Back in the summer of 2005, when I was covering high school football for the Florida Times-Union and preparing for the upcoming fall schedule, I contemplated an idea for my first book.
What I planned to do was chronicle the senior season of a surefire Division-I prospect, all the way from the first two-a-day in August through national signing day in February. Not only did I want to take in every practice and every game, but I was also hoping to capture the essence of the recruiting process – the letters, the phone calls, the campus visits. It was going to be hard enough to find a prepster willing to put himself under that kind of microscope, let alone an entire family prepared to welcome an unfamiliar journalist into their home on a regular basis during the most important time in their son’s life to date.
After careful analysis of the best players in the area, my first choice was a left-handed quarterback from Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach: Tim Tebow.
I wrote a letter to Tebow’s parents, Bob and Pam, introducing myself and explaining exactly what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. Fairly frequent phone conversations, the occasional family dinner, tagging along on one recruiting trip – admittedly, I was asking for a lot. A week or so later, I got a call from Pam. While she appreciated my interest and believed my intentions were genuine, “Timmy” was already getting enough attention at the time and she didn’t feel another potential distraction of this magnitude was a good idea. So the Tebows, in the most polite fashion imaginable, declined my offer.
Just two and a half years later, Timmy became the first sophomore in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy.
And I’m still yet to write my first book.
This week, Tebow will be under a microscope much more intense than the one I would have subjected him to before he started starring in Super Bowl commercials. At the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, arguably the greatest player the college game has ever seen will be poked and prodded – both physically and mentally – by all 32 teams, with every single one of them skeptical that any of his skills displayed on the gridiron at the University of Florida can translate to the NFL. Although he has elected not to throw at Lucas Oil Stadium, instead choosing to wait for his Pro Day back in the friendly environs of Gainesville, he will be weighed, he will be measured and, in all likelihood, he will be found wanting by notoriously-merciless team talent evaluators.
Scouts don’t care about that impassioned speech he gave following a loss to Ole Miss, galvanizing Gator Nation to 22 straight wins. What they do care about is his ability – or perceived lack thereof – to throw an 18-yard comeback on the sideline against tight man-to-man coverage.
Historically, Florida quarterbacks haven’t done much on Sunday. Just like Tebow, Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy. But he started just 10 games in his NFL career and assembled a miserable passer rating of 56.4. Just like Tebow, Chris Leak won the national championship. But he’s currently a backup for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. And just like Tebow hopes to be in April, Rex Grossman was a first-round draft pick. That guy has to wear a disguise walking the streets of Chicago these days.
QB Tim Tebow
Getty Images: Kevin C. Cox
He accomplished more at the collegiate level than Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Colt McCoy of Texas and Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame combined, but while the aforementioned signal callers will all come off the board in Round 1 and are likely to be starting somewhere very soon, some fans wonder why Tebow won’t consider a switch to tight end or linebacker.
Imagine Lew Alcindor, three times the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, being told his game wasn’t good enough to succeed in the NBA. Imagine Jack Nicklaus, a two-time U.S. Amateur champion, being told his game wasn’t good enough to succeed on the PGA Tour.
But all week long in Indy, a two-time first-team All-American, two-time Maxwell Award winner, Davey O’Brien Award winner, SEC Athlete of the Year, AP Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy winner is being told his game isn’t good enough to succeed in the NFL.
Friday, Tebow will answer questions at the podium just like all the other quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. He’ll look people in the eye. He’ll sound intelligent. He’ll most certainly say “God bless” to the assembled masses before walking off the stage. And he’ll have even the most cynical of media members wondering if what they have been saying about him lately – he can’t take a snap from center, he can’t run over defenders in the pros, he can’t recognize coverages – is wrong.
Can he do it? Can he shorten up his delivery in time for Florida’s Pro Day? Can he master those three-, five- and seven-stop drops he never had to worry about operating out of the spread? Can he convince one general manager out there – all it takes is one – that his heart, his toughness and his will to win trump his erratic arm, his sloppy footwork and his lack of experience in a pro-style offense? Can he unlearn everything he has known about playing the game’s most important position, going all the way back to his days as a home-schooled kid on the First Coast?
He may, and he may not, but if Tebow does turn out to be a legit NFL quarterback, I might finally get around to writing my first book – and this time, I won’t ask his mother for permission first.
To read Day 2 of the Tebow Tracker, which covers his time answering questions from the media at the podium, Click Here.
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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.