It is torture to write about Tim Tebow. It's hard to know what to think, much less what to type.
It was torture to listen to his news conference Monday. You alternately wanted to scream at him and hug him for being so naive.
The marriage of Tebow to the New York cuss-and-fight-and-mope Jets is not made in heaven. It pushes the limits of the bizarre and nonsensical.
They are the "Hard Knocks" Jets, the NFL team that showed a U.S. TV audience that blocking and tackling are best done while uttering F-bombs. He is the soft-spoken, Jesus-loving quarterback, whose only inarguable football skill is that he wins.
This is Mother Teresa taking a cell in Alcatraz, Huck Finn hanging out with Al Capone.
The New York media is speculating, and correctly so, that the Jets acquired Tebow because, having lost the publicity battle of the postseason when the rival New York Giants won the Super Bowl, they needed to win the war of the off-season. Those skirmishes are measured in Web hits plus column inches and photo size on the back pages of the tabloids. Nothing will bring a victory to the Jets in that arena faster than having Tebow in the green and white.
He is a popular sensation because he contrasts with all the things the Jets should be ashamed of exploiting, if that is what they are doing. Sports fans are tired of bad guys, of junkies in shoulder pads and malcontents in helmets. The very nature of playing a game such as pro football is an invitation to entitlement, and when Tebow, by what he says and does, clearly rejects that, fans embrace him.
It would all be so easy if his talent matched his sincerity. We are cautioned, by experts and commentators alike, that that will not happen. Tebow presents a strange disconnect between fame and NFL ability. Rick Maese, a fine writer from the Washington Post, labeled Tebow's current situation as a time when "his celebrity passed his skill."
Nice phrase. Sad if true.
It is not uncommon to be tortured by this dichotomy. No less than the man who coached Tebow to fame, fortune and two national titles while at the University of Florida is quick to say that Tebow is what he appears to be. But Urban Meyer admits that he struggled to get there.
"I wanted to be a skeptic," Meyer says. "…Give me a break with this missionary work. I didn't want to like him."
The religious stuff that comes with Tebow is the game-changer. Large numbers of people hate that. Even larger numbers love it. Both segments talk a lot about it, and that has created an enormous base of interest for everything he does.
There may have been news conferences for other backup quarterbacks in the NFL, but none jumps to memory, certainly none with more than 200 media members on hand. The public buzz has pushed the media to places it does not want to go, or maybe it is vice versa. Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio caught himself in midsentence Monday while describing Tebow's entrance to the news conference.
"This is where my career has gone," Cowherd joked. "I'm doing play-by-play of Tim Tebow walking."
The news conference went for more than 30 minutes. Most questions seemed to be a version of these two: Are you mad at the Broncos for turning their backs on you? How are you and [Jets starter] Mark Sanchez going to get along?
There was never a crack. He was grateful for the opportunity the Broncos gave him. And, "Me and Mark already have a good relationship."
OK, so he learned more about touchdowns than grammar at Florida. Still, it was an amazing performance, if it was a performance at all. There is a chance he really feels that way, that he has somehow rationalized into something good his move to a media-hyper city, to a team that ended last season with a nervous breakdown, and to a reduced role as a second-stringer.
You listen to the Pollyanna answers with amazement. The piranhas swirl around him and bite. Tebow doesn't even bleed.
Of particular interest is a quote from Sanchez, who was among those who hosted high-schooler Tebow on a recruiting visit to USC. Sanchez told the Associated Press, "He's such a good guy, people don't want to believe it."
People do want to believe he will be a great quarterback, and therein lies the rub.