismantle the atypical set, they dismantled it as well. That's were I think the Bronco Spread Option Offense is headed--a quick, gimicky death.

I also think the Broncos are doing Tim Tebow a disservice by not helping him improve as a passer. By dumbing down their offense, and relying on college-style playcalling, they aren't growing their player. To win in the NFL you need a successful quarterback, but all the Broncos seem to be doing (aside from winning right now) is pounding their quarterback into a pulp. I wonder if John Elway is secretly pounding his fists against the wall with every Bronco win. I wonder if he and Bronco head coach John Fox regret making the switch to Tebow.

As I said before, I'm genetically predisposed to hate the Gators, so I'll never root for Tim Tebow. But just as the polarizing Tebow story continues, I find myself drawn to it. I want to see how it plays out. And I'm glad it's evolved as it has so far, because without it, I don't have this picture:


Jason on Halloween, as Jack Sparrow, Tebowing.

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