The last time Tim Tebow played in his hometown, he was a backup quarterback used only on running plays.
Not much has changed in two years.
Tebow will make his second homecoming Sunday when the New York Jets (5-7) travel to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars (2-10). This time, it's unclear whether Tebow even will be active for the game.
The former Florida star and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner is still recovering from two broken ribs that have sidelined him the last two games. Tebow was limited again at practice Thursday, but is throwing passes at full force for the first time in a few weeks.
He's hopeful he will be healthy enough to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Mark Sanchez, especially since he will have so many friends, family members and faithful supporters at the game.
"It's definitely special for me and I'm looking forward to it," Tebow said.
Tebow made his NFL debut in Jacksonville in the 2010 season opener. He carried twice for 2 yards in Denver's 24-17 loss to the Jaguars. A portion of the 63,636 on hand — Jacksonville's largest crowd that season — came just to see the hometown hero.
The stands should be packed this time around, too. The Jaguars announced last week that they are removing tarps in one upper-deck section to meet an increased demand for tickets.
All that perceived local love for Tebow had new Jaguars owner Shad Khan considering trading for him in March.
Khan, who said Tebow was "special to Jacksonville," told general manager Gene Smith to explore the possibility of acquiring Tebow after the Broncos signed Peyton Manning and started quietly shopping the former first-round draft pick.
Smith and his staff had decided to pass on Tebow with the 10th pick in the 2010 draft, even though then-owner Wayne Weaver believed the college football icon could help sell tickets in one of the NFL's smallest and newest markets. Instead, the Jaguars selected Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu.
Smith showed Khan all the pre-draft research they had done on Tebow, most of it pointing to him not being a starting-caliber, NFL quarterback. Nonetheless, the new owner wanted to see what it would take to get Tebow to Jacksonville.
"We explored the possibilities," Khan recalled last month. "I wanted them to look at it and see if it made sense. I think it's public record what we did and what turned out."
The Jaguars increased their offer several times. By the end of negotiations, Jacksonville had offered a fourth-round pick and agreed to pay $3 million of the $5 million in advance salary the Broncos had already paid Tebow. The money the Jaguars offered was better than the little more than $2.5 million the Jets agreed to pay, and the draft pick was nine spots higher than New York's fourth-round selection.
But it never really got down to the details.
The Broncos told the Jaguars they were allowing Tebow to choose between the teams, and Khan believes Tebow picked the Jets because he felt he would have a better chance to compete for the quarterback job with Sanchez than Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne.
"It's historical fact what we did, what his choices were," Khan said.
Tebow, though, tells a different story.
"At the end of the day, it wasn't my choice," Tebow said. "I'm very blessed and thankful they let me have input in it and coach (John) Fox and Mr. (John) Elway talked to me about it. Ultimately, it was their decision. I woke up one morning hearing I was a New York Jet. ... I would have loved to play for both organizations, but I am a Jet. I'm glad I'm a Jet. I'm looking forward to this game and going back home."
Tebow has been primarily a short-yardage runner this season. He has 29 carries for 87 yards, and has completed 6 of 7 passes 39 yards.
"I think his role actually was going to increase and then he had the injury," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "The way teams are attacking us may be a little different, but when we signed Tim, I actually thought that he was going to be a bigger part of our offense. That unfortunately hasn't happened that way to this date, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. ... I am excited that he's on our football team. I have never regretted trading for Tim because he does bring so much with him as far as the positive type person he is and the type of competitor he is. You love to surround yourself with tough competitive people, and certainly Tim would be one of those guys at the top of that list."
The Jaguars, meanwhile, haven't had much to say about Tebow's return. They respect what he did at Florida and his cult-like following, and don't seem to mind the fact that he will garner so much attention Sunday — even if he doesn't leave the sideline.
"That's just the NFL and that's the way things kind of unfold," Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said. "I like to talk about our players."
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