Tim Tebow: Why does he grab so much attention? How far can he go?

Nov 18, 2011

Unconventional Denver quarterback Tim Tebow led the Broncos to their fourth victory in five games on Thursday night, directing a 95-yard game-winning drive in the closing minutes. The comeback win intensified the attention the Tebow has been drawing -- in part for his run-first style and in part for his overt displays of his religious beliefs.

Dan Shanoff -- the creator of TimTeblog.com and an online sports news pioneer -- will discuss the Tebow phenomenon and take your questions on one of the most compelling figures in the NFL in 2011 today at 1 p.m. ET.

Read more:

- Tim Tebow works more fourth-quarter magic

- Sally Jenkins: Tebow may prove critics wrong again

- The League: Credit Tebow's teammates

Hey everyone: This is Dan Shanoff. I run a sports-news company called Quickish, but on the side, a few years ago I created a site called TimTeblog.com to cover the Tebow phenomenon -- which it is, to say the least. Let's dig in with your questions and comments. I'll try to go as fast as possible to get lots of comments in. Thanks for joining in!

In response to The Post's tweet about this chat referring to Tebow as "unconventional," Twitter user @jsb posted this: 

Is "unconventional" a synonym for "bad?"

Reaction?

Not at all -- if anything, it's more of a synonym for "We have no idea how to classify what we're seeing."

I feel like the obsession with Tim Tebow is in part driven by a national satisfaction with the talking heads/experts unable to explain his success. (Don't get me wrong, completely enjoyed his general inefficiency until the fourth quarter. He's plays like a college student pulling an all nighter before an exam.) But I still think there's this feeling of schadenfreude about the analysts being wrong, which in turn suggests that a dislike of experts trumps an enjoyment of a football player. Does that make sense?

That's an interesting theory -- I actually agree, up to a point. I certainly think Tebow's fans (and they outnumber the haters) enjoy seeing the analysts so dumbfounded (or, better yet, proven wrong). But I'd say most people still enjoy seeing him succeed more than they enjoy seeing the "experts" get it wrong.

Dan, Do you get the sense that Tebow's wins-and-losses success this season has caused a lot of people to switch their positions. My sense is that he has more support among the casual fan than he had before.--JO

For starters, that's a great gym. To your point: Absolutely. Winning changes everything -- so much of his popularity was derived from his winning in college. And winning in the NFL is an even bigger deal. Casual fans seem to like Tebow. They definitely like winners. Put them together? You have today's mania.

[From a Post staffer] -- You follwoed Tim Tebow pretty closely in college. So, does his success this season surprise you? I am guessing the reaction doesn't, but tell me if I am wrong there.

After so many years of following Tebow, I have learned you should never underestimate anything about him -- from his success to the national reaction to everything he does, big or small. From the start of the season, I had been hoping that the coaches would tailor an offense to suit Tebow's particular strengths -- when they weren't, he struggled, and that wasn't a surprise. When they finally did (begrudgingly, I should add), he succeeded... also not a surprise. The question of the day seems to be: Can he/they sustain it? Of course, people were saying it was unsustainable after the Broncos beat the Chiefs on Sunday and everyone said "Yeah, but here comes a REAL defense."

Twitter user @Antinarella seems to sum up a common line of thinking with this tweet -- how do you react? 

"Tebow is gifted athlete but not a NFL QB. Wins against MIA, OAK, KC, NYJ mean nothing. Talk to me after SD, CHI and NE."

Fair point, although I think plenty of people would say that beating the Jets is pretty substantial. Look: He's 4-1 as a starter and the team is 5-5, which is a win better than all of last season and probably 2 wins better than people thought they would win in 2011 total. I'd say he's doing OK -- which is just fine, given he has played in only a handful of games in his career. He shouldn't be (and won't be) defined by losing to the Pats or Bears -- there's hardly shame in that for any QB.

How about some love for the real reason Denver's gone 4-1 under Tebow - the defense? You can't expect to win too many games when your offense puts 10 points on the board.

100% correct. Look: The Broncos lose last night without that pick-6 to tie the score at 10, and we're not talking about this. In fact, Tebow is probably benched today. I think most fans (and certainly experts) are appreciating just how good this Broncos D is turning out to be -- being eclipsed by Tebow isn't necessarily fair, but it's the reality when you're dealing with a mega-star.

Do you think more NFL teams will adopt option-like offenses? It seems that injuries (whether on the line, at QB or WR) often plague offenses and there are more college QBs capable of running the option than handling complex reads of blizes. The option both puts defenses more on the 'defense" and also alleviates the need to find that rare QB talent. The run-based offense also eats the clock, which makes your defense look good.

I think there are very few QBs who can run an option-style offense full-time, like Tebow does. (And the jury is still out whether it is sustainable over 16 games, let alone as a system.) I do think that unlike the faddish "Wildcat," teams might start adding a package of option plays that they can use their designated "running QB" for to surprise other teams. Part of it is creating a mindset that it's OK if your QB gets dismantled (which is the prevailing attitude coaches seem to have about RBs); most teams are trying to keep their QBs healthy for the long-term. It's an open question whether that has some inefficiencies that can be exploited.

There are people you respect, admire, or maybe even people that inspire you. However, there are very few people in the world that somehow get people to go even farther than they knew they could go. I experienced that one time with someone I won't name so as not to embarrass him. But even though I didn't know him too well, if he told me he needed me to do something, I would do my best to do it as well as I could. It's hard to explain unless you've experienced it. I'm guessing Tebow might be like this. People point out that the defense is playing better than they did when he wasn't starting and so that proves that it is just coincidence that they are 4-1 with him starting and 1-4 without him. Maybe they're right. But maybe, just maybe, teammates see something in him that make them do better, even when on defense. Does this make any sense to you?

It does, and I think it has been a hallmark of Tebow's teams since he was in high school, when he showed up as a home-schooled kid at a public HS and led the team to tons of wins. We saw the same thing when he was at Florida. I think a lot of people were skeptical his leadership style would work in the pros, where players seem a bit more cynical (see Revis' comments earlier this week). But NFL players want to win, and I think his brand of leadership earns a ton of credibility with wins (in addition to simply being the first to show up, the hardest worker, etc.)

Another tweet to react to, from @georgechang

Overheard: 2 people discussing in depth the merits of Tebow and his effect on the Broncos offense. 2 MIDDLE AGED WOMEN.

Well, there's nothing about middle-aged women that says they can't be die-hard NFL fans, so let's set that aside. But it's entirely clear that Tebow -- a long time ago -- crossed over from being a mere NFL player (or even a mere NFL star) to being a zeitgeist-driving star in pop culture overall, appealing to people way beyond sports fans or NFL fans. This is Michael Jordan/Lance Armstrong/Olympic hero territory.

[From a Post staffer] 

Is there a recent piece you've read on Tebow that made you say, "This reporter/columnist got it exactly right?" 

Great question. Tommy Craggs at Deadspin -- who is no Tebow fan, mind you -- consistently writes the most piercingly fair analysis of him. (Granted, most of the time, he's slicing up the media hullabaloo around Tebow, but he also grasps the nuances of the situation better than most in sports media.)

Eventually all the opposing teams are going to figure out how to deal with him and that's the end of it.

Possibly. Then again, that's what folks were saying heading in to Rex Ryan and the Jets last night. "Eventually" is a long time. Because there's a good chance he's not in Denver next year, let's stick with this season: I think the offense is hard enough to prepare for (and the Broncos D good enough) that they can run with it for the rest of the season. Will they win a Super Bowl? No, but then again, 30 other teams have zero shot of dethroning the Packers, either. Will they make the playoffs? I'm not sure that's a fair standard. Let's measure his success against whether the team beats (admittedly low) expectations. They're nearly there. Side point: You're not accounting for Tebow getting better as a "traditional" QB as he gets more than a half-dozen career starts.

After watching the ESPN special on him at the end of last year, that focused on his time before the NFL draft. it was clear that all along his career, people ahve always doubted him. It seems like the doubts just fuel him to work even harder. So, as a Broncos fan, I say, let the analysts keep on doubting him. As long as John Fox plays to his strengths, he will do just fine. I don't think it was a coincidence that the offense last night didn't do well when he only ran 2 times, but once he ran most of the time on the last drive, they went 95 yards for the score.

100% agreed about last night. I wonder if they had let Tebow run more earlier in the game if Ryan would have schemed more deftly for the final drive, where Tebow's runs really seemed to throw him and the Jets defense off.

To your other point, among the Tebow faithful, there's a hashtag meme called "#tebowcant" and it basically mocks the ways that everyone says "Tebow can't..." (like "Tebow can't be a first-round NFL draft pick"... "Tebow can't lead the NFL in jersey sales as a rookie."... etc.). Part of the enduring appeal of the guy is that he keeps proving the doubters wrong.

Before this season, I never saw Tim Tebow interviewed (I don't watch college sports, so his success in Florida went past me), but he really strikes me as an intelligent, grounded, mature man. I think he's been handling all the controversy over his religious views and his playing much better than most players. And in a league where QBs e-mail photos of their genitals, get accused of rape, domestic violence, and harassment, and spend time in prison for killing dogs, it's really nice to have a QB whose worst "sin" seems to be invoking God and praying in public. He gets my vote as the NFL player I'd most like to have a beer with.

I'm not sure he drinks. But I'm sure he'd be happy to have an FRS energy drink with you anytime.

In all seriousness, what you have to understand about Tebow is that he possesses genius-level communication skills (partly natural, partly from a tremendous amount of practice), right up there with the most successful politicians or religious leaders or teachers or whoever else uses communication for a living. I'm not saying the way he presents himself is a false front or insincere; I'm saying he is better at it than any athlete in the history of modern sports. That has helped his cause.

NFL teams are there not to just play an entertaining brand of football that pleases the fans, win regular season games. The goal of EVERY team (Cincinati Bengals included) at the start of the season is to win the big one, Super Bowl. Can Tebow take a team to SB, even if his team redesigns it offense to fit his style of football?

Hmm...I'm not sure I agree with you. I think a lot of teams are in various stages of rebuilding and, in most cases, just hope to make the playoffs. So let's break this down:

Can Tebow take his team beyond expectations of a 3-13 season? (Clearly.)

Can Tebow take his team to the playoffs? (He's on pace for it now; I think it's in the realm of possibility.)

Can Tebow be a Super Bowl-winning QB? (Two words: Trent Dilfer. In all seriousness, there have been all of a half-dozen QBs who have won a Super Bowl in the past decade. Almost all NFL QBs -- even some great ones -- never get to the Super Bowl, let alone win one. And Tebow is six games into his career -- Troy Aikman was winless at this point. Peyton was en route to setting a new NFL record for interceptions by a rookie. As I said earlier, the biggest mistake you can make is by attaching "never" to Tebow. With a decade of NFL experience and the right team around him, he absolutely could win a Super Bowl.)

Why do teammates like him? Sure he has a great attitude and sure he's driven, hard working, etc. But most Christians aren't exactly available to go out for beers after practice (as though QBs have time). what is he doing that other QBs aren't? Like Kyle Orton?

Hard to know what happens on the inside of the locker room. I don't think his teammates need to go out and get drunk with him to like him or respect him or want to support him by playing hard. I think they need to see that he's working harder than anyone else PLUS actually delivering wins.

Well, the Jets are having their own issues right now. They would have won if Sanchez was even a tiny bit better.

The history of the NFL is filled with the details at the margins. Certainly, if Tebow had fumbled on that final drive (as he almost did), he would be getting destroyed today. So as much as I like to evaluate process over result, the fact is that Tebow came through, Sanchez didn't and the Broncos won and he's 4-1 as a starter. Trust me: I get the sense that John Elway and John Fox couldn't be rooting harder for Tebow to fail, even at the expense of their own team winning.

I thought last night's NFL telecast made rather a point of zooming in on all Tebow's prayerful moments. Your take? And is there always a prayer circle after every game, or was last night's special? I noticed both teams were represented. And yeah, like others have said, I find the religion thing distracting and borderline obnoxious, but I'll take a player who prays over one who gets arrested. Goodness knows the Broncos players have had plenty of arrests in recent years.

I think that given Tebow's connection to religion -- and even the Tebowing meme from two weeks ago -- it is entirely relevant to zoom in on him kneeling after the game-winning touchdown. (The prayer circle is entirely normal, at all levels of football, if not usually covered by the media.) Tebow and religion are so intertwined that those crossover moments are always going to be pinpointed by the TV directors. The important part is that I don't think there is anything contrived about Tebow's displays; he'd do it if there wasn't a camera on him. (BTW: Please notice that the first thing Tebow did when he scored the game-winning TD was not to get down on his knee or even to point to the sky, but to flex and shout at the hometown crowd in the end zone.)

Well, some Christians do drink beer. Tim wears his religion proudly but I've never gotten the impression that he shoves it down anyone's throat or has a holier than thou attitude.

I've spent an obsessive amount of time on this topic, actually, and I think that the eye-black stuff in college was overblown, at least in terms of Tebow trying to dictate to everyone what to believe. Part of his genius-level communication skills I referenced earlier in the chat is that he knows precisely NOT to try to impose too much on people who don't want that message. Go back and read his quotes from his postgame interview on NFL Network last night -- does he want to spread his faith in God? Sure. Is he entirely comfortable if the lesson my kid takes from him is that the most important thing is to work hard and try your best? Absolutely. 100%.

If Tebow flames out (or rather, his accuracy doesn't improve), there's talk of him being an RB instead of a QB. He's said he's a QB. Your take? Does he love the game enough to play in another role?

Short answer: Yes. If Tebow was on the Patriots and at the disposal of a smart, confident coach like Bill Belichick who happened to have a Hall of Famer at the QB position, Belichick would deploy Tebow as a RB, FB, TE, WR, whatever-back in order to give his team an edge and get into the end zone. And I think Tebow would be bummed he's not a full-time QB but happy to help his team win, just like he was when Fox humiliatingly sent Tebow out on the field as a wide receiver earlier this season.

As a Bronco fan, I want the focus to stay on Tebow. Clearly he can handle the scrutiny with poise and it allows the rest of this improving team (save for the buttery hands of the WRs) to stay below the radar. Do you agree?

I don't think you have to worry about the focus staying on Tebow. (Although I think everyone agrees that a bit more focus on the exceptional rookie LB Von Miller would be great for everyone.)

You said: "Trust me: I get the sense that John Elway and John Fox couldn't be rooting harder for Tebow to fail, even at the expense of their own team winning." Why is that so? Can you explain this? What perverse motives are at work here?

I'm glad you caught that and asked. I think that Elway and Fox don't think Tebow is their solution long-term at QB. I think they threw him out there in part to satisfy the fans, but mostly to let him flounder so they could go "See? We gave him a chance! Now we're going to draft a more typical QB."

And then Tebow started winning. Now, not only can they not bench him in advance of pushing him out the door of the franchise, but with each win, they move further and further away from being able to draft his replacement. If they don't win another game, they may already be too far away. To the extent that Elway and Fox are already looking past Tebow to next season and beyond, I think they value their draft slot and an easier route to dumping the most popular player in franchise history besides Elway ahead of actually winning games in a season they presumed was lost anyway. (How's that for a conspiracy theory?)

I'm not rooting for him to fail. I'd love to see him succeed. But people are coming out now saying how amazing he is. I just think it's going to drop off for him.

I don't like the hyperbole either. I do think that a lot of the "amazing" stuff comes relative to the excessively low expectations.

Looking ahead, it's not like he's going to win the next 6 games (or is he?) Let's see what happens when the team loses next (and how it happens). Remember: After the Lions loss, Tebow was getting absolutely hammered by the media and NFL experts (not to mention non-Broncos fans).

Even if Elway and Fox aren't tied to Tebow (after all he is McDaniel's pick) and may be rooting against him quietly (or in Fox's case, openly), Denver has gone out of its way to make it work with Tebow this season.

I'm not sure they've gone out of their way to make it work -- I think Fox installed the option offense as a last resort. A less orthodox coach would have thought about this in the offseason and tried to make a go of it from Week 1. At least, that's how folks following Tebow have been arguing it since the offseason. Fox is taking (and getting) a wee bit too much credit. "I'm playing to my QB's strengths" shouldn't be something he gets a medal for; it should be how he approaches the job as a baseline. An equally fair question is "What took so long, Coach?"

Thanks to everyone for your great questions. Hope you've enjoyed the discussion (I have!) For more on Tebow and the Tebow phenomenon, try http://www.timteblog.com and for the best takes on the biggest sports topics, try http://www.quickish.com. Thanks!

In This Chat
Dan Shanofff
Dan Shanoff is the founder of Quickish, a real-time sports-news company he created after 15 years in sports news, including his popular longtime ESPN.com column, "The Daily Quickie." He is also the creator of TimTeblog.com, a site that launched in 2009 covering the Tim Tebow phenomenon.

A DMV native, he recently relocated back to the D.C. area after more than a decade in New York City.
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