CORTLAND, N.Y. – Tebowmania nearly got rained out.
The expected wild scene as Jets fans descended on this central New York college town for the team's first public practice was tamed by the elements Saturday. Except for scattered cheers and a handful of hecklers shouting comments about the popular backup quarterback's penchant for holding the ball too long before throwing, it was a relatively uneventful session.
Although the sight of a thoroughly soaked Tim Tebow jogging bare-chested through the deluge after practice might have excited more than a few folks. It even left coach Rex Ryan somewhat speechless.
"Don't know if I'm there yet," Ryan said of casting off his shirt, too, even if he has lost 100 pounds.
The wet conditions seemed to cut down not only on the fans' enthusiasm, but on the number of banners on display. One man wore a green and white shirt with "Mark 6:15 Thou Shalt Have Only One Quarterback" printed on the front.
Real scripture? Not quite.
Mark would be Sanchez, the incumbent QB and the guy who wears the No. 6 jersey to Tebow's 15. The fan in the shirt, Todd Harmon of Buffalo — a tough place to be a Jets fan, he admitted — made the three-hour drive to support Sanchez, but also to observe Tebow.
"I think having him here will help Mark push through and will motivate Mark," Harmon said. "He's never had someone pushing him."
True enough. And from what everyone has seen from the fourth-year pro early in camp, he is responding. Sanchez has looked sharp, throwing darting spirals and hitting his targets in stride.
Even in a downpour.
"Mark can spin it in any conditions," Ryan said.
As for Tebow, well, as one impatient observer shouted from the grandstand as the rain pelted down: "Throw it, Tebow!" And when he connected with a receiver, the same fan added: "Wow, you completed one!"
After a wobbly toss, another fan shouted: "That's a Tebow ball!"
Yes, the natives seemed restless.
That doesn't mean they are losing faith in Tebow, whose enormous national following has made him a lightning rod wherever he has played. Give everyone a sunny day and a few precise passes from the left-hander and joy will reign in Cortland.
On this day, a few Tebow passes sailed over the intended receivers, and a simple 8-yard throw to running back Shonn Greene had plenty of wobble in it. Ryan even joked about the negative comments, "That was some of the defensive guys — just kidding."
One young lady held up a banner promising better times: "A Season To Believe — Let's Go Jets." The banner featured photos of Tebow and Greene.
Julio Ramos drove four hours from Lancaster, Pa., to see practice, specifically focusing on Tebow. Ramos draped his No. 15 green jersey over a fence and watched intently when Tebow and Sanchez did a drill together in which they take turns as passer and receiver on screen passes.
Like almost everybody else, he winced when Tebow took forever to spot a secondary receiver in another drill, and when linebacker Aaron Maybin broke in for what would have been a sack.
Ramos didn't follow Tebow when he was winning a Heisman Trophy with the Florida Gators, but became interested in the quarterback while Tebow was a Bronco. Much more than Tebow's playing style captivated Ramos.
"I read his bio about the beautiful things he's doing and I was moved by that," Ramos said. "He stands firm for what he believes in, and he has a fire to win that is contagious."
A longtime Jets fan, Ramos was excited enough by the acquisition of Tebow to buy the jersey — his only Jets jersey.
"It's awesome to see him as a Jet," Ramos said just before the river of rain hit. "When I heard he was becoming a Jet, I was excited and, in a way, concerned. There's all the drama issues and I wondered how he would handle that in New York.
"But I think he's going to make a difference."
Certainly in merchandising he will. Not only has Tebow paraphernalia been among the biggest sellers in the NFL, but among athletes in all sports.
Certainly in attention he will. More than 50 media members showed up for the opening of training camp, far more than the Giants — the Super Bowl champion Giants who share the same home stadium with the Jets — drew in Albany about two hours away from Cortland.
The lovefest, or whatever else is in store for Tebow and the Jets, didn't erupt on the first day of training camp. Mother Nature made sure of that. Consider it a brief respite in Tebowmania.