The NFL is one game into the 2013 season and Tim Tebow is somewhere he’s not been for a long time – out of football, wondering if he can get back in.
Has he taken his last snap? Thrown a final spiral to a receiver open in the end zone? It’s hard to imagine that’s the case. Then again, for one of the most popular and polarizing figures to play the game, it’s difficult to envision how he could make his way back onto a pro team and produce winning results as a quarterback.
Tebow is not a story about success and failure. From his high school days, where he was a Parade All-American and Florida’s Player of the Year, he went on to the University of Florida where he won the Heisman Trophy and played on two BCS winning teams.
Some might say that’s all well and good, but he’s been a flop in the NFL. Tebow’s game didn’t suddenly change. His approach to running an offense wasn’t altered. It’s just a case where the abilities that worked so well in previous seasons weren’t the same required to succeed in the NFL.
I recall listening to a radio show one winter night in the mid-1990s when Rick Pitino was coaching at the University of Kentucky. The caller was expressing doubt about a player who had had great success earlier in his career but failed to live up to future hype and expectations.
Pitino said it was wrong to minimize a player’s past achievements because he didn’t continue to dominate at the next level – either from high school to college or college to the pros. He lectured the caller, and said fans should recognize a player for what he or she did accomplish and not for what they didn’t.
Maybe that is the case with Tebow. More than one scout or coach has noted that the skill set that served Tebow in the past simply wasn’t enough to get the job done in the NFL. His throwing mechanics – those that worked well at Florida -- were cited as a drawback in the pros, where delivering the perfect pass, not just a good one, was necessary to winning in the league.
No doubt the notoriety Tebow enjoyed in college worked against him in the NFL. Many expected smashing success, but the landscape is littered with those who carried a glittering resume into the pros and didn’t experience stardom again.
Just check out other recent Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks and see how they did. Troy Smith (Ohio State), Chris Weinke (Florida State) and Andre Ware (Houston) made it to NFL post-season games as reserves. Tebow is one of only four Heisman winners to start in an NFL playoff game and win. The last to do it before him was Vinny Testaverde in 1998, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Tebow might yet have a call or two left in his playbook, but that seems about all. Quarterbacks get injured and he could step in – as a backup. Then again, playing in the Canadian Football League could be a good opportunity to suit up. A third possibility is switching to another position, one where his brute size and determined attitude could be invaluable. That, however, would require a change of heart. After being dropped by the New England Patriots, Tebow offered this glimpse into his thinking via his Twitter account: “I will remain in relentless pursuit of continuing my lifelong dream of being an NFL quarterback.”
Tebow has suited up for three teams and a fourth could happen. On Monday, there were calls coming out of Jacksonville following the Jaguars woeful 28-2 loss to Kansas City to bring in Tebow -- immediately. Mike Bianchi, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, put it this way: “I've said it before and I'll say it again. When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.”
Tebow, no doubt, would look at the challenge differently.
If quarterbacking isn’t in his future, an array of opportunities – either inside or outside football -- certainly is. Success will remain central in his lifelong game plan.
Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.