In the last month, Republican Presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann both bluntly invoked the name of Tim Tebow as a metaphor for their presidential aspirations. The argument was that, like Tebow, they are born-again warriors of Christ who will defy all expectations and achieve victory. Bachmann even cut an ad where a voice-over said,
“What do Tim Tebow and Michele Bachmann have in common? Well, at first glance, you might say nothing. But look a little deeper. The establishment sports guys just love to hate Tim Tebow. He's not smart enough, his mechanics are no good, he's not accurate enough. Still he just keeps winning. Maybe they're so invested in his failure because he makes them all feel guilty. He doesn't drink, smoke, cuss or even kick his opponents when they're on the ground. He has no baggage and, Oh Yeah, he's a Born again Christian. Well, the same could be said of Michele Bachmann. No baggage, Christian and, like Tebow, she just keeps fighting and she just keeps winning votes.”
Bachmann is now toast of course, dropping out of the primaries to the chagrin of comedians everywhere. As for Rick Perry, his campaign is over but no one seems to have informed him of this fact.
Bachmann and Perry couldn’t have picked a worse time to invoke the Tebow name. Coming off three straight losses, Tebow’s Broncos limp into the playoffs this weekend to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team with number one ranked defense in the country. The Steelers defensive front, to quote Jimi Hendrix, looks like they “stand up next to mountains and chop them down with the edge of their hands." They’re smart, brutal and ruthless. If Tim Tebow is Rick Perry, the Steelers are a combination of Occupy Wall Street, the Teamsters, and Brodus Clay.
But the stakes are even higher than just a mere playoff game. If Tim Tebow doesn't play well, his quarterback career could be over. Seriously. Done. Finished. Over. This isn’t blind conjecture. It’s the discussion across the sports media landscape where there is open speculation that this weekend could be his last chance.
The reversal in fortune is simply stunning. The same Tim Tebow who led Denver to seven victories in eights games, revived a franchise, made the cover of Sports Illustrated, was mentioned as an MVP candidate, and inspired a nationally televised, hathos-drenched love-poem from NBC’s Bob Costas, is hanging onto his job by his fingernails, and for good reason.
In the last three weeks, Tebow has played the quarterback position about as poorly as it could be played. He completed 30 passes in 73 attempts over three weeks for just 439 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions. As bad as those numbers are, they aren’t very different from the numbers Tebow put up all season. He ended the year with the 27th ranked quarterback in the NFL and an NFL worst completion percentage of 46.5%, only completing more than 52% of his passes once this season. In contrast, Drew Brees set an NFL record completing 71.2% of his passes and 18 starting quarterbacks completed at least 60% of their throws, In a pass-happy league, where every rule is bent to favor the quarterback, these numbers won’t work.
Broncos Team President, Hall of Fame quarterback, John Elway, long rumored to hate being saddled with Tebow, said on Wednesday, “The key thing for (Tebow) is to go out, put everything behind him, go through his progressions and pull the trigger.” That’s like saying, “The key for Dennis Rodman is to shoot three pointers.” It has to be read as Elway setting Tebow up for failure and frankly delighting in the prospect.
For Tebow’s own sake, fans need to stop thinking of him as an MVP mystic who “makes people believe.” The reality is different and honestly the reality isn’t that bad. He is a phenomenal athlete who can’t throw a football. Make him a running back. Make him a free safety. Put him on special teams. But put the Jesus/Tebow shirts away and be honest about his limitations.
It’s hard to not see a bit of Sarah Palin in Tebow. Both are physically attractive. Both have fervent supporters blind to their obvious shortcomings. Both, for a period, had the mainstream media cowed into treating them like they were in fact credible at their jobs. Both use a narrative of victimization to explain their success in the face of doubters. Both have inspired Internet trolls, on both sides, to new heights of evil creativity. One wore out her welcome. I hope Tebow doesn’t do the same and accepts that there is no shame in not being a quarterback.
This weekend Tebow is going to be fed to the Steelers, a unit that covets nothing less than his destruction. At long last he will be a victim, but not of “haters.” Instead he’ll be at the bottom of a pile of black and gold, victimized by the blind lust of his supporters and his own arrogant pride.
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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 email@example.com.
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