How Tim Tebow fanatics give Florida Gators fans (and Tebow) a bad name, and how to fix it

Rick Stewart

It's frustrating to be a skeptic with an audience of faithful. But it's frustrating to be a Tim Tebow fan when the NFL's skeptical about him. Here's how Tebow Nation can help Tebow.

Like every other person who works in sports media, I have learned, time and again, that virtually anything I say about Tim Tebow, positive or negative, will get a response. Today, with Tebow finally being released by the New York Jets, I ventured this opinion on Tebow on Twitter.

Here is a sampling of the responses I got from the aggrieved over about an hour of discussion and back and forth:

Apologies for the last two being embeds of manual RTs of @AlligatorArmy, but those came from someone who has since deleted the tweets. He also asked me to do this:

I don't think I have a monopoly on truth or right-minded thinking, but I pride myself on thinking deeply and honestly. I try to do that with Tebow like I try to do that with everyone: This is why it troubles me when it is revealed that Tebow lied to hide concussion symptoms before a game, or when college success is used as evidence supporting Tebow's NFL credentials when he was doing things very differently in college, because hiding a concussion would trouble me if I knew about any athlete doing it, and because shifting the target when talking about an athlete is intellectually dishonest.

I defend Tebow when it's worthwhile, too, and have defended Tebow fans who get so few legitimate chances to point and laugh at skeptics; I've even used Tebow to take shots at Peyton Manning, which I think is fair and honest because I am far from alone in using many opportunities to take shots at Peyton Manning.

I have nuanced and complicated opinions on Tim Tebow that are both sympathetic to him and skeptical about him, and I'm not alone in that. But those of us who do a lot of deep thinking about Tebow and end up with messy feelings end up in a minority that gets routinely drowned out by the stubborn and loud on each side, pro and con. And it feels and has felt to me like Gators fans routinely end up in the stubborn, loud, and unproductive pro side.

This is so, so dumb because of one thing Tebow defenders seem to routinely overlook: Part of the reason Tim Tebow's NFL future is so murky (to put it kindly) is the deafening procession of fans that follows him around.

Those fans' individual opinions don't matter, unless you think NFL personnel departments make decisions based on tweets from Joanne and Joe Schmoe, but the drove is a ravenous one, and so media outlets know they can cover Tebow and stoke discussion and interest. The rabidity of the pro-Tebow folks has also helped produce an equally rabid anti-Tebow contingent, one that can also be satiated with media coverage. (There's a fourth class of fans here, those exhausted of Tebow, but even they still tend to be interested in why so much coverage is devoted to Tebow, so they, too, make up a group that can be catered to.)

As a result of his unique position as a lightning rod, wherever Tebow goes, he brings massive scrutiny for every co-worker. And that scrutiny is rough: Give Mark Sanchez truth serum and ask if he was happy that the Jets brought in Tebow last year, and I bet he'd spill about how it wore on him; give Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan serum and ask about whether they would still engineer a trade for Tebow, and I bet the "No" would be immediate.

This is why the Jacksonville Jaguars have had to get out in front of bringing in Tebow time and again under new owner Shad Khan: The safest, most sensible way to rebuild a franchise is to put together a winning team, and catering to the few thousand Gators fans who might turn out to see the Jaguars if Tebow were starting doesn't outweigh the risk of having Tebowmania run wild and wreck that rebuild.

And the Jaguars are the team for whom Tebow makes the most sense.

The best-case scenario for an NFL team considering bringing Tebow in is winning with Tebow playing a role large enough to satiate his defenders and prove to his skeptics that he can be useful, but that's essentially a pipe dream: Tebow defenders still hinge on Tebow's dream of being a starting NFL quarterback and two months of close wins in Denver as proof that he should be able to earn a starting job. The worst-case scenario is practically anything else, as Denver's example suggests: The Broncos were in a position in 2012 to acquire one of the five best quarterbacks in NFL history, but knew doing so would bring scorn from a significant share of their fan base because of Tebow's magic in 2011.

If Tebow were, say, any other backup quarterback in the NFL (imagine Tim McCown!), that wouldn't be a problem. Signing him would require significantly less consideration, and no one would hold the dream of being a starting quarterback (one that I would guess almost every NFL quarterback shares) up as a reason to give him the fairest shake possible. Tebow could learn and apprentice in obscurity, and develop without his every move being criticized or lauded.

Also, and most importantly to us Florida fans, it would help shift the perception of our fan base as one obsessed with Tebow. It does Florida's coaches and players no good to put Tebow on a pedestal and expect special treatment for him in the NFL, because the value of having Tebow at Florida was having a great, likeable player at a prominent position on a great, dominant team. If Tebow had been bad, we wouldn't have cared about him, except to boo him; why should we be so staunchly in a guy's corner as to forsake one of the greatest core values of sports, the one that holds that the best players should play?

Calmer seas would not only be better for any team who wants Tebow, but for Tebow's chances of being a starter. It would certainly be better for Tebow if his legions of defenders and detractors called a cease-fire that produced similar conditions, though that will never happen. (And, selfishly, it would be better for me if I didn't have to worry about a player who has been gone from Florida for three years now every day.)

But I think that has to start with the Tebow defenders, who can neutralize a lot of the coverage of Tebow by backing off and letting things play out. If they come to terms with the idea that Tebow's success or failure in the NFL really does not cheapen their faith in him or his faith in general or Tebow's accomplishments at Florida, I think they will realize that the stakes are artificially high in a way that hurts Tebow. And if Tebow defenders can calm down and pay attention to other things, there's less reason for skeptics to shout and troll and pay attention to Skip Bayless. And then, if there's no compelling reason to cover a backup quarterback trying to become a starter, Tebow will end up getting to work toward his dream under conditions that are more conducive to him realizing it.

These are big ifs, to be fair, and ones I don't expect to become realities. If those who are the most fanatical about Tebow ease up a little bit, though, they might be pleasantly surprised about what happens next.

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