How should sports remember Tebow?

by Gary Shelton on February 19, 2021

in general

Tebow doesn't deserve to be a punch line./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

These days, he is a punch line. A joke A giggle.

He tried pro football, and he didn't wow them there. He tried pro baseball, and he was buried in the minor leagues. What's next, the wise guys say? Basketball? Ping-pong? Figure skating?

These days, people know the name Tim Tebow because of what he could not do.

Alas, the world has forgotten what he could.

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Amid the one-liners do not forget this: Tim Tebow was a great, great college football player. He might be in the short discussion for the best college football player ever. But his skills -- and there were many -- did not translate well into the NFL. As for his baseball skills, well, they had long since given way to the ones he had in football.

But you are failing to grasp the overall picture if you forget what Tebow was at the University of Florida.

Three times, he was in the top five of the Heisman Trophy balloting. (He won in 2007, was third in 2008 and fifth in 2009). That's unprecedented. Twice, he was a national champion. That's rare. Once, he was the most popular figure at his school. That's impressive. He threw for more than 9200 yards and rushed for almost 3,000.

He threw for 88 touchdowns and rushed for 57. Florida won 48 games while he was there. He won the Maxwell Award, the Manning Award, the Davie O'Brien Award, the AP Player of the Year Award.

Yet, today, fans seem to want to talk about how wobbly his passes were, or how he hit only .163 in the minors last year. Yet, some act as if his college career was little more than playground stats. From the way people talk, you get the feeling that if Tebow tried to jog 100 yards, he'd fall over sideways twice.

There are two things that get in the way of Tebow's legacy. One, he was over-drafted. That wasn't his fault.

Two, he was over-hyped. Most of that wasn't his fault, either.

Hey, there have been a lot of college football players whose talents didn't match up to the pro game. Tommie Frazier. Matt Leinart. Eric Crouch. There were others who lacked the discipline required . Johnny Manziel, Jamarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf.

But none of them were the household name that Tebow was. He represented the last of the all-American kids, a gee-whiz teenager whose story was plucked out of fiction. He was wholesome, a self-admitted virgin. He was religious. He was passionate about his game. The Broncos, remember, were so convinced he was going to be a star that they traded up in the draft to get him.

A lot of that led to his second problem, the one about being overhyped. Tebow's fans included a lot of zealots, people who considered him perfect. Why, all he needed was time. Hey, he even made the playoffs! He was the force of good in a flawed NFL.

The truth was uglier. In 2011, Tebow's playoff season, he started just 11 games. The Broncos won seven of those, largely because of a great defense. Tebow hit just 46.5 percent of his passes. His rating was 72.9. The Broncos finished 8-8, losing their last three regular-season games. In the last one, with the team fighting for the playoffs, it scored just seven points.

And so, despite the draft position, despite the playoffs, the Broncos dumped Tebow. He won only two games for the Jets.

Still, a tug-of-war ensued. There seemed to be no reasonable place for discussion. He was either a holy man or a fraud, a nice kid or an attention-seeker.

Was he over-hyped? Possibly. But I used to tell people this about Tebow: I interviewed him a lot in his days with the Gators and the Broncos, and this is true: He never once chased me down and asked me to write about him. He was over-hyped because he was a cool story, because he was a success, because the rest of sports could be so ugly by comparison.

Tebow is done now. He retired from the Mets on Wednesday.

In closing, I'll say this about Tebow. It is entirely possible, people, that someone can be a great person without being a great pro quarterback. You can be a very good human being and still not be a great athlete. It is possible to stand for a lot of honorable things without being Bo Jackson.

The best parts of Tebow were legendary. The worst parts were ordinary.

If you only remember the ordinary, it says more about you than it does about him.

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