As a journalist who has consistently experienced the wrath of Tebow Nation — mostly for passing along the slings and arrows voiced by various NFL players, coaches and talent-evaluators — I'm well aware that many devotees of the world's most celebrated unemployed quarterback carry a heavy persecution complex.
Yet as Tim Tebow's career wheezes to an underwhelming halt, with less apparent interest in his services than Massachusetts funeral parlors have in Tamerlan Tsarnaev's remains, something strange is happening. Against all odds, I'm starting to wonder whether the man who helped the Denver Broncos become one of the league's most stunning success stories in 2011 is getting unjustly blackballed.
Nine days after Tebow was released by the New York Jets, it has become increasingly clear that the ultra-popular quarterback who has hijacked many a news cycle has no viable landing spot. No NFL team seems to want him — as a starter, backup, converted H-back or fake-punt decoy — and it's not like he's fending off big-money offers from Canada, either.
Now, here's the interesting part: Tebowmania is at least partly to blame.
As much as prospective employers are wary of Tebow's flawed mechanics, much-maligned throwing motion or deficiencies when it comes to reading defenses, the incessant media and fan attention that accompanies his presence on the depth chart is an even bigger concern.
"He seems like a great guy to have on a team, and I'd be tempted to bring him in as our backup," one NFC head coach told me Wednesday. "But it's just not worth dealing with all the stuff that comes with it."
In a business in which coaches and general managers strive to avoid distractions, Tebow, as one NFC offensive coordinator told me last spring, carries more of a stigma than Terrell Owens.
Or, in the words of one AFC head coach to whom I spoke recently: "You don't want to put up with the circus."
Given that his presence in the Jets' locker room coincided with a Benzini Brothers-style disaster of a 2012 season — andprovoked controversial comments from teammates on various sides of the Tebow vs. Mark Sanchez spectrum along the way — it's easy to understand why some teams are shying away from Tebow.
But all of them, in a league in which guys like Ryan Lindley, Chandler Harnish and Matt Blanchard have jobs?
It's as if Tebow is the unwanted love child of Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell.
So, even though I sort of understand why Tebow is toxic, the fact that he's not even being given a chance to compete for a third-string job is troublesome. And just as I feel compelled to call out the league when it comes to injustices like the dearth of minorities in offensive play-calling roles, the apparent blacklisting of a quarterback who went 7-4 as a starter in 2011 and won a memorable playoff game over the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn't seem kosher to me.
Tebow, by all accounts, is a hard worker who radiates a relentlessly positive attitude. He has obvious leadership qualities and, as Broncos fans, 2011 opponents and "Saturday Night Live" aficionadosalike can attest, an uncanny knack for getting the stars to align in his favor. (Or, perhaps, his deep Christian faith really does translate into things like Marion Barber inexplicably running out of boundsin high altitude. After the weirdness I witnessed that season, I'm not ruling anything out.)
Clearly, even after shredding what was then the NFL's top-ranked defense for 316 passing yards in that Jan. 2012 playoff triumph, Tebow still has some serious refinement to do in order to bring his game to NFL-starter standards. That was evident in his final game with the Broncos, a lopsided playoff defeat to the New England Patriots.
What I can't understand is why no NFL team has enough faith in Tebow's upside to see if he's capable of pulling it off.