Very few things happen in professional or collegiate sports that truly surprise me.
I am not referring to the kind of surprise that one feels after noticing the bottom line on SportsCenter telling you that the Bobcats beat the Heat.
Instead, I refer to the type of surprise that literally kicks you in the teeth, the type of surprise that makes your hands sweat and your mouth dry, the type of surprise that resonates to the very core of your fandom.
The New York Jets trading for Tim Tebow? That is what surprise feels like.
Ever since Tebow emerged at Florida I have been against the mass movement of Tebowmania. I have condemned professional commentators, my family and friends who grovel at the feet of a quarterback who at best is below average and at worst is downright mediocre.
This is a quarterback who ranked last in completion percentage and who failed to beat a team over the .500 mark last season. This is a quarterback who was inept against the Patriots’ last-ranked defense in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs – he threw for 126 yards, took five sacks and completed 34 percent of his 22 pass attempts. Despite this, Tebow was the biggest story of the 2011 NFL season, dominating content on major networks and jersey sales.
But Tebowmania quieted down after their postseason loss at New England. That is, until the Colts released Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos were the team that won the sweepstakes to sign him.
As soon as the Broncos signed Manning, they began shopping Tebow and effectively ended Tebowmania in Denver. All of the number 15 jerseys, all of the “Tebowing,” all of the support and love that was showered on the guy vanished. Needless to say, this all made me very, very pleased. I had won the argument: Tebowmania in Denver was finished, as was Tebow’s chance of serving as a starting quarterback for an NFL franchise for the time being.
All was right with the world.
But then the unthinkable happened. The New York Jets, the team I have loved for as long as I have held a conscious fandom, traded for Tebow.
The written word cannot describe the type of crippling dread I felt when I heard the news. I thought it was a sick joke when my friends brought the trade to my attention, thought that it was some elaborate scheme to get a rise out of me. But when I turned on ESPN and saw that Tim Tebow indeed was a New York Jet, I damn near vomited on my bedroom floor.
For a moment, let’s put aside the fact that I have a deep-seated resentment toward Tebow and look at the trade itself through the lens of an unbiased fan. The Jets gave up a fourth and a sixth round pick in return for Tebow and a seventh round pick – it really says a lot about how Denver valued the guy.
The Jets get a backup quarterback who can’t throw, but they also get a versatile back that can be used in a multitude of ways. He can complete the big play, provide a spark to a stalling offense and be a valuable asset in short-yardage situations. For these reasons, the trade does help a Jets offense that struggled in short-yardage situations a season ago and lacked the big play capability.
More than getting a versatile offensive player, the Jets traded for a media circus and a locker room distraction.
Mark Sanchez was given a questionable extension less than a month ago in order to ensure stability in his position as the franchise quarterback. Trading for Tebow completely undermines the legitimacy of that extension and immediately starts a quarterback controversy created by the media and New York fans.
The Jets can say that Mark Sanchez is their guy until they are blue in the face, but if he struggles early in 2012, the chants for Tebow will rain down from MetLife Stadium.
Personally, I am hoping that the Jets’ trade for Tebow lights a fire under Sanchez and that he takes the next step in his development as an NFL quarterback. Even more than that, I am hoping that Jets fans can show a reasonable restraint in assessing our quarterback situation. If Mark Sanchez throws two interceptions in week one of next season, let’s refrain from chanting the name of a quarterback who would lead us to the edge of annual ineptitude and mediocrity. This is our chance to show the rest of the country that fans here in New York only value one thing… winning.
For the last week I have been trying to stomach the fact that Tim Tebow was going to be a New York Jet. I adopted the mindset of openness and toleration as I sat down to watch his first press conference, hoping that some measure of admiration would be discernable within me.
And as I watched, I couldn’t help an uncontrollable wave of nausea that came over me. My eyes burned with a confused anger and my hands became clammy. I can’t help it, Tim Tebow will have to do far more than wear a green tie and use the words “blessed”, “excited” and “grateful” 216 times before my brain can react positively to him.
I am scared about what the future holds for the Jets. I honestly hope that Tim Tebow can change my mind and that I can come to support him as one of New York’s own.
I would love to be proven wrong, I would love for Tim Tebow to pound in the game-winning touchdown against the Patriots in Foxboro and for me to have untainted feelings of joy as he does so.
But I am skeptical, no, cynical about this prospect.
Tebowmania is coming to New York, and Jesus, I’m just not ready for it.