Across the Twitterverse & various social media sites, the world of sports talk radio and water coolers (I used the term loosely) everywhere, a single name dominated Monday’s conversations. The BCS Championship Game was just hours away, but those discussions of title splits, SEC fatigue, Nick Saban’s countenance and Les Miles’ creativity were an afterthought. Since Demaryius Thomas sprinted 80 yards to close out the Steelers in overtime, everyone wanted to have their say about Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.
It has truly been a 24-hour marathon of 140-character slogans and one-liners alternating between messages of love and hate. Sports talk shows that opened their phone lines literally had to say, “So …” and the lines lit up. I traversed the radio dial – actual radio, internet and IHeartRadio – to listen to the opinions and reactions.
• In Denver, they were understandably giddy about the result (it’s good for business) and let fans bask in the glory in praise of Tebow.
• In Pittsburgh, many started to look ahead to 2012 and the myriad roster decisions facing the Steelers.
• Nationally, the discussion pulled back from the game itself and put Tebow’s performance into a whole other light.
We previewed the game on our FOX Sports Radio show Sunday morning and brought it back to the basest terms. Could Tebow and the Broncos execute against the upper-tier Steelers pass defense and win the chess match with Dick LeBeau? Would LeBeau overload against the run and force the action? Could Tebow deliver the ball if he did?
I pulled Vizzini and “The Princess Bride” into the fray as a reference point. Obviously, we know that Tebow made the most of his 10 completions. I was so proud of the public school systems across America when I heard countless callers and hosts cite the average gains on Tebow’s completions. The losses of Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel obviously changed the complexion of the Pittsburgh defense, but LeBeau failed to adjust the game plan.
• I must note this as well. The loss of Eric Decker because of a knee injury shouldn’t be dismissed, but let’s make one point clear. Decker has not been Tebow’s No. 1 receiver for quite some time. He caught a total of 11 passes in the Broncos’ final eight games.
Before I get to the heart of this post, I would like to throw another film into the mix to describe the action. LeBeau dared Tebow to throw the ball downfield by sucking his safeties up to the line to thwart the running game. The 51-yard pass to Thomas on the drive that ultimately completed with a touchdown toss to Eddie Royal (a brilliant reception while looking through the defender) was Tebow’s answer. LeBeau would “double-dog dare” and triple and quadruple dare Tebow, forcing his cornerbacks to play on islands without safety aid. Yes, I threw out “A Christmas Story” reference. It was the football equivalent of sticking the cornerbacks’ tongues on the frozen telephone pole. The Steelers gave up five pass plays over 30 yards.
Now, let’s get back to this business at hand. The vast collection of pundits and talking heads (self included) had a little fun with his 316 passing yards in the Twitterverse. I just wished that I owned a t-shirt printing business within steps of Invesco. I could have printed money as jubilant fans wandered away from the stadium.
The game played by Tebow and his flawless delivery against the Steelers flew in the face of everything we’d seen in the past several weeks. He was awful against the Bills in Week 16 and flopped miserably against the Chiefs in Week 17. You cannot call it any other way if you watched those games. I cringed every time I heard the line “All he does is win” during this past 24-hour period.
• I digress again. The Twitterverse was abuzz with conspiracy theorists going crazy about the penalties and the fumbled lateral that was whistled dead. “The NFL wants the Steelers to win!” Seriously, you’re going to go conspiracy. This game drew a 25 rating. The power of the Tebow brand is magnetically drawing eyeballs to television sets and watering holes nationwide. Are you kidding me?
These moments performed by Tebow on the big stage certainly capture our imagination. Following a tepid start to the game, Tebow made play after play during that second quarter explosion. LeBeau and Tomlin challenged him, and Tebow didn’t blink. There is still much more work and refinement to be done to make him a consistent quarterback. He answered the challenge and produced a huge playoff win – I do not discount the win nor do I discount his performance here – but we can still talk about the three points that the Broncos scored in the first, third and fourth quarters, right?
I couldn’t write about the phenomenon of Tebow without crossing into the dangerous third rail of sports writing and, well, conversation in general. The question of “Is there something more?” is as old as time itself. Tebow’s religion has been front and center for years, and he’s certainly not the first athlete to vocalize his beliefs. But, something about his life story, how he conducts himself in interviews and the ridiculous disconnect between how he starts games and finishes them elevates this story.
Look to the ratings. The Broncos’ victory over the Steelers registered a 25.9 rating on CBS. A total of 54.3 million people were reportedly watching when the game concluded. By way of contrast, the BCS Championship Game between LSU and Alabama earned a 13.8 rating on ESPN.
There’s something more to the Tebow story that draws in the eyeballs of non-sports fans, both positive and negative.
• Some want to denigrate Tebow’s public declarations of faith and use pejorative terms when discussing the topic. They actively cheer against Tebow and the Broncos as if a loss in the playoffs would end the debates about the other side once and for all.
• On the other side of the equation, Tebow’s physical skills and work ethic are sometimes dismissed to give full credit to a higher power.
I enjoy the debates and arguments. Let’s just be respectful on both sides of this religious discussion. Tebow praises – he doesn’t preach.
If you don’t want to hear him evangelize, then mute your television before the microphone is thrust toward him in the post-game. Change the channel when the final gun sounds.
If you count yourself as a believer, then you need to respect that others aren’t. Freedom goes both ways.
Can’t we just enjoy a positive story in the midst of a sea of negativity? He’s polite, respectful, does charity work and embodies the term “team player.” He’s exciting and keeps you on the edge of your seat. That’s a good thing, right?
As I wrote before, some of Tebow’s performances and the outcomes of games defy logic, and the analyst in me wants to see it more consistently (he completed 10-of-21 attempts against Pittsburgh). This NFL machine is built on close games where a single play makes all the difference. You have punt returns for touchdowns, tipped balls returned for touchdowns, “Hail Mary” passes, gadget plays and so on. We’ve come to expect the unexpected when consuming our football, and certainly Tebow gives us plenty of those moments. Forgive us in the media, “the haters,” who still like to see controlled drives and consistent play out of quarterbacks. To be fair, Tebow’s receivers have betrayed him (and Kyle Orton before him) by dropping an inordinate number of passes (12th in the NFL).
“It’s not personal. It’s business.”
And Tebow is good for business. It’s good for us in punditry and the yelling world. It’s good for the league to bring in new eyeballs and a new audience. And good for t-shirt sales (Damn it!).
I can’t say I always understand it (or some of the defenses put in front of him), but I just want to sit back and watch it. That’s the point, as I understand it. You play these things out on the field. If things played completely to the numbers, then we’d run simulations and move on to something else. We wouldn’t need to watch if we worked completely off of the Nevada point lines.
But we do watch, and a ridiculous number of people will sit down for the showdown between Tebow and Brady this Saturday night in Foxboro.
54.3 million fans for a Wild Card game can’t be wrong.