by Nathan Rush
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!
Well, really it’s only a giant digital billboard of the Denver Broncos’ Tim Tebow.
“Broncos Fans to John Fox: Play Tebow!!”
That message is as crystal clear as the thin Rocky Mountain air in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Multiline International Imports purchased the billboard at the intersection of 58th and Logan, north of downtown Denver.
The plea alternates with a photo of Tebow pointing skyward — presumably to two-time Super Bowl champ-turned-executive vice president of football operations John Elway and owner Pat Bowlen in the owner’s box — while coming out of the tunnel pregame.
As a rookie last season, Tebow threw for 654 yards, five TDs and three INTs for an 82.1 passer rating, while tucking the ball to rush for 227 yards, on 5.3 yards per carry, and six TDs on the ground in nine games (three starts). That playing time, however, came under coach Josh McDaniels — who was fired after a 3–9 start last year — and lame duck interim coach Eric Studesville, a.k.a. the “old regime.”
McDaniels was, in fact, the slash-and-burn emperor with no clothes who traded away proven (albeit flawed) Pro Bowlers like quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall. Then, the over-eager, wannabe Bill Belichick traded a second-, third- and fourth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for the No. 25 overall pick to draft Tebow.
As a result, Tebow, by no fault of his own, became a member of a select group — headlined by running back Knowshon Moreno (22 rush yards in ’11) and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (PUP list in ’11) — of players who were hand-picked in the first round by McDaniels and are now viewed as radioactive by the “new regime” of Captain Elway (Mile High salute!) and his first-year silver Fox coach.
The Johns (Elway and Fox) — presumably with the consent and/or support of Bowlen — have decided that Kyle Orton is their one and only quarterback. Through three starts, Orton has thrown for 672 yards, five TDs and three INTs for a 79.1 passer rating, while also coughing up two lost fumbles and posting a 1–2 record.
Orton’s passing stats are very Tebow-like. Unfortunately, King Neck Beard doesn’t bring the additional dimensions — scrambling, improvisation and popularity unparalleled by anyone since Elway — of No. 15, the former Florida Gator Heisman Trophy-winning BCS national champion.
Not only will the Johns not start Tebow but Fox won’t even play him when strategy calls for it, which it did during a bang-your-head-against-the-wall turnover on downs at the goal line during a 17–14 loss against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3.
Instead of using the dual-threat talents and run-pass-option ability of the 6’3”, 236-pound 24-year-old when it is the right time — at the goal line — Fox has chosen to undermine (intentionally or inadvertently) Tebow and question (through actions) his ability to play quarterback in the NFL by playing the Broncos’ leading jersey-seller at wide receiver.
Following injuries to Brandon Lloyd (groin), Eddie Royal (groin) and Julius Thomas (ankle), Fox gave Tebow his first playing time of the season in a 24–22 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. Tebow played three snaps, seeing no targets from Orton, as an “emergency No. 3 receiver.”
Rather than throw Tebow into the deep end to let him sink or swim as an NFL quarterback, Fox let Tebow flop around as a fish out of water and a player out of position. Jeff Fisher never liked Vince Young; but he never forced him to line up as a wide receiver, either.
But Tebow continues to show the patience and poise he preaches, telling the Denver Post, “I’m going to relish the opportunity and I’m going to go out there and make the most of it,” in his typically team-first tone, after the game.
It appears not everyone in Denver has the temperament for the Tebow treatment currently en vogue with Bowlen, Elway and Fox. The fans want Tebow, for better or worse. After getting a taste of the wild child paradigm-shifting lefty late last season and this preseason, the Mile High faithful were not happy just seeing No. 15 standing on the sideline — chanting “We want Tebow!” on Monday Night Football in the 23–20 loss to Oakland in Week 1.
And they’re right. Only one team wins the Super Bowl; but every team can sell jerseys, tickets and create a high-energy, exciting atmosphere within the fan base. Tebow brings every marketing intangible known to Mad Men — and, who knows, he might even be able to play quarterback.
The people of Denver have spoken. The Broncos should listen.