The amazing thing about Tim Tebow is not that he has 51 TDs and almost 4000 yards of offense. It is that we don't know what to make of him. Think about it; who do we compare him to? No college quarterback has been a `do-everything' guy like Tebow, unless you go back to Jim Thorpe. In terms of impact and changing how people view his position, Tebow maybe to quarterbacks what Jim Brown was to running backs and Lawrence Taylor to linebackers. But even those guys did not have the statistical impact that Tebow has had, and may have in the future.
Comparing Tebow to other college quarterbacks is apples to oranges. Dennis Dixon is a quarterback who can run. Going back further, Michael Vick was a running back who could throw. Older fans look at Tebow as a fullback who can throw, completely missing the touch he has on long throws (like the Lou Murphy TD catch in the first quarter Saturday). Tebow's mechanics aren't quite there, but they have already started to improve. The kid has power and touch, something we have rarely ever seen.
So who can we compare Tebow to? Well, maybe someone else can think of a better comparison than this, but I'm going with Muhammad Ali.
First of all, I'm going with Ali as an athlete, not as an ambassador or a religious person (although both he and Tebow share similarities). One of the criticisms of Ali, even as Cassius Clay, was that he lacked power despite winning 37 of 61 bouts by knockout. Instead, analysts chose to look at Ali as a fighter who used speed, not a right hand, to win fights. This opinion is just like people still want to look at Tebow as a fullback who throws. Both sets of people are ignoring one side of the athlete's skill set. (Perfect example; Kirk Herbstreit saying Tebow has done great "running and throwing" despite Tebow with more TDs and attempts passing.)
Ali and Tebow both benefit from a massive media machine, but in different ways. Ali's demonstrative personality gave writers plenty of copy at a time when boxing ruled the world. Tebow's personality, while completely different, still inspires ink because he is a good kid who is insanely competitive. He is also playing for one of the most recognizable teams at a time when college football's popularity is soaring.
Both Ali and Tebow were accomplished amateurs and both inspire total hatred or total devotion. You can't be on the fence with either. Comparing Tebow to Ali also makes some sense because he takes a pounding like a heavyweight fighter. You might disagree, but I think boxers are the best athletes. You have to have the legs of a marathoner to last 12 rounds and the upper body of a defensive end to make sure the other guy doesn't last 12 rounds. (Don't look at today's crop of plodding heavyweights, that's a bad example.) The fact that Tebow broke his hand Saturday and still played, confirmed the `Tebow is a boxer' comparison for me. It is very common for a boxer to break his hand (hitting the hip of his opponent for example) and only discovering later how serious it was.
There is also this; is either the greatest? The argument for Ali is that he fought against the best competition (Archie Moore, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, George Foreman). For Tebow, it may end up that he played in the SEC and appeared in at least one BCS title game. Proving either guy is the greatest is nearly impossible.
I'm a big Ali fan, but I have to admit that I wonder if I'm committing blasphemy here. Even if Tebow ends up being the greatest NFL player of all time, his impact won't come close to Ali. (Although, I'd love to hear a "Tebow bomaye!" chant at the Florida-Georgia game next season.) But think of his impact on Gator fans. If he wins a national championship or if he stays four years, he will be the one we point at and tell our kids, "I saw him avoid a sack and run over three FSU players for a touchdown in 2007." At this point, I don't give a damn about the Heisman. That's because, right now, Tebow is on his way to becoming our Ali.