It’s OK Boston, we understand your confusion.
Many probably don’t get why, when the Patriots signed Tim Tebow on June 10, sports TV networks, newspapers, and websites interrupted coverage for the breaking news with the ferocity of CNN in the Persian Gulf, circa 1991.
Isn’t he just a backup quarterback? Who can’t hit the broad side of a barn?
Well, yes. But that’s an overly simplistic look at Tebow, who even as a backup quarterback remains one of the NFL’s most unique and polarizing players.
We know Boston isn’t much of a college football town, and might not get what all the fuss is about with Tebow, whose status as a cultural icon reaches far beyond the football field. To get you caught up to speed as Tebow begins his Patriots career, here’s a handy guide of Everything You Need to Know About Tim Tebow:
■ Tebow was a baller in college
It’s easy to forget, now that the oversaturation of ESPN coverage and a few woeful throws have almost turned Tebow The Football Player into a running joke. But Tebow’s career at the University of Florida from 2006-09 ranks among the top five or 10 greatest careers in college football history.
Tebow was a valuable change-of-pace quarterback on Florida’s 2006 BCS title team, and won another title as a starter in 2008. He was the first sophomore to win the Heisman, and the first college quarterback with a season of 20 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing TDs (he went 32-23 in 2007).
He won every major college award for a quarterback, went 33-6 as a starter, and had ridiculous stats: 9,285 passing yards, 2,947 rushing yards, an SEC-record 54 rushing touchdowns, and an 88-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
■ He’s not very good at throwing the football
When it comes to pure pocket passing and 7-on-7 drills, Tebow is likely the worst in the NFL. He has a slow, elongated motion, his ball flutters and he struggles to remember plays and read coverages, perhaps in part because of dyslexia. If his first read isn’t there, he tucks the ball and heads upfield.
In 2011, his one season as a starter with the Broncos, he completed 46.5 percent of passes, ranking 42d among quarterbacks with 100 pass attempts.
■ But he still has the potential to be a heck of a quarterback
There’s more to playing quarterback than pocket passing, however. And Tebow has a unique skill set — built like a linebacker, with a strong arm (yes) and the ability to run over and away from defenders. We think he can succeed in the NFL, but only if a team is truly willing to commit to him (which none has, so far).
His 35 first downs on the ground in 2011 were second among all quarterbacks, to Cam Newton, and he did it in just 13 games. Tebow’s ability to scramble makes him a huge weapon on third and 6 and less. And he can throw the deep ball — it’s the timing passes and intermediate routes that give him trouble.
The Broncos wanted a pocket passer like Peyton Manning, and the Jets were too timid to take Tebow out of the bubble wrap.
But don’t forget, he did take over a 1-4 Broncos team in 2011 and went 8-5 as a starter, leading them to the second round of the playoffs. And no matter how you slice it, Tebow did throw for 316 yards in a playoff overtime victory over the Steelers. How many quarterbacks can say that?
■ His religion and family upbringing is a big part of who he is
And that, more than his football success in college, is why he’s become a cultural phenomenon with a Q score similar to Michael Phelps, David Beckham, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Tebow, who grew up on a farm outside of Jacksonville, Fla., is outward about his Baptist beliefs, which play largely into his crossover celebrity. He popularized the trend of writing Bible verses on his eye black — 93 million people Googled “John 3:16” the day after he wore it in the 2009 BCS title game — famously did a pro-life commercial for Focus on the Family at the 2010 Super Bowl, and has legions of fans who will root for him no matter which team he plays for because of his strong faith. Tebow also became the face of the home-school movement.
Tebow’s father, Bob, runs the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association (BTEA.org) as a missionary outfit. Their main center is an orphanage in Mindanao, Philippines, called Uncle Dick’s Orphanage. Tebow was born in the Philippines — doctors advised his mother to have an abortion because of complications, but she ignored them and Tebow miraculously survived — and he has made several trips back to the orphanage for good will. On one trip in 2008, he assisted more than 250 Filipinos with medical and dental procedures.
■ But Tebow is more than a preacher
Countless stories of his good will have emerged — such as the time at Florida when he pushed 7-year-old Boomer Hornbeck, who has cerebral palsy, around the field in his wheelchair during warm-ups. Or when he gave a wheelchair-bound sexual assault victim a personal five-hour tour of the Gators’ football facility. And Tebow often spoke at children’s hospitals and youth detention centers, many times bringing a handful of teammates along.
You never quite know who the athletes are behind closed doors, but Tebow appears to be genuine and the real deal.
“The demands on Tim Tebow are ridiculous,” Florida AD Jeremy Foley once told me. “And yet he always has time for people and always has a smile on his face.”
■ He’s been in the spotlight since high school
Go to YouTube and search for “Tim Tebow The Chosen One.” ESPN did an outstanding documentary when Tebow was a voracious worker and prized football recruit at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., in the mid-2000s.
When Tebow entered his first game at Florida, the home crowd rose to its feet, and television announcer Kirk Herbstreit likened him to Roy Hobbs, the fictional protagonist in “The Natural.” He became a full-blown rock star after winning the Heisman in 2007, earning invites on stage with the likes of country star Kenny Chesney. Before the 2010 draft, hundreds of fans waited hours for the privilege of paying $160 for his autograph. In 2011, “Tebowing” became a worldwide Internet meme.
Now, he’s a one-man corporation, with his brother Robbie running XV Enterprises. He’s a spokesman for all the top brands — Nike, Jockey, TiVo — and he’s opening a fast-food chicken restaurant in Jacksonville.
But he’s still a fairly normal kid who likes to play all kinds of sports, watch MMA, listen to country music, and have a drink now and then.
■ Don’t expect to see much of him in New England
All that said, we probably won’t hear much from Tebow this year. The media circus in New York did him no favors last season, and the Patriots were the only team even willing to give him a shot, signing him to a two-year contract with minimum salaries and no guaranteed money. If Tebow wants to make the team, he’ll be under strict orders to keep his head down and his mouth shut.
And if he does make the team, it likely will be only as the No. 3 quarterback, not as a hybrid tight end/fullback/Wildcat quarterback and special teams weapon. That plan was a disaster last year with the Jets, as Tebow tried to learn how to play three new positions on the fly without previous training.
He’s a quarterback, strictly, and can have value running the scout team, especially when the Patriots face mobile quarterbacks. And if the Patriots can develop Tebow into a serviceable passer, they can look to trade Ryan Mallett before his contract runs out after the 2014 season.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin