Published March 19, 2010
Only weeks ago, Tim Tebow's prospects as an NFL quarterback were considered dim at best, and more widely regarded as a joke. Now, just as suddenly, the cult of prognostication has deemed them legit.
Reading and watching the dispatches from Pro Day in Gainesville, an event that would've been more accurately described as Tebow Day, I couldn't help but wonder if the press and the public had become conspirators in a form of mass psychosis.
The crowd at the Swamp was estimated at 3,000 -- about 75 of them delegates from NFL teams -- endowing what was ostensibly a scouting mission with the look and feel of a pep rally. "If it had been a sunny day," said Browns president Mike Holmgren, "we might have filled this place."
Tebow threw the ball for half an hour. He threw to receivers with whom he was accustomed, on a field where he'd been deified.
Anyone who saw his career at Florida, even pieces of it, would concede he earned every bit of adulation. Still, the exhibition was something short of the miracle it was made out to be. Tebow will be 23 this summer, and to hear the breathlessly optimistic take on Pro Day, it took him little more than a month to unlearn a young lifetime of bad football habits.
In fact, just six weeks since his Senior Bowl debacle, Tebow demonstrated a tighter spiral, shorter steps and a higher grasp and a quicker release. Unfortunately, it wasn't a game; it was basically an exercise in pretend. There were no tacklers, no would-be tacklers, no pressure. But when it was over, the gallery deemed its man a huge winner over his imagined foes. Those in attendance seemed gleefully oblivious to the fact that their emperor wore no pads.
I can't blame them, either. No one who ever cheered for Tim Tebow felt cheated, and that, it now occurs, might be something of a problem.
You can't help but root for the guy. First, there's the matter of his talent, which is unlike any ever before seen. I recall the 2008 BCS championship game between Florida and Oklahoma. It had begun inauspiciously for Tebow, the first sophomore to win a Heisman trophy. By halftime, he'd already thrown two interceptions. But he would finish as the game's Outstanding Player, with a crazy line in the stat sheet: 18 of 30 for 231 yards passing, and 22 carries for another 109 yards.
There have been plenty of quarterbacks who could run, but none like Tebow. He did more than shed tacklers. He was the first quarterback built to bruise.
What's more, there's an earnest and ingenuous quality to this kid, the son of missionaries. I don't begrudge his role in politicizing the Super Bowl, what with his right to life ads. I don't care so much what he believes; I care that he believes so devoutly.
And that he works so hard. Recall early in that championship season, Florida was upset by Ole Miss. "A lot of good will come out of this," an emotional Tebow said. "You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season, and you will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push the rest of the season."
And guess what? He was right. He did.
But now Tebow believes that success as an NFL quarterback can be attained by the same work ethic. Good for him. Just don't get your hopes up.
Yes, I know he's a winner. But one can argue that all the Heisman Trophy quarterbacks -- including those who ran, and those who could not -- were winners. That doesn't mean they made good pros. Tebow may be a new prototype, but he's not a new story.
Consider the 22 quarterbacks who have won college football's most famous award since 1950: Paul Hornung, Terry Baker, Roger Staubach, John Huarte, Steve Spurrier, Gary Beban, Jim Plunkett, Pat Sullivan, Doug Flutie, Vinny Testaverde, Andre Ware, Ty Detmer, Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Carson Palmer, Jason White, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith, Tebow and Sam Bradford.
Putting aside Tebow and Bradford, they include two members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Staubach and Hornung, who went to Canton as a running back.
Three legit starters: Plunkett, Testaverde and Palmer.
One CFL great in Flutie.
An NBA point guard in Ward.
And 16 busts, guys who couldn't make it as NFL quarterbacks.
Still, Tebow and his legions should take heart. As it pertains to the class of 2010, he'll be the first fullback to throw for a touchdown.