posted 2012-04-07 16:04:13

How I Learned To Love Tebowmania

And why Jets fans should too

Ben Wynns

Staff Writer

As an alienated teenager growing up in South Carolina in the mid-2000s, it was almost too easy to dislike then- Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow. The Heisman trophy winner represented everything I hated about the Deep South— the outspoken fundamentalist religion, the overly friendly “aw shucks” personality, and the insufferable bluster and hype that thrives in SEC football all contributed to that. And the fact that he always seemed to save his only decent passing performances for games against the South Carolina Gamecocks didn’t help.

But like me, Tebow has had a strange journey in the past several years since that has finally landed him in New York City, and somehow I can’t wait for the show to start.

Upon entering the NFL, Tebow has shifted from being a Bible Belt folk hero to an NFL iconoclast, and it only seems to make sense (or at least a bizarre version of sense) that the league’s most polarizing player has been acquired by the league’s most polarizing team, the New York Jets.

When Tebow was first drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2010, he became a whipping boy for the army of self- important analysts that cover the 24-hour media machine that is the NFL. According to experts like draft guru Mel Kiper, Tebow would be “screwed” in any sort of conventional, modern NFL offense.

And they were right. Tebow is an absolute train wreck of a passing quarterback, with an awkward throwing motion that would look like a granny pass even on a middle school sandlot. Even during his miraculous run last season with the Broncos, Tebow ranked near the bottom of the league in every major passing statistic.

But what these pundits failed to recognize (or don’t want to recognize) is that NFL football might not be as technocratic and coach-dominated as they want it to be. While Tebow might throw balls into the dirt more often than most quarterbacks, his rushing ability and improvisational skills proved incredibly difficult for opposing defenses to handle last season, especially in the fourth quarter of games kept tight by the Broncos’ defense. In ways, Tebow resembles a quarterback less than he does a point guard in basketball or an attacking midfielder in soccer, moving around and creating plays wherever he can find them.

For years, the circuit of ex-players and coaches who are paid to tell us what the NFL is all about wanted us to believe that the NFL is purely an Xs and Os coach’s game with little room for creativity and invention by the players themselves. If Tebowmania taught us anything last year, it’s that Merrill Hoge and Trent Dilfer can be completely wrong.

And besides, who cares about that on-field stuff anyway? Between the “Tebowing” memes that swept the internet and the blockbuster press conferences that alternate between bizarre, sycophantic reporters’ questions and goofily earnest answers (usually involving Jesus), Tebowmania went from a regional cult sensation to a nation-wide phenomenon.

So now all of this comes to the Big Apple. A general consensus has developed since the Jets acquisition of Tebow (who, if you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks, was deemed expendable by the Broncos after Denver’s signing of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning) that the circus that follows the quarterback will only spell disaster for the already troubled Jets organization.

The line goes that pressure on current starting quarterback Mark Sanchez (who might be the second-most polarizing quarterback in the league after Tebow) will build from fans and the media, leaving him vulnerable to a benching at the inevitable first sign of struggle this season.

This theory ignores several factors found in the context of the move. For one, head coach Rex Ryan and the front office has made clear that Tebow will be playing frequently for the Jets even while Sanchez remains the starting quarterback. The offense-phobic Ryan has been doing his best to erase passing from football for years already, and Tebow has potential to be his greatest success in this regard.

Tebow would operate the wildcat package that new Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano ran while coaching in Miami and that the Jets found some success with using wide receiver Brad Smith in recent seasons. Between this and goal line situations where Tebow’s large frame and running ability could be crucial, Tebow will be on the field and touching the ball frequently, tempering the calls for a new quarterback that would come if Tebow were completely shut off from the field.

In addition, the move covers a couple of weak spots the Jets had been needing to address this offseason in one fell swoop. The ability and differing dimensions Tebow brings to the running game (despite his passing issues, he was the leading rusher among quarterbacks last season) removes the need for the Jets to acquire a top running back to replace the departing LaDainian Tomlinson. In addition, Tebow’s positive presence could go a long way towards maintaining harmony in a Jets locker room that was crippled by anxiety and personal disputes over the course of last year’s 8-8 season.

So now Tebow has followed me to New York and I’ll get to watch the circus unfold on my favorite team, in the city I live in. Whereas I might have been disgusted by this occurrence had it happened two years ago, the journey taken by Tebowmania, Tebow Time, The Big Tebowski- whichever you prefer- makes me oddly excited for what could be the sort of grand spectacle that makes sports so much fun in the first place. A larger-than-life player like Tebow and an outsized team like the Jets makes much more sense than one first thinks, and for it all to take place in the world’s media capital means one thing for sure—this will certainly not be a boring season at MetLife Stadium.