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Gainesville on the Rockies


Well, ever since the inept 1-4 Broncos, in despair, turned the team over to Tim Tebow against the Chargers back in October, the fair city of Denver has been in thrall to a drama I know well.

Long-time readers will recall that I am a native son of Denver, Colorado; but I have made Georgia my home for over a decade. And Georgia being SEC country, I could not possibly avoid the phenomenon of Tim Tebow, arguably the most successful quarterback in college football history.

Folks out West are often astonished to learn how decisively college football exceeds the NFL in the esteem of Southern football fans. “Pro football is just something to watch when we’re hungover” is the boast I’ve occasionally heard.

Similarly, only a transplant to the South can gain anything approaching objectivity as regards the Southeastern Conference in college football. I tend to favor Georgia out of states rights sentiment, but it is a mere lark compared to the intensity of real Bulldog fans — or Roll Tide! fans, or War Eagle fans, or wild crazy Cajun Geaux Tigers fans — or Gator fans.

Thus the Tebow drama a few years back during his outstanding career as quarterback of the Florida Gators kind of washed over me without disrupting the deeper emotions. I admired the kid’s competitive spirit, his earnest Christianity, his football excellence; but it was a detached admiration. I could still appreciate the animus reserved for him by a Georgia or LSU or Alabama fan.

And now here I am, deeply invested emotionally in the improbable success of young Tim Tebow, whose fate is now entwined with the QB hero of my own youth in Denver: I mean, of course, the great John Elway.

So it’s like Gainesville on the Rockies.

After absolutely awful play for 4 ½ games, from all positions but prominently from the QB position, the Denver Broncos pulled their starter and sent out the kid. They did not expect much. 24-year-old Tebow was said to be a poor passer, whose mechanics left him bereft of the indispensable tools to win in the NFL. All through the summer and early fall we heard about how plainly Tebow had earned the backup position, never having even threatened to convince the coaches to start him.

And then amazing happened*.

Tebow won 5 out first 6 games he started. In four of them he led rivieting late-game comebacks: true football heroics, worthy of Elway. In all of the games (even the very ugly loss) he demonstrated toughness, agility, strength, and caution. In several of them he endured miserable pass protection and got tossed around like a ragdoll. He threw the ball rarely. Instead, he dinked around for several quarters with gadget plays, inside running, and safe throws deep down the field; and then, late in the game, he put his talents to work brilliantly. He crowned evasiveness with a taste for judicious contact. And he passed better.

He deftly faked defensive-ends numerous times. He displayed an extraordinary knack for following blockers on QB dive plays, avoiding hits and gaining solid yards. He’s as big as a linebacker. He swatted aside the vaunted Derrelle Revis (whom he admittedly outweighs by 40 pounds) on a tough run late in the game against the Jets. He takes hits, of course, and the question of his staying healthy is a serious one.

His passing across the games has indeed been below average. But also well below average in the critical stat of giveaways. The kid has thrown exactly one interception this year. His numbers decisively improve when operating the hurry-style late-game offense. Yesterday against the Chargers at the end of the first half, he made several tight-spiral, on-time throws, including a brilliant one for a touchdown to Eric Decker.

According to ESPN, in the 4th quarter with the game on the line, Tebow averages nearly 15 yards per pass and over 6 per run. Not too shabby.

In all five wins, Tebow has been a solid quarterback in addition to being among the best running-backs on the field.

Through all this Tim Tebow continues to arouse a noticeable sneer and dismissal from an intransigent portion of the football commentariat, whose judgment seems frequently impaired by personal bias. The commentators will advert toward Cam Newton (another SEC product of high talent) as an obviously superior QB talent, on the grounds of his gaudier passing style and numbers, without realizing that Newton had a chance to beat out Tebow for the starting spot at Florida and failed. The man who stuck with Tebow over Newton just inked a deal to coach at Ohio State for many millions, but what do Ohio State and the University of Florida know about football?

Likewise the criticism of Tebow seems to partake of a larger and more pregnant failure: an implicit denigration of the quality of football that goes on in the SEC. The two defenses that will (in all likelihood, and for a second time this season) face off in the National Championship this year in college football exemplify that quality. Raise your hand if, when thinking hard on it, you estimate that SEC quarterbacks of the past five years have had an easy time of it, facing off against SEC linebackers and defensive lines.

Football is a funny game. You can win it with elegant brilliance, as with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers; or you can win it bruising and ugly-like, by just sort of grinding the opponent to exhaustion. The Broncos are doing it the latter way. Their defense is very formidable. They have numerous playmakers and they put constant pressure on the opposing QB. Coach John Fox deserves immense credit for the improvement in scheme and toughness. On offense, they have recaptured the Denver tradition (which, when finally added to a QB of Elway’s caliber, brought home two Championships to the city) of building off the running game. Tebow naturally thrives in the chaotic finales of football games. He’s better unscripted; ugly plays very frequently turn out in his favor. In this context his lack of bad mistakes (read: turnovers) may be his most telling quality. He prospers in ugly games in part because he doesn’t add to the ugliness with bad decisions.

The Broncos are far from a perfect team. Tebow, already limited as a passer, is basically throwing to two slot receivers and a collection of TEs. His guys have dropped quite a few catchable balls. Daniel Fells nearly blew the game yesterday with a fumble. GA Tech alumnus Demaryius Thomas has yet to break out as a serious threat deep. Broncos’ brass probably regrets the facility with which it dealt away the team’s best wideout midseason.

But this is still a great story. The Tebow magic must be fun to watch from a mile high.


* — I took this phrase from an old friend, longtime Broncos fan, and transplant to another big city whose heart still beats for Denver sports, as shown by his Tebowing image above.

Comments (16)

Why the Arizona pic?

You can Tebow anywhere,al.

most successful quarterback in college football history

I know a gentleman named Johnny Lujack who would like to have a chat with you.

It is certainly a fun time to be a Broncos fan. I hope Tebow perseveres.

Speaking of pregnant failures, is it difficult to think that any media animus against Tebow could have anything to do with his pro-life, anti-abortion ad airing during the Super Bowl? His frankness on being a virgin in college? His demurral on being chosen for Playboy's all-American collegiate squad? His being home schooled by his Baptist missionary parents?

Those things have emphatically influenced the persistent hostility he's faced. No question on that.

A great post. My father spent 20 years in the Air Force with 6 as a professor at the Academy in Colorado Springs during the 1980's when I was little. Elway was my hero growing up, even after we moved to Northern Virginia in 1988. Watching Tebow and the Broncos play these last 6 weeks has been the most fun I've had watching any sport since Elway was winning Super Bowls in the late 90's. Tebow is great for football and he is great for Christianity. He is a natural leader who seeks to embody the cardinal virtues of courage, prudence, temperance and justice. I think his teammates agree. This after the Bronco's latest win on Sunday:

Denver coach John Fox asked Tebow to address the team the night before this AFC West showdown. The quarterback fell back on what he knew best, and inspired the troops by quoting from the Old Testament.

"He said iron sharpens iron and men sharpen other men. And I think that's totally true," [Von] Miller said. "He gave us a great speech. We came out (for the game) fired up. And that was a wrap.”….. "Just having that guy around, it makes us better men. I think he plays for us, and he makes us want to play for him."

His numbers decisively improve when operating the hurry-style late-game offense.

I was watching one of those terrible "discussion" shows on ESPN by accident last week, and one of the guys made the shamelessly provocative claim that he would pick Tim Tebow over Aaron Rodgers during the last two minutes of a close game. After a moment of stunned disbelief, it looked for a second like his debate opponent was going to leap across the table to punish his heresy.

Although I'm not a fan of Tebow at this point, he is extremely good at reading defenses and also like you said, not making costly mistakes. He is also incredibly lucky to have a coach who will redesign his entire offense to support his particular style of play.

That was Skip Bayless, Step2. He's been a Tebow backer for months, long before it was fashionable; and he was probably feeling rather flushed in vindication. The point about Rodgers is nuts, but he did later qualify it by saying, in effect, "we just haven't seen Rodgers trying to come from behind late in a game. The Packers are so good that Rodgers never has to."

I agree with what you say, Andrew E. Tebow has been great for the game. His postgame interviews are usually models of humility and encouragement. He thanks the Lord and he thanks his coaches and teammates. So often American sports are infused with the modern spirit of classless self-absorption. Just look at what these jackass wide receivers do when they score touchdowns. (I don't recall them pulling that stuff back before the rules were changed, making it basically illegal for a defensive-back to lay a hit on a receiver over the middle.) This kid is really a breath of fresh air.

Being in New Jersey it is always amazing how many people have been converted into Broncos fans because of John Elway. It is a wonderful thing. Tebow may be the most crystal clear example of the "It" factor. Everyone can plainly see the way his character and competitiveness inspires everyone around him. That quote from Von Miller is telling. And although Tebow has done some very good things in the final stages of the game, the way the team has played, especially on defense, since he took the helm has been the key to these victories, and shows how he influences everyone else. It is not Tebow making plays, but the Broncos making plays.

Lest anyone mistake Tebow's success thus far as a quarterback as mostly a product of his intangibles, which are immense, Sports Illustrated did some analysis on his actual on-field production. Here is a taste, which suggests that Tebow literally is his nickname Timmy Touchdown:

But Tebow himself has been deadly with the ball in his hands. He produces touchdowns at an amazing clip, better than any quarterback in football in his brief career. Here's a comparison of Tebow vs. some of the more prolific quarterbacks in recent history.

Career percentage of touches that result in a TD:
Tim Tebow -- 6.0 percent
Aaron Rodgers -- 5.7 percent
Peyton Manning -- 5.5 percent
Tom Brady -- 5.1 percent
Drew Brees -- 4.7 percent
John Elway -- 3.9 percent

Wow. Tebow may not pass the ball effectively. But he's produced an incredible 22 touchdowns (13 passing, nine rushing) in just 368 touches (225 pass attempts, 121 rush attempts, 22 sacks). Nobody in football gets the ball in the end zone more often.

Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/kerry_byrne/11/29/tim.tebow/index.html#ixzz1fCf5Fugo

There is an English scientist named Rupert Sheldrake who has done some work on what he calls morphic fields, which are part of a hypothesis he suggests may explain some observable phenomena--such as when some people are aware that someone is staring at them even though this person cannot be seen. In other words, our personhood extends beyond our physical body and can influence other people (somewhat like a magnet can influence surrounding matter via magnetic fields). I tried explaining to some friends one Sunday that I think Tebow has a much stronger than average morphic field. I only got blank stares in return.

Those are impressive stats; but my guess is that, if you expanded the sample size to "all quarterbacks who have ever started 10 games in the NFL," you'd find some wild outliers. In other words, Tebow's impressive resume needs to be extended over time, then we'll know for sure whether his morphic field is wider than the average NFL QB.

My biggest hesitation, even as a huge Tebow fan, is that the NFL hits will wear down his ability to run, and then he'll quickly become less effective due to constant nagging injury.

No evidence of this yet. He has been very durable so far.

Now look here at this -- Andrew E. has produced three or four straight comments with no appeal to return to the Gold Standard!

I kid. I kid.

As a Southern football fan myself, I have to take issue with your blanket characterization of us as being indifferent to NFL football. That's because I hail from New Orleans, epicenter of WhoDat Nation, the most passionate fans in all of sport. We're going to love watching the NCAA return to the Purple and Gold Standard in January...but only as a warmup to the NFL playoffs. Another Lombardi is what we really want.

As for Tebow, forget the odd throwing motion. If someone can just teach him to be accurate, it won't matter what it looks like. I suggest he spend some time with Drew Brees in the offseason. Or maybe go to Peyton's camp in Thibodaux.

Tebow would never cower before the Nanny State and wear a helmet while mountain-biking. No real man would.

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