Have You Accepted Tim Tebow as Your QB and Sunday Savior?
BY DEVIN GORDONPHOTOGRAPH BY MARK SELIGER
The Jets locker room at the team's suburban New Jersey training facility is shaped like a giant oval, with broad stalls ringing the walls and immaculately chiseled men lounging naked in front of them, oblivious to the crowd of reporters, male and female, who vibrate around like jittery molecules in search of someone undistracted enough to submit to an interview. Most of these players will be asked about Tim Tebow today, and the next day, and on and on, and it's hard not to wonder if they're already sick of it. A few reporters loiter in front of Tebow's locker until a Jets staffer comes in to announce that Tim's going to be a while, so they slouch away.
Today is day two of the Jets three-day mini-camp, the 2012 season's first o∞cial stretch of practices, and this is the only day during which Mark Sanchez, the Jets first-string quarterback, and Tebow, his newly acquired (from the Denver Broncos) and considerably more famous, polarizing, and cultural-phenomenon-y backup, will be made available to the media, which is why there are so many of us here.
I am here for a slightly different reason. See, the events of this off-season have put me in a bind. The Jets are my team. Tim Tebow is now a New York Jet. And I do not like Tim Tebow. I am here to see if I can change my own mind. This isn't about trying to see into his soul, like Bush sizing up Putin. I just want to see if I can like him—if I can make myself like him. It's easy to be a hater from afar. The closer you get, the harder it gets.
Sanchez walks into the locker room, and all of the molecules zip in his direction. As the scrum gathers, one of the Jets defensive stars, Antonio Cromartie, mock-serenades the reporters from across the room: "Hey, Mark, is it a competition between you and Tebow? Come on, Mark!"
The Jets PR staff handles today's Sanchez-Tebow locker-room theatrics with perfect synchronicity. The two QBs do not overlap. Moments after Sanchez heads out, Tebow waltzes in. The charitable interpretation here is that the Jets are simply being helpful, sparing reporters from having to make a Sophie's Choice about which guy to get quotes from. Less kind, but probably no less true, is that they do it to protect Sanchez from the humiliation of having to watch a far bigger crowd gather around his backup. (And there is no question that's what would've happened.)
This is all deeply unfair to Sanchez, and even though it's not Tebow's fault, it represents a major obstacle in my quest to like him. In just three seasons as a pro, Sanchez has twice led the Jets to the AFC title game, and unlike Tebow, he has never been blown out in the postseason. Yet all the intangibles that Tebow is said to possess in spades—confidence, the capacity to lead and motivate—Sanchez is said to lack. This part, at least, isn't unreasonable. At times, Sanchez can seem riven by self-doubt. Whereas Tebow inspires belief, something about Sanchez inspires skepticism, even though (and this is the key thing, or at least you'd think it would be) the actual results are almost always better with Sanchez.
And yet here is Sanchez exiting stage right so that Tebow can have the floor. This is probably more unfairness. Maybe Tebow was made to wait so that Sanchez could go first. But you'd be a fool to believe no one on the Jets put any thought into it.
No matter: It's almost Tebow Time.
Before I explain my Tebow problem, let's give Him His due: The miraculous playoff win in January over the Pittsburgh Steelers was huge—easily the best line on His lord-and-savior résumé. Let's acknowledge that it was His bullet pass to Demaryius Thomas—which the Broncos wideout turned into a game-ending eighty-yard touchdown on the very first play of overtime, a thunderclap from the heavens if ever there was one—that put the Broncos into the next round. Let's even ignore, for just a moment, what happened one week later in New England, when the Patriots crushed the Broncos, 45–10, and made Tim Tebow look like the overmatched college goofus that many people still consider Him to be. In that Steelers game, Tebow defied and impressed His doubters. As even Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs (a well-placed doubter) told this very magazine back in February: "Jaw is on the floor!"
(Incidentally, just a couple of months after GQ printed those words in a story about Tebow—a story in which Suggs was mostly uncomplimentary—Suggs blew out his Achilles tendon, jeopardizing his entire 2012 season. Hmm...)
But. About that Steelers game. Anyone who follows the NFL closely knows that Pittsburgh was a paper tiger last season. Old. Slow. Exhausted from too many playoff runs. A bad team having a good day could knock them off, and that's exactly what Denver did. And if I really want to be a prick about it, I can pick apart Tebow's role. His game-winning throw was, by NFL standards, an easy one—right over the middle, to a wide-open receiver—and it was actually slightly behind Thomas. He had to break stride to grab it. And anyway, it was Thomas, not Tebow, whose textbook stiff-arm turned that play from a nice gain into a long score. How come no one's worshipping him?
Because Tebow is inspiring! He's got heart! He's a born leader of men! All he does is win! Right. I forgot. Here is where the cult of Tim Tebow departs from the world of measurable fact and enters the realm of religiosity, where every one of his accomplishments, no matter how modest—Oh, my goodness, he beat the deeply ****ty Miami Dolphins!—gets transformed into evidence of divine Providence, simply because Tebow says it is. Never mind that 75 percent of all football players credit Jesus after every win. Tebow's devout Christianity is devoutier than yours. When he thanks Jesus, Jesus winks back.
This, really, is the root of my beef with Tebowmania: It has nothing to do with football. It's a sales pitch—a sensation built on evangelism, not ability, powered by people who see a chance to turn the NFL into the next front of the culture war. And now that culture war is coming to my team.
Photos from Photo shoot