Tim Tebow’s problem is: Performance trumps celebrity

The controversy over Tim Tebow’s lack of playing time has provided a fascinating window into the dominant role “celebrity” plays in the modern American culture. In the face of all evidence, a gaggle of orange-and-blue faithful are all over Denver Broncos management to get Tebow in the line-up as the franchise’s starting QB.

“Tebow, Tebow, Tebow!” Timmy’s fanatics cry, believing that it is he — the buffed-up, charismed-out, All-American from Florida — who will lead our no-longer proud franchise back to Super Bowl glory.

Pro-Tebow mania is running so hot that it’s even got some Bronco fans doing the unthinkable — questioning the football wisdom of His Mile High Holiness, John Elway. One Tebow booster is even reportedly on the verge of buying billboards to indelicately nudge the Broncos front office (that’s you, Mr. Elway) to make the move to Tebow.

Tebow’s larger-than-life personality, boyishly handsome looks and the kick-butt competitive fire he showed during his legendary career as the signal caller at the University of Florida all make him an understandable choice for the affection of fans. Meanwhile, Tebow has carefully cultivated his celebrity — like Kim Kardashean, only in steel cleats.

Even the Tebow-haters can’t deny this much: The dude has more swagger than the Old Spice guy, and it can be measured by the barrel.

But for those who mistakenly try to parlay Tebow’s college career and cult of personality into a predictive measure of his professional future, there is one very large catch: In the NFL, Tim Tebow is just plain not very good.

And yes, I know a little something about quarterbacks who aren’t very good.

After watching his performance (if you can call it that) this pre-season, the guy barely deserved to make the roster.

But after a flurry of August trade rumors, make the roster he did, and now a sea of Tebow-smitten Broncomaniacs want to take it all the way, and entrust the fate of the franchise to that award-winning smile.

Peculiarly, the debate over Tebow — and more specifically whether he should replace the salty Kyle Orton as starting quarterback — has strayed into the partisan and political.

Some on the right have alleged that Tebow, a renowned winger (that’s right winger, for those not familiar with the nomenclature), is getting the shaft because of the outspoken stance he has taken on some political issues. And some on the left have worried aloud that Elway, himself a boffo Republican donor, might give Tebow preferential treatment over Orton, who is an unabashed Democrat, Earth muffin and tree-hugger.

I don’t make this stuff up.

Does anyone actually think that in the uber-competitive, money-hungry world of professional football, Tim Tebow’s position on abortion matters one iota to Pat Bowlen, John Elway and the rest? Not a chance.

The NFL is as close as the human world gets to the “state of nature” posited by Thomas Hobbes, the 17th Century philosopher. Hobbes believed that, before there was government, mankind lived in a violent, competitive, winner-take-all social environment. Hobbes famously said that in the state of nature, life was “nasty, brutish and short.”

So it is the NFL — where life is so hyper-competitive, so nasty, so brutish and so short that even a pigskin demi-god like Peyton Manning can be tossed out like yesterday’s Sloppy Joe mix. Rumors abound these days that the Indianapolis Colts may not even keep Manning, as he fights a grinding neck injury that some fear will keep the icon from attaining his once indomitable stature.

Peyton’s poor treatment proves the wisdom of former Kansas City Chiefs Coach Hank Stramm, who once said that, for the underperforming or the infirmed, the NFL really stands for “Not For Long.”

Which brings us back to Tim Tebow, whose celebrity is grand but whose NFL upside is small. In an NFL where touchdown passes are still more important than People Magazine profiles, TT’s prospects are bearish.

I know — the plucky Kyle Orton isn’t Joe Montana (note: a professional athlete never wants to be described as plucky), and this Broncos team runs almost no risk of playing deep into January. But I still take the side of John Elway on this one.

Hope, change and celebrity is no basis on which to choose a president. And it’s an equally lousy criteria for picking an NFL quarterback.

Orton is actually better than Tebow.  And in the NFL at least, that still counts for something.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate Minority leader and a former college football quarterback at Mesa State College.


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