Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been on the receiving end of some pretty incredible criticism since entering the NFL. Critics such as ESPN’s Merril Hoge have called him “embarrassing” and have insisted that he “can’t play” in the NFL. After yesterday’s 45-10 mauling at the hands of the Detroit Lions, those voices have gotten louder. An unnamed Lions’ player called Tebow’s performance yesterday (18-39, 172 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT) “embarrassing” and said that the “Tebow experiment is a joke.” Two Lions players mocked Tebow and his praying after Denver turnovers.
In over 40 years of watching football I’ve never heard this level of vitriol directed toward an individual player, especially not a player like Tim Tebow. Tebow won two national championships in college and a Heisman Trophy. Denver no doubt reached to select him in the first round, but that Tebow is on an NFL roster is no “joke.” That he’s getting a chance to start when his competitors for the job are the legendary Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn isn’t really all that surprising. So why all this extreme criticism.
Tebow’s numbers aren’t Hall of Fame material, but they hardly qualify for embarrassment. He’s played in all of 14 games for Denver, starting only five. In that time, he’s completed 76 of 158 passes for 1066 yards, nine TDs and only four interceptions. He’s also rushed for 5.6 yards per carry over that time for seven touchdowns. He’s lost one fumble. So who we have here is a second year pro with less than a half dozen starts under his belt who’s accounted for 16 TDs to 5 turnovers with a QB rating of 78.7. After yesterday’s loss, he’s 2-3 as a starter. These numbers won’t get the sculptors ready carving his bust for Canton, but neither do they warrant such outlandish and public criticism either.
Let’s take a closer look at some worthy comparisons to Tebow, quarterbacks who were much ballyhooed coming out of college (and thus subject to some inflation of their potential) who were, in hindsight, reaches for their teams. Akili Smith was selected third overall by the Bengals in 1999. Smith started 17 games for Cincinnati, throwing only 5 TDs and 13 interceptions. His QB rating was 52.8. Yet he started the better parts of three NFL seasons and was never subject to this type of criticism. Selected first overall that year by the Browns was Tim Couch. Couch started for all or part of five seasons with Cleveland with a career rating of 75.1. Never did he have a season with a QB rating as high as Tebow’s current 82.1. And never did opposing GMs suggest starting Couch was an “embarrassment.”
Ryan Leaf was allowed to start 21 games and even the Dallas Cowboys gave him a shot on their roster. Heath Shuler made 22 starts for two different organizations. Never was either mocked publicly the way Tebow has been.
Perhaps the Lions players should be reminded that their own Matthew Stafford, in his first year as quarterback, completed only 53.3% of his passes and had 20 interceptions to only 13 TDs. Was his 61.0 QB rating a joke? Or how about Tebow’s teammate, Brady Quinn who, like Tebow, has played in 14 NFL games. His QB rating is worse, 66.8 and has only one more touchdown but five more interceptions than Tebow. Kyle Orton’s first 15 games in Chicago? A 59.7 rating, 9 TDs and 13 interceptions. He also lost five fumbles. I don’t recall the outrage over Cleveland and Chicago starting these players.
So what makes Tebow different from these quarterbacks? Why is he the subject of derision and ridicule despite having better statistics? Could it be his openness about his Christianity? Tebow has been the subject of media attention since arriving at Florida. He has always been portrayed in the media narrative as the “golden boy.” As a non-Gator fan, I can attest to finding all the hyping of Tebow more than a little bit irritating.
So now that Tebow has arrived in the NFL, it’s time for the backlash. Now that Tim isn’t winning national championships or Heismans, the media is reconstructing its narrative, this time painting him as a failure.
What’s sad about all this is that Tebow hasn’t invited any of it. Throughout his career at Florida, he remained even-keeled, simply going about his business winning football games, and more importantly, his priority of being a positive Christian light. Tebow has never shied away from speaking about his faith, nor has he personally elevated it or shoved it in others’ faces. The media have sensationalized it, but Tebow has simply lived as who he is.
For his troubles, he has fellow NFL players openly taunting that faith and members of the media taking potshots about his virginity and other attributes of his faith. Tebow doesn’t deserve that.
It’s time for the media, and more importantly, the NFL to treat Tebow like any other quarterback in the league. Personally, I think Kyle Orton’s a better quarterback at this time and gives Denver a better chance to win. But Tim Tebow’s performance thus far has been far from “embarrassing” or a “joke.” What’s not a joke or at all embarrassing is the way Tebow has carried himself during all this. Not only has he represented Christ well, but he’s handled himself as a professional as well. Perhaps other journalists and players should follow suit.