Nearly a decade ago, Tim Tebow ignited a fanbase and captivated a nation when he took over as the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Tebow Mania was a short-lived phenomenon as GM John Elway moved quickly to recruit Peyton Manning after the Indianapolis Colts unceremoniously cut him.
Tebow would soon be traded. However, considering the romp Tebow led the Broncos on in 2011, culminating in a Wild Card victory over the defending AFC-champion Pittsburgh Steelers, Elway allowed the southpaw quarterback to choose his next NFL destination.
Although a return home to Jacksonville, FL, was on the table, Tebow purportedly instead chose the New York Jets, and the Broncos shipped him off. Manning took over under center with a talented roster whose potential had been so obviously brought to the surface by Tebow's exploits in 2011.
However, based on Jason Cole's new book Elway: A Relentless Life, it seems the Broncos' GM couldn't wait to be rid of Tebow. Cole cites an unnamed Broncos' employee who describes Tebow as "the most self-centered humble guy I’ve ever met."
As one of the most famous Christians in the world, Tebow's religious background and profile as a preacher garnered some serious demand in the marketplace of church speaking gigs. The New York Post quotes Cole's new book, writing that Tebow commanded as much as $50,000 for speaking appearances.
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Anyone who watched Tebow quarterback the Broncos in 2011 could recognize how limited he was as a passer. What he lacked in the reading of defenses and coverages department he made up for with his toughness and clutch gene for making plays when the chips were down.
However, Cole writes that the Broncos viewed Tebow as "simply awful" and that he “struggled to understand concepts in reading defenses and executing the offense.”
“As one teammate put it bluntly that season,” Cole wrote, “‘He has no idea what’s going on out there. If the first read doesn’t work, he’s just making it up.'”
Regardless of his obvious limitations as a quarterback, Tebow led the Broncos to win after win during the 2011 regular season, often coming from behind in the closing minutes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
"No matter how ugly Tebow played," Cole wrote, "he and the Broncos found a way to win. That justified him continuing to start. Football purists who pointed out that the Broncos were overcoming Tebow's foibles rather than succeeding because of his talents were deemed anti-Christian."
The Josh McDaniels-led Broncos drafted Tebow in the first round in 2010. The late Pat Bowlen would show McDaniels the door later that year, firing him before the regular season ended.
Eric Studesville took over as interim head coach and eventually, the rookie saw the playing field in a Week 16 start vs. the Houston Texans, which Tebow won. He would finish his rookie year with another start vs. the Chargers, which he lost.
Elway was hired shortly after the 2010 campaign ended, first as the Broncos' Vice President of Football Operations and de facto general manager, though the latter title he wouldn't officially take on until the spring of 2012 after Brian Xanders was jettisoned. Elway hired John Fox and soon after, drafted Von Miller with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The Broncos' 2011 draft class would go on to have a big impact on the season but Tebow lost his open competition in training camp that summer to Kyle Orton. By that point, fans' patience with Orton had evaporated, so when the Broncos limped out to a 1-4 start, Broncos Country clamored for Tebow.
Fans got their wish in Week 7 on the road vs. the Miami Dolphins, as Tebow got his first start of the season. After a painfully bad three-and-a-half quarters of quarterback play, Tebow suddenly turned it on in the closing minutes, overcoming a 15-0 deficit to win in overtime 18-15.
Back home the next week in front of the Mile High Faithful, the Broncos were embarrassed as the Detroit Lions destroyed them 45-10. Then, something strange happened.
With nothing to lose, the 2-5 Broncos kept Tebow under center and would go on a six-game winning streak, jumping out in front of an AFC West division that was frankly terrible that year. Tebow's 2011 regular season would end with a whimper, though, as the Broncos lost their final three games, backing into the playoffs.
The season ended in humilation as the Chiefs, led by Orton who'd been cliamed off waivers by Kansas City, rolled into Denver and beat Tebow and the Broncos 7-3. But by virtue of their tiebreakers and how bad their rivals were that year, the Broncos still won the AFC West, which meant a trip to the playoffs was on the horizon.
Denver would host the Steelers in the Wild Card round, where Tebow would produce the best performance of his NFL career, throwing for 316 yards and two touchdowns, forcing the game into overtime. What happened next became one of the most iconic plays in Broncos' history, as on the first play from scrimmage in overtime, Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on a slant that the young wideout took 80 yards to the house.
Sudden death. The Steelers were sent home as the losers, while the Broncos would advance to the Divisional Round to face the New England Patriots at Foxboro. The Football Gods would provide no further miracles that year, as Tom Brady made short work of the Broncos, leading the Patriots to a cozy 45-10 win.
That was the last game Tebow would play as a Bronco. The Manning era commenced just a few months later, and Tebow's NFL career would fizzle in New York.
He would go on to have a few short stints elsewhere, with his last NFL appearance being with the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad. It was an unceremonious ending to the career of a player, who, from the outside looking in, was beloved by Broncos fans and people the world over, but from the inside, might have been resented.
My take on Tebow is pretty simple. Without his miraculous 2011 campaign, and the media whirlwind that was created by Tebow Mania, the Broncos don't return to national prominence and maybe don't catch the attention of Manning.
So in that sense, Broncos fans have Tebow to thank for that thrilling 2011 campaign and for the four-year reign of dominance that was the Manning era, which culminated in a Super Bowl 50 World Championship.
For what it's worth, Jason Cole obviously did his homework and talked to a lot of former and current Broncos' players, coaches, and staffers to get the dirt on Tebow. But Elway: A Relentless Life is in fact an unauthorized biography of the Hall-of-Fame quarterback and Super Bowl-winning front-office czar.