Tebow Redeemed?

“You are what your record says your are.” It’s a classic lunchpail NFL phrase, courtesy of retired coach Bill Parcells. It means forget how good you or your team think you are. Forget your stats. Forget all the ways you came up just short. The end results define the entire journey. It’s the amoral slogan of the sports world’s soul. It allows us to cheer for unsavory individuals and root for teams that vacuum our wallets clean. You are what your record says you are, and winning excuses all.


But this consecrated commandment of sports is being challenged like never before. If you are what your record says you are, what does that possibly tell us about the man with the top jersey sales in the NFL, Tim Tebow? The Broncos quarterback is 4-1. His presence has undeniably revived a moribund team. He has led the Broncos on winning fourth-quarter drives in all four of his victories. If you are what your record says you are, then Tebow at 4-1 must be considered at this moment, one of the best. And yet… he’s just awful. I don’t write that because Tebow is a Focus on the Family spokesperson who has a series of religiously tinged political views I find abhorrent. I write it because I have been watching football since I was sucking a bottle, and I have two working eyes.


Tim Tebow’s completion percentage is 44.8 percent. Take away his magical fourth quarters and the number is closer to 30 percent. This kind of awful is in the “Shaq free-throw percentage, Mario Mendoza batting average” sports hall of fame. But he’s not awful in the turgid unwatchable way that, say, a Kate Hudson movie is awful. He’s fascinating/awful. He’s Reefer Madness awful. He’s old Nic Cage in Vampire’s Kiss awful. Tim Tebow throws a football like someone heaving a ham-shaped grenade. It needs to be seen to be believed. I’ve never used this phrase to describe an NFL quarterback, and hope I never have to again, but he’s thrillingly campy. Watching him is like watching Sarah Palin be interviewed by someone off the Murdoch payroll. Disaster lurks, but the prurient/erotic ardor of their admirers fills the air around them and you cannot look away. National Review’s Rich Lowry once said, presumably while crossing and recrossing his legs, that Sarah Palin “sent little starbursts through the screen.” Tebow’s fans shake with the same puritanical spasms, as they wear number 15 jerseys with Jesus, instead of Tebow stitched on the back. He’s the promise ring of NFL quarterbacks and I see a spectacle from which I cannot avert my eyes.


Thrilling and campy. In the last three games, he’s gone 9-20, 10-21 and a simply unreal 2-8 passing the ball. He’s inspired sentences like, this one from ESPN’s Ian O’Connor: “As a professional football player, Tim Tebow makes no sense. He is among the most unartful dodgers in NFL history, a god-awful quarterback for about nine-tenths of your average game before voila, just like that, he is magical enough to make a New York Jets season go poof in the night.”

The Denver coaching staff, who turned to Tebow after a listless 1-4 start, have turned their playbook into an index card. It’s the offensive equivalent of the flat tax. And like the flat tax, it fails miserably for the great majority. The Broncos punted eight straight times versus the Jets. Tebow started 6-15 passing. Yet their defense is stalwart and more importantly they believe in Tebow. In other words, they feel that if they can keep the game close, Tebow will find a way to pull it out for them in the fourth quarter. He hasn’t let them down. But how?


Denver coach John Fox has broken with decades of NFL orthodoxy by allowing Tebow to use a system that gives the quarterback the option to run the ball. Here he looks in his element, playing with purpose. Tebow is hardly a Michael Vick, but he’s big, strong and hits an open hole as good as most running backs. He’s rushed for almost 400 yards at about seven yards a carry.


That Tebow has been given the chance to run the option is testament to his coach. It’s also a testament to the racial double standards that have historically defined the quarterback position. The best option qbs over the decades like Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway or Nebraska’s Tommy Frazier, were terrific runners and NCAA national champions, albeit with questionable arm strength. They were also African-American and NFL opportunities were nonexistent. If they did get a chance, like the great Brian Mitchell who was a star college quarterback, they were told to change positions. This stereotype of what makes a good “field general” affected white option quarterbacks as well, like Heisman winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska. Despite a set of unorthodox talents, they were told they didn’t fit the mold. When running quarterbacks showed up with the proper arm strength—like Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick—the player would be harangued by the press and coaching staff that they had to change their style top-to-bottom if they wanted to succeed in the NFL. They were informed that they had to drop back and run only as a last resort.


It’s good to be Tim Tebow. You get to be adored while going 2-8 passing. You get a playbook simplified and tailored to your strengths. You get to prove all your haters wrong. But it’s not Tim Tebow who’s been redeemed. Not yet, anyways. Not after five games. Its every option qb—black or white—told that the NFL wasn’t for them. You are what your record says you are, and Tim Tebow is 4-1. Let’s see, if nothing else, if this provides more opportunities for quarterbacks who didn’t fit the mold and were blocked at the door.


[Dave Zirin is the author of “The John Carlos Story” (Haymarket) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

12 Reader Comments | Add a comment


Lighten up, Dave. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And a flash in the pan season is no more than that. The Broncos are going nowhere, and I say that as a fan, but they're taking us for a fun ride. Tebow may or may not develop into a decent QB. If they are winning it's mostly because of the emergence of Von Miller and a suddenly half-decent defense, although the Kets are hardly an offensive powerhouse, and Sanchez may not be much better than Tebow.



DZ has seen the light(Tebow) and like a moth he is fascinated by it. But watch out Dave it might be a bug light and you'll be electrocuted.

When Tebow loses the next 3 out of 4. I expect DZ writing a "I told you so" column. I've always appreciated Parcells' quote because it eliminates the coulda/woulda/shoulda arguments that sports(political) fans argue about. I don't find it amoral at all.

Thank the Lord(lord?) DZ injected race at the end of his column I thought he might be slipping for a moment. I give coach Fox of Denver credit for trying Tebow but not that much. If Denver was .500 or better Tebow wouldn't have gotten the call(calling?) But when your team is sinking anything looks a savior even Tebow.

Roiling in race and religous bigotry

Another classic race-card-playing, religious-bigoted piece by our favorite limousine-Marxist demagogue.

You are a self-parody Comrade Zirin . . .keep it up!

The Law of Averages Will Catch up to Tebow

Sounds as if it's just a matter of time before Tebow's win/loss record "regresses to the mean," as statisticians would say. You simply can't judge a QB on just a 5 game sample.

No matter how good Tebow's running, it won't be enough to maintain anything near his recent 80% win rate. Ultimately, his gimpy arm will betray him and the Broncos will revert to mediocrity (or worse).

Bravo Dave, for seeing beyond this initial burst of success, which will ultimately prove to be a fleeting blip, along the road to Tebow's return to the bench.


"Its every option qb—black or white—told that the NFL wasn’t for them."

The dreams of Taylor Martinez have been crushed.


Also, did anyone else notice the URL for this article? Is this really the 666th post?

Decision making

Tebow does look like an awful quarterback at times. I do enjoy watching him play, but then I just like watching football.

DZ brings up a good point about past option quarterbacks of color who were not given a chance in the NFL. It is a shame, maybe the game would have changed for the better.

Tebow does not throw many interceptions, and seems to make good decisions with the football...Time will tell whether or not he makes it in the NFL...

I enjoyed watching that 95 yard drive against the Jets. It was impressive...

not how many you make, but when you make 'em

The ability (or lack of it) to execute in the fourth quarter means a lot. If his comp pct is 44, and its only 30 for the first 3 quarters, it must be pretty high for the 4th. And Dave, I know it must rankle to watch a Caucasian (believing) Christian athlete succeed.

That said, Bob Bregmans point is well taken ---- will he continue to excel when the game is on the line, or will he fall back down to earth? Especially if a playoff berth is on the line.

Exciting? Really?

Great article Dave, but what's exciting about 8 punts? Tebow was awful and hard to watch. How long will his receivers believe in him when they start to realize they won't put up any numbers, or make any money, as long as he's chucking the ball? I could care less about Tebow's religious beliefs, I just know he looks terrible as a quarterback.

I find it interesting that people try to cover for Tebow's deficiencies by calling him a winner, a leader, inspirational, or magical. It's like those qualities are an excuse for giving him an opportunity when other 'running' QBs have been shunned. Supposedly, that's what makes him different. Yeah, right. We all know what makes him different.


NFL is so eager to market Tebow they're now going to make the QB position similar to what it is in college, teams will start implementing a QB option offense. In 10 years every team's no. 1 QB will be able to take off as well as throw the ball. What's held up this inevitable progression all along? Just waiting for the right QB that prayed enough?

Two Working Eyes

"I write it because I have been watching football since I was sucking a bottle, and I have two working eyes.'

And so do i! And I'm gonna believe them over a 4-1 record...

Who Is Tim Tebow


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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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