Several weeks into Tim Tebow’s stint with the New England Patriots, I think I am prepared to make some initial, roughly formed, non-football related observations on his time with the team.
I specify ‘non-football’ because I don’t intend to make very many observations about his play on the field. That’s partly because many other people have done that and will continue to do that. It’s mostly because I don’t genuinely care about how poorly or how well Tim Tebow plays on the field, a sentiment I don’t wish to be confused for apathy. I’ll explain this more later.
With clarifications out of the way, I can say the most significant thing I’ve learned in his short tenure with the New England Patriots is that most people like Tim Tebow. I know that doesn’t sound very important or insightful, but I think it is. That’s because common knowledge seems to suggest that the public is split fairly evenly when it comes to Tebow: some like him while the rest don’t.
My determination is that this is untrue: in reality almost everyone likes Tim Tebow. There is a group that dislikes him, and it is not small by any means. But it is outnumbered, pretty significantly I think, by the innumerable mass of individuals who like him. So if you consider yourself a Tebow Hater, I am sorry to say you are in a very vocal minority.
Of those who do like Tebow, I feel they can be split into three sub-populations, each of which is driven toward Tebow reverence by unique motivating factors.
People who genuinely like Tim Tebow
There are many reasons why you may genuinely like Tim Tebow. You may be a nostalgic Florida Gators fan. You may be an ardent Christian. Maybe you just think he seems like a nice guy.
I think, of those who genuinely like Tebow, most simply find him to be an exciting football player. I count myself among this group. Though I fancy myself a pragmatist and would like to say I root for the players who are categorically and unequivocally superior performers on the field of play, my stubborn, at times perplexing Tebow fandom has confirmed my suspicions that I am drawn to certain athletes not because of they post great statistics, but because they are the types of players around whom special things happen.
My favorite athletes ever are Pedro Martinez, Paul Pierce, Tom Brady and Mariano Rivera. The numbers show that these players are some of the best ever at what they do. While I’d like to say my favor for them lies in their statistical superiority, I’m starting to realize that I’m mainly drawn to them because they are often entrenched in on-field drama. Crazy, engaging, memorable things happen when these guys are on the field, mostly because they are good enough to put themselves in the position to have memorable moments, but also because they themselves are independently exciting, captivating athletes.
Tebow is the same way for me, even while being, by most measures, inferior to most his contemporaries at the thing he is actually paid to do (quarterback). But this is why I don’t care to break down his play on the field and the actual results he does or does not deliver. As someone who finds him exciting almost in spite of reason, it doesn’t matter to me if he throws 1,000 interceptions. I’m still drawn to the potential that he may just will his way to victory in spite of himself.
Tebow stymies me. He is very clearly an absurdly talented athlete, but even at the height of his NFL career – week five through the first round of the 2011 playoffs as the starter in Denver – he has consistently battled to overcome his own massive deficiencies. But it’s an exciting battle to watch, and his frenetic successes – see his four consecutive come-from-behind victories as part of a six-game winning streak in 2011 – make up for his quintessential failures.
People who like Tim Tebow because he is attractive
I know I could have included this group in the above list of people who like Tebow. But it stands alone for me because it’s really just such a large group of people. These people like him because they’re attracted to him, physically and likely otherwise. I’m not saying they’re any less genuine than the prior group and they are certainly no less legitimate. They’re just significant enough statistically to stand alone. That’s really it.
People who like Tim Tebow ironically
This is the group that bugs me. Probably because I am clearly a Tebow fanboy, but mostly because I find this group to be the most disingenuous and exploitative of the three.
I should first clarify that this group does not actually dislike Tebow. That’s an important distinction. Though they are in the minority, Tebow Haters remain numerous, and their reasoning mostly legitimate. I really have no dispute at all with the Tebow Haters. I can see where they’re coming from.
But the Ironic Tebow Likers bug me. You can identify these cats in any large group of people watching Tim Tebow play (at games, in bars, among friends). They’re the ones who chant “Te-bow! (clap clap) Te-bow” but then crack jokes about him throwing it to the other team, or throwing it at the receiver’s feet, or for missing his receiver and hitting a guy in a wheelchair on the sidelines with the football (all of these things have actually happened).
They’re the ones who beg for him to supplant Kyle Orton, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Mallett, or (INSERT GENERIC CRAPPY QUARTERBACK HERE) and then immediately jump down his throat for bailing on a pass play and running with the ball, or for taking too long to throw, or for looking lost with his receivers well-covered, or for doing any of the other characteristically Tebow things he does because this is how he plays football.
The criticisms themselves don’t bother me – they’re often perfectly valid and astute. Tebow is just not very good. Even I can admit that.
The jokes on their face don’t bother me either. I’ve been known to dog bad quarterbacks routinely, and I’ve certainly made a few cracks at Tebow’s expense (especially for the hitting a guy on the sidelines thing).
I think what really bugs me about the Ironic Tebow Likers is their combination of breathless Tebow fandom and relentless Tebow hatred. To me, it’s disingenuous to legitimately look forward to seeing Tebow play and then hop on the other side and start trashing him. It seems cruel and bizarre to root for Tebow to get into the game almost solely so you can make your crappy “You threw it to the wrong team!” joke for the 6,000th time.
It feels like the Ironic Tebow Likers are trying to have the best of both worlds – to enjoy the fun and excitement of being a Tebow Liker when things go well, while also exploiting the righteousness and overall self-satisfaction of being a Tebow Hater when things go normal.
That bugs me. To me, being a Genuine Tebow Liker is probably akin to what I think being an archaeologist is like. You spend a lot of time digging and digging and digging and finding nothing. There’s a hint of desperation to everything you do – you know you’re racing against the clock and there’s a lot on the line. Sometimes your earnest will go unrewarded, with nothing to sustain you until the next expedition but your love of the hunt. But the sweet thrill of actually finding a hidden gem is so addictive that you could hardly think of ever giving up the chase.*
That’s sort of like rooting for Tim Tebow. There’s a desperate quality even to the way he plays – you know that he knows that he’s racing against the clock and that there’s not much time left to prove he’s worth something in the NFL. And as a fan, you absorb that desperation and hope his next drive shows a spark of that excitement that sustains you through his next very many rough patches, all the way until sweet, sweet paydirt.
To me, the Ironic Tebow Likers simply hitch along for the intoxicating ride and suppress that desperation in favor of passive aggressive snark. And that’s not good enough to me, Ironic Tebow Likers. If you’re on the Tebow bandwagon as I most certainly am, you need to ride the few highs and many lows with the rest of us.
*I think it’s important to note that my entire perception of the archaeologist’s plight is based on the early scenes of “Jurassic Park” chronicling the struggles of the paleontologists Drs. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler. I wouldn’t want anyone else to think that I think that I know what I’m talking about.