Sixty-eight New England Patriots saw action during the team’s third preseason game in the summer of 2013.
Tim Tebow wasn’t one of them.
He wanted to play. He was dressed and ready to go. He stood near the 50-yard line in Detroit, often with his helmet on, waiting for coach Bill Belichick to give him a chance to prove himself. It never came. Belichick was asked why he played only two quarterbacks that night (Tom Brady and backup Ryan Mallet).
“Because we only played two quarterbacks,” Belichick deadpanned, clearly uninterested in discussing Tebow.
It was, pretty much, the end of the end for Tebow and the NFL. He won a Heisman Trophy in college and one playoff game in Denver playing quarterback, but he wasn’t good enough for the long haul as a pro.
Denver traded him. The New York Jets cut him. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Belichick brought him in to give him a look as a QB, but mostly to design all sorts of other ways for him to contribute — tight end, H-back, fullback. Whatever.
Tebow wouldn’t budge. Not even for the best coach in the game.
“I think a lot of people don’t get it or understand it,” Tebow said later. “They say, ‘Why? Why not go to a different position in football?’ It’s because it’s not the game of football. It’s what you love doing in it. For me it was the position of quarterback.”
So Belichick sat him and then cut him. A year later, another training camp stint in Philadelphia went nowhere. Soon he was pursuing broadcasting and minor league baseball.
Fair enough. The guy was living his life on his terms. Football isn’t a game you half-heartedly play.
And then word broke Thursday via the NFL Network that Tebow had “recently worked out for the Jacksonville Jaguars as a tight end.” The Jags were discussing signing him. Jacksonville’s new coach? Tebow’s old one at the University of Florida: Urban Meyer, who also lives three doors down from him. The gang might be getting back together.
All of it begs some simple questions. Why now? What changed?
Tebow is 33, which is semi-ancient for the NFL. Who knows if he still has what it takes to play in the league. The good news is he hasn’t taken years of football beatings. The bad, you get old young in that league.
For his many fans who wanted to see him play in the pros, this is bittersweet. A comeback is good, but there is little doubt that he could have been a weapon with Belichick and Brady.
For Tebow, the refusal to switch positions was based on what he called “following my heart.” He said he didn’t love football, he loved quarterbacking. There was a difference, he said. While most players will do anything to make the NFL — many shift positions — Tebow wouldn’t.
He loved the leadership required of a QB. He loved the responsibility. He loved the position.
And he wasn’t bending. He basically walked away from football and tried baseball, his other sporting interest.
“The two things I loved so much in sports was hitting a baseball and quarterbacking,” Tebow told Yahoo Sports in 2016. “Because both were so hard, because both were so tough. In football they are counting on you to win the game for your team in the end. Quarterback is the only position where they count the record. The record counts for you. So it’s tough.
“And hitting, if you go 3 for 10 it’s a really good thing,” he continued. “I just love those two things. I got a chance to pursue football and really live out my dream as a quarterback and there were highs and lows with that. And now I get to do that with baseball. I’m excited about that.”
Baseball is done now. He retired this spring. He never got higher than AAA, where he hit .163 in 2019. He was good at selling tickets.
You can’t fault someone for doing what they want to do, for pursuing their dreams. It’s his life. Now though, maybe there is regret, maybe there is new perspective, maybe with no other options, football for football’s sake sounds good after all.
We’ll see. First if Jacksonville wants him, then if Tebow is good enough at this point.
Better late than never, but man, it sure would have been nice to see what he and Belichick could have done all those years ago.
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