Since 2010, most people have considered Tim Tebow more of an internet sensation than a football player. The college phenom was a sudden burst of light in the NFL, taking the Broncos to the second round of the playoffs in 2011, before slowly burning out in a disastrous 2012 stay with the Jets and an unsuccessful try-out with the Patriots in 2013. Just like that, Tebow’s NFL career fizzled away completely in less than four years.
The former Heisman-winner is now a 27-year-old ESPN analyst, but stories of his dream to return to the NFL have occasionally filled small columns in the sports section or flashed across the bottom banner of ESPN 2. The story of a Tebow return has turned into more of a tabloid piece than anything else, and it shouldn’t have. It’s a unique story to be sure, but it’s not as outlandish as most might think.
Critics laugh off the thought of Tebow’s return by quoting the stats. They’re not wrong. Tebow completed 50% of passes in 2010, and 46.5% in 2011’s playoff season. With those numbers, the only glimpse Tebow will catch of a scout is his back as he walks briskly in the opposite direction.
But the numbers fail to explain that one strange 2011 season, when a quarterback who threw for 46.5% led his team to a division title and a playoff victory. The critics fail to realize this one amazing fact. This ugly, ridiculous, wonderful fact. A quarterback who can’t throw took his team to the playoffs…and won a game.
Tim Tebow may not be a skilled quarterback, but he’s a winner. He doesn’t put up great numbers, but he finds a way to win. What he lacks in technique and accuracy, he makes up for in athleticism, instincts, and will. And it worked against the toughest teams in the NFL.
After the trade to the Jets, Tebow was initially supposed to team up with Mark Sanchez to run a two-quarterback system. In reality, he was lucky to play a handful of snaps each game. Tebow was barely used, throwing eight times and running 32 times over his 12 healthy games. He was not given the opportunity to contribute to the team. Instead, he had a front-row seat for the Jets’ pitiful 6-10 campaign. He may not have been able to save the Jets from a disastrous season, but he was never even given the chance.
During Tebow’s one season with the Jets, he was turned into a backup. And then he turned into an injured backup after breaking his ribs against the Seahawks. No GM in the league is interested in an injured backup. It’s a cruel business with a short-term memory, and Tebow was quickly forgotten.
The next year, Tebow was suiting up in ESPN studios in a business suit and running plays on a smartboard, and he’s been there ever since. Most people would be content with ESPN paychecks and memories from the big time, but Tebow never was. “I will remain in relentless pursuit of continuing my lifelong dream of being an NFL quarterback,” he said. And he’s stuck to it.
Unsuccessful try-outs with the Patriots, and more recently, the Eagles, were met with laughter by football fans everywhere. But Tebow keeps on pushing. He continues to work out. He’s trained with Tom House, who previously worked with Tom Brady and Drew Brees. He’s doing everything he can to improve.
There’s a reason his two try-outs have been with Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly, two very successful coaches. They see something in him. Even if he didn’t make either team, they both saw something in him to justify a try-out.
The fact is, Tebow will never be a starting quarterback in the NFL again. He just doesn’t have the skill set. But he can be an NFL player again, if he’s given the chance. Coaches and analysts alike have pointed out Tebow’s potential in a variety of roles, from special teams to tight end. He has the athleticism, he has the work ethic, he has the drive, and he has that invaluable, indescribable winning quality found in the most successful names in sports. He may not start in any position. But he can earn a roster spot. And who knows, maybe he’ll make a big play in a clutch situation. He’s shown he can in the past.
The point is, redemption takes two sides. The man can’t do a thing if he isn’t given the opportunity. It’s hard to believe a struggling team won’t take a chance on him. He certainly wouldn’t take up much cap space. Whether it’s a desperate team willing to try anything, or an experienced coach with a trained eye, someone may very well pick him up.
I think we’ll see Tebow in a football jersey again. I have no idea what jersey he’ll be wearing, or what position he’ll be playing, or even how old he’ll be, but he’s shown that he’ll stop at nothing to reach his goal, and I don’t see him wavering any time soon. It’s a compelling story. And I don’t think it’s over just yet.
Photo: Jack Dempsey/The AP