Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Quarterback Who Couldn't Throw Straight

Tebowing the critics
by Robert A. Waters

There once was a left-handed running quarterback who couldn’t throw straight. After his first two years in the NFL, the talking heads in the media labeled him a “bust.” Nobody believed he could pilot a team to a league championship, much less a national title. After his first two years, he’d thrown 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

A columnist for the Boston Globe wrote: “[He] probably has gotten more publicity for doing less than just about anyone in the history of pro football.” In one game, he threw for only 39 yards, in another, 83.

In 1987, that quarterback, Steve Young, was traded from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the San Francisco 49ers. The rest is history. Over the next 12 years, he guided his team to three Super Bowl championships. Young, now a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, won a record six passing titles and still has one of the highest overall passer ratings ever recorded.

The new whipping boy for the sports media is a running left-handed quarterback named Tim Tebow. Fans love him, but pundits have mercilessly savaged his “awkward” passing delivery. During his four years at the University of Florida, he threw for 9,286 yards, 88 touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions, but those getting paid to tell America what to think about sports have convinced many that he can't throw.

After the Denver Broncos took Tebow in the first round of the NFL draft, ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd said, “You go out and get a college rah rah quarterback who will play for a year and a half at best.” Uh, it's going on two years and Tebow's performing at white-hot heat.

Before he was promoted to Denver's starting quarterback, ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said, “It’s embarrassing to think the Broncos could win with Tebow!” The lefty immediately won six out of seven games, which would be an embarrassment to most prognosticators but evidently not to Hoge. After Tebow took his Broncos from 1-4 to 7-5, the great talking heads changed their mantra from “he can’t win” to “he can’t have a successful long-term career.”

ESPN The Magazine columnist Howard Bryant wrote: “The public won't be able to ignore Tebow's failings forever. Wait until the NFL has a season's worth of game film on him. My suspicion is that merit will return Tebow to the bench, where his season started.” Bryant forgot to mention that after Tebow and his coaches study film for another year, they may figure out some new ways to confound defenses.

Before the New York Jets game, each of the NFL Network analysts predicted the Broncos would lose. The Jets defense was just too good, they said. Not only that, coach Rex Ryan wrote the book on how to stop the read option, which is what Tebow sometimes runs. After the kid led his team 95 yards for the winning score, the talking heads whose predictions were wrong interviewed him. They flatly told him that it was his "will, not skill," that won the game. Tebow ignored their condescending attitudes and replied with good humor and apparent honesty.

In the Broncos game with the Minnesota Vikings, Tebow threw for two touchdown passes, surprising the pundits but not the fans. Denver won 35-32.

Although they deny it, many fans suspect some analysts have a cultural dislike of Tebow. In a league filled with thugs and convicted felons, the young quarterback is quick to proclaim his Christian beliefs. But what really cranks the critics is that he seems to actually try to live by his faith. Jake Plummer, a former Broncos quarterback, took umbrage with Tebow's prayerful pose during football games. "I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ," Plummer said, "then I think I'll like him a little better." Plummer is the same guy who once pled no contest to groping three women in a bar.

Unlike many who represent the NFL "brand," Tebow is probably not going to get arrested for snorting coke, starting barroom brawls, or shooting himself. While in college, he was never convicted of stealing a laptop or accused of selling his football skills to the highest bidder. The fact is, as Roger Goodell recognizes, many football fans are fed up with the behavior of some NFL players.

Whether Tim Tebow can continue to be successful at the professional level depends on many factors, including luck, avoiding injury, continuing to improve on his weaknesses, spending his career with an organization that will let him play to his strengths while he “grows” to professional maturity, etc.

But as the analysts critique Tim Tebow, they might do well to remember Steve Young. In his first two years, he compiled dismal stats. On September 21, 1986, in a loss to the Detroit Lions, Bucs quarterback Young completed six passes out of fifteen attempts for only 39 yards.

On October 5, 1986, against the Los Angeles Rams, the future Hall of Famer put up some woeful numbers. In the first half, he completed only two out of seven passes for 19 yards. He ended up connecting on only eight passes for 83 yards.

I have no crystal ball into the future. Tim Tebow may flop like many before him. But in a few years, it wouldn't surprise me to see the unorthodox lefty lead his team to a Super Bowl championship.

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