If, in the next few years, Tim Tebow comes out with a book entitled Gotcha! How I Used My Collegiate Football Celebrity to Con My Way Through a Decade in Professional Sports, we’ll happily redact everything we’re about to say. Until that moment, buckle up for a little appreciation post, on this, likely his final day in the NFL.
The 33-year-old quarterback turned outfielder turned experimental tight end was released by the Jaguars on Tuesday morning to a flurry of jokes and criticism (self included). It came not long after we spent the weekend watching him flail as an attempted blocker (again and again) and wander aimlessly as an attempted wide receiver. There was almost no way that Urban Meyer could keep him on the roster and maintain that he’s still attempting to run a meritocracy. Indeed, there were snaps during Jacksonville’s preseason opener that looked as though Tebow was actually putting his teammates in danger, which is probably what moved the needle from cheeky, novel experiment toward reckless disaster. One would hope that Meyer saw better blocking out of Tebow in training camp before willingly calling a play where someone else’s safety hinged on him running the correct route depth or chipping another defender.
That said, Tebow went into this knowing that he would be the butt of our jokes. He went into this knowing that, like his attempt to reach the Mets, he would be lampooned for every fish-out-of-water moment. He went into this knowing that some of us would use his religion, something that is vital to his daily existence and a tool of outreach he uses to try to inspire others, as a jumping off point for cheap shots. This is not to suggest he’s a martyr of any kind, or deserves any more sympathy than the next person. It’s merely a recognition that this was probably mostly an uncomfortable experience. He put himself out there, like we all should from time to time, and got nothing out of it except for the firm realization that his athletic career has come to an end.
It would be hard to imagine, outside of the few checks he collected, that this was a joy ride for Tebow. While we rarely get this kind of closure in our own lives, and that in itself is valuable, to live it out so publicly, from minor league bust to first cut at training camp, cannot feel like anything but a shot to the gut; a repeated reminder that it’s time to move on. There is loads of money to be made as a former Heisman Trophy winner who sits around merely suggesting that if I were around today I’d be scoring 40 touchdowns a year, and some analysts play the role artfully. Tebow, instead, spent his prime athletic years trying to make it as a punt gunner, and again as a utility tight end.
In the past, we’ve seen brothers and cousins of NFL players who have a flicker of athletic ability (but little-to-no actual football experience) and the right connections to a powerful agent or media soap box get looks. We’ve seen friends of friends of friends get drafted by teams despite their limited qualifications or obvious background red flags. This is, unfortunately, like any other business at the end of the day, where some extended version of nepotism or the old boy network still looms.
In that way, Tebow’s access to Meyer and the 90th spot on the roster wasn’t all that egregious. Maybe a 7.5 on the 10-point scale. It lasted a few weeks before the mandatory roster cut-down. If there was an aspiring dreamer of a prospect who was somehow edged out in the process—a player truly good enough to make a roster as the 90th player out of camp that wasn’t given the chance—then here’s hoping the guy latches on elsewhere and never lets Meyer hear the end of it. Here’s hoping his story is a warning to everyone who ever went to a small school and glossed over every prospect in the place because they were too worried about missing on the 17th Alabama player coming out that year.
Was Tebow’s preseason foray at tight end a disaster? Yes. Did it turn out worse than some of us possibly envisioned at the outset? Yes.
But … was it worth exploring from a game planning standpoint, given the success of players like Taysom Hill (even though Hill was a far more accomplished collegiate passer and was better equipped to read defenses and get rid of the ball quickly)? Yes. Does he deserve a little credit for chasing a dream, even when he had to know that it might have turned out this way? That’s up to the rest of the world, half of which has supported him along the way through all of these ventures, and the other half, which waits for the inevitable thud.
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