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Why We Can’t Get Enough of Tim Tebow

In October, I experienced a defining moment of the 2011 NFL season while enjoying games at a bar in the middle of New Jersey.  My primary focus was visiting with my parents and the Steelers-Cardinals, but I got wholly invested, along with the rest of the bar, in a wild matchup between the Miami Dolphins and the Denver Broncos.  For reasons statistics could not begin to explain, the Broncos were surging back from a 15-0 deficit in the final seven and a half minutes.  A mix of Eagles, Jets, and Giants fans tuned-out every other game on the big screens to witness the first of many remarkable Denver comebacks.  I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve never heard an otherwise impartial crowd roar with such intensity as they did the moment Tim Tebow converted those final two points to tie it up with under twenty seconds left.  I now recall this experience, though indescribable at the moment, as Tebowmania in its infancy.

If you’ve got a pulse and a Twitter account, I don’t need to describe the level to which Tebowmania has ascended.  In the social media age, overexposure has become all too common and for many, “Tebow” and “ubiquitous” are darn near synonymous. The guy is everywhere.  James Walker of the ESPN.com AFC East blog noted that, in the past week, Tebow’s first practice as a New York Jet inspired nearly triple the local media coverage as defending Super Bowl champion Hakeem Nicks’ broken foot.  It’s mind boggling.  What is this je ne sais quois that draws us to Tebow?  Since I can’t speak for the masses, I decided to do a little soul searching: why can’t I get enough of Tim Tebow?

Tebow is a winner, a leader, a good Christian, and is, frankly, pretty hot. I can't wait to see the part he plays in the Jets' offense.

There’s not much that hasn’t already been said about him.  He’s a winner.  He’s got heart.  He’s a leader of men.  He’s a good Christian boy.  He’s hot.  (I’ve got a lot of female friends.)  I was one of many who felt personally jilted when John Elway openly began shopping him in what must have been the third quarter of the Broncos-Patriots AFC Divisional playoff game.  Sure, John Fox had to reinvent his entire offense to accommodate Tebow’s very specific set of skills.  And maybe Elvis Dumerville, Champ Bailey, and Von Miller wound up exhausted in a way we could not begin to imagine.  But try to tell me their epic October to January run didn’t provide some of the most unexpected, exciting moments in recent NFL history. 

Even if you’re a Tebow hater, how could even a tiny part of you not sympathize with him this offseason?  The guy reinvigorated a stagnant fanbase by playing far beyond his on-paper capabilities, only to have the Broncos organization tell him “thanks, but no thanks.”  I certainly won’t question the Peyton acquisition, but once Manning was in line, Tebow no longer made sense as the number two.  Because when you have a 36 year-old, four time MVP coming off multiple neck surgeries, you need a seamless backup plan.  Though he has the heart of a lion, Tebow is the diametric opposite of Manning.  He became a liability the moment Manning signed on the dotted line.  And, thus, the Tebow-to-Jets saga has begun.

As a New Yorker, I’m anxious to see what unfolds in the coming months.  A young man who united a dispirited locker room in Denver is now entering the most publicly toxic environment of the 2011 NFL season.  I’ve noticed many Jets fans referring to Tebow as “the fullback” in most internet comment sections.  But I’ve also heard an inexorable combination of filthy words used to describe Mark Sanchez amidst his turnover struggles.  I cannot wait to see how those two views collide.  Above that, though, I want to see Tim Tebow contribute meaningfully in any capacity on the field. 

There’s little to suggest that Tebow doesn’t have the discipline and attitude to develop in a way that will complement the system Rex Ryan and new OC Tony Sparano wish to implement.  And maybe that’s why I care so much about what happens to him; there’s so little to suggest that he’s anything other than what we see.  Through all of the accolades in college, improbable success in the pros, and never-ending publicity he seems to generate, he remains a humble, affable young man.  He has marked respect for the heights to which he has soared; Peter King described him as “the most polite interview in NFL history” in his December 5, 2011 edition of SI.com’s Monday Morning Quarterback. He’s quick to tend to those less fortunate, whether it’s a phone call with a Leukemia patient or an invite to watch a game and spend time with him afterward. 

In a world coated with ever-increasing layers of cynicism, it’s hard not to wait for the other shoe to drop.  This is the age of Tiger Woods, uncensored athlete Twitter accounts, and nearly the entire 2010 Detroit Lions draft class.  Needless to say, it’s hard to be optimistic that the heroes we root for on the field are, in fact, who we can’t help wishing they’d be once they hang up their cleats.  Whether that’s an unfair burden placed on public figures is a debate for another day, but it’s a product of social media and the inevitable accessibility it creates.

On a flight back to New York in the midst of the Peyton to Denver pandemonium, I found myself seated next to a self-described (and verified) friend of the Tebow family. Without consciously formulating a question, I found myself blurting out “Is he? Is he really as wonderful as he seems?”  The gentleman laughed. “You have no idea. Everyone loves him so much, and they don’t even begin to know just what a special person he is.”  So, no. I doubt there’s any stopping Tebowmania or the way it affects the American public.  But as long as it isn’t affecting Tebow himself, I can’t wait to see what he does next. 

By: Kim O’Hara

Anatomy of a Winner: Tim Tebow

With all of this Tim Tebow talk, let’s take a look at how this guy is winning all of these close games that the Broncos are supposed to lose.  Numerous negative things have been said about Tebow’s game: “his throwing motion is horrible,” “he’ll never be a successful NFL quarterback,” “he’s a running back who throws it sometimes.”  And there’s more.  Much more.  But you can also add “he’s a winner” to that list.  It may not look pretty, but he wins, and in this “what have you done for me lately” world, that’s all that matters.[1]

Tebow Where To Watch
Tebow threw for 316 yards against the Steelers and had the highest QBR in NFL playoff history (97.3). When asked how he did it, he pointed to his teammates.

Let’s look at what he’s done so far this year.  After taking over for Kyle Orton as quarterback of the 1-4 Denver Broncos on October 23rd, the culture of the Broncos changed.  That week, Tebow came out and led the Broncos to a remarkable overtime victory against the Miami Dolphins.  The Broncos were down 15-0 with less than three minutes remaining.  Tebow then proceeded to throw two touchdowns and run for a two-point conversion in the final 2:44 of regulation.  A field goal to win it by Matt Prater in overtime capped off one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history (no other team has rallied from fifteen down with less than three minutes to go).  The Broncos then went on to win six of their next seven games (including six in a row), two of which went into overtime and the majority of which were through game-winning drives by Tebow in the closing minutes.  I guess you could say that in the final seconds of the Miami game, “Tebow Time” was born. Or was it? 

Tebow has been winning long before his time in the NFL.  He had a 35-6 record in his career as a starter for the Universityof Florida where he also won two national championships (2006 and 2008).[2]  Before that, Tebow won a state title with Nease High School in Jacksonville, Florida.  In sum, Tebow has been winning for years.  But you knew all that. 

But what makes Tebow such a winner?  For starters, he’s got the physical tools necessary to win in football.  At 6’3” and 236 pounds, he’s not unusually large for a quarterback, but he is rather strong (he can reportedly bench press over 400 pounds).  A 4.72 second 40-yard dash also makes him one of the faster quarterbacks in the league—Vick ran a 4.25 and, more recently, Cam Newton ran a 4.51—but you wouldn’t call him speedy.  Although he’s a great athlete, there’s nothing exceptional that would give him the innate ability to win football games.  So where does his ability to win come from? 

Tebow’s, or anyone’s, winning characteristics cannot be pinpointed to a single element.   In fact, it’s a number of elements that, I believe, vary from person to person.  The one common element is having a “will to win.”  The term is rather hard to describe and can best be defined by an example.  Take a game of pick-up game of basketball—or any other sport that involves a winner/loser scenario and perseverance—which almost everyone has played at some point in their life.  The will to win comes out when a person is the most tired.  Play has been going on for hours and it’s game point in the final game of the day.  You’re so exhausted that all you can think about is going home and putting your feet up.  At that point, you either give up and let the game finish naturally, or you make the decision that you’re going to win this game.  If you choose the latter, you’ll undoubtedly say something to let your teammates know your choice and, hopefully, your teammates join you and play the hardest defense they’ve played all day.  In that situation, you’ve got a pretty good opportunity to get the ball back and win.  That’s what I’m talking about when I say a “will to win.”  Everyone has experienced the opportunity to exercise their own will to win.  It’s my theory that if a person acts on the will, it grows.  The more it’s exercised, the bigger it can get, until some point it becomes part of your nature.  The best example is Michael Jordan, he reportedly wants to win so badly in everything that it often causes him to lose friends. 

When DJ Khaled was asked about Tebow, he reportedly said, “All he do is win.”

But even exercising a will to win doesn’t guarantee a victory.  As in the basketball example, just playing your hardest and letting your teammates know about it doesn’t guarantee the fact that they’ll go along with it.  A winner, like Tebow, has to be able to inspire others to want to achieve a common goal.  The ability to truly inspire those around him to follow and believe in a cause requires a number of characteristics that Tebow has. 

Above all, Tebow is extremely positive, which can be very contagious.  After playing horribly for the entire game against the New York Jets, the Broncos were down three with five minutes left, and were on their own 5 yard line.  Tebow, who only had 69 yards passing at that point, said in the huddle, “As an offense, we haven’t done anything this whole game, but we have an opportunity to do something special right now, and let’s go out there and do it. . . .What you want is an opportunity like this, because this is an opportunity for greatness.”  The Broncos then drove 95 yards and won the game.  A positive mental attitude is necessary when times are hard. 

Inspiring others also requires true leadership characteristics, which Tebow has.  In fact, Tebow has all of the characteristics of a “Level 5 Leader” described in the book “Good to Great,” which is one of the most influential business management books ever written.  In “Good to Great,” Jim Collins describes the attributes held by the best and most successful CEO’s in the 20th century, and he coins the term “Level 5” leadership.  Most notably, Level 5 Leaders have the following attributes, all of which Tebow also has:

  1. They are self-confident enough to succeed in their craft.[3]
  2. They are humble and modest.
  3. They have “unwavering resolve.”
  4. They display a “workmanlike diligence – more plow horse than show  horse.”
  5. They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results. They “attribute much of their success to ‘good luck’ rather than personal greatness.”
I’m not sure that Tebow’s speech deserved a plaque, but it illustrated his qualities as a selfless leader. The plaque hangs outside the Gators’ football facility.

If you have heard Tim Tebow in a post-game conference, it’s obvious that he has all of these characteristics.  He never takes credit for a victory or a great performance, in fact he always credits his teammates or God.  After achieving a QBR of 97.3 against the Steelers, the best rating by a quarterback in playoff history, Tebow was asked how he did it.  He said simply, “I just have great teammates.”   On the flip side, when they lose, he takes the blame.  He has confidence in his game despite the abundant criticism he receives daily.  With a reputation as one of the hardest working players in the league, the workmanlike diligence trait has never been in question.  Unwavering resolve? I think we’ve seen that in the fourth quarter numerous times this year.  The best example of all these characteristics is Tebow’s speech after losing to Ole Miss in 2008, a game in which Tebow had a costly fumble.  After the game he admitted that he and his team did not play as well as they should have.  He promised that his team would play harder than they ever had before.  He thanked God.  And then his team proceeded to win all of its remaining games, including the national championship. 

But why do all those attributes matter?  Simply put, because a football game is not won with one person.  Just like a great company requires several individuals working in perfect harmony, a football team is the same way.  Similar to the way people work much harder for a CEO or boss who they respect, the Broncos play harder and better when a leader like Tebow is at the helm.  All season long the Broncos defense has received the most praise.  But before Tebow took over, they weren’t playing well at all.  In the first five games they were giving up an average of 27.4 points.  For seven of the next eight games after Tebow took over, the Broncos were one of the stingiest in the league.  Tebow’s team believes in him.  They play harder for him.  They believe what he says in the huddle and feel like they’re in the presence of a winner.  So, although much credit is due to his teammates, don’t think their leader didn’t have anything to do with it.  Although a winner is made by the people around him, the winner has a direct influence on how those people contribute. 

Tebow’s ability to inspire those around him to play at an exceptionally high level, coupled with his will to win is what makes him a winner.  He has a positive mental attitude, the characteristics of a Level 5 Leader, and the necessary tools of a good quarterback.  All of these elements factor in to the ability to pull out wins as the underdog and come from behind late in games.  Is Tebow the best quarterback in the league? Of course not.  Should owners want him to play quarterback for their team?  Only if they want to win. 

By: Todd Davis


[1] At least one would think that’s all that matters. The Broncos were reportedly prepared to bench Tebow if he didn’t play well in the first half against the Steelers.

[2] Although he did not start on the 2006 championship team.

[3] For number 1., Collins says, “They are self-confident enough to set up their successors for success.”