The Tim Tebow experiment is, at its core, about “leadership.” If “leadership” exists, and one leads maximally, can one succeed in the NFL, despite a lack of talent? Obviously for those people who wish to assign qualities of “leadership” willy-nilly—basically everyone involved in the football/industrial complex—it would be wonderful if Tebow succeeded. He won’t, and his failure won’t be protracted or debatable. The noble experiment will end quickly and violently.
Will this stop NFL pundits for looking for the next great “leader?” Of course not. It’s alchemy, and alchemy is what they’re trained in. Guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady make their jobs boring by being quite good at their own jobs, and they are repeatedly knighted with leadership qualities when what they really have is talent. It helps that unlike in baseball, where the average fan can understand the game quite well, football is beyond the comprehension of even some people who study it for a lifetime. Watching football on TV will hardly get you closer to the truth of what’s happening out there, and why: it’s like digging with your hands to get to the Earth’s core.
Instead of taking an industrial core driller to the game, TV pundits are content to serve up the softest stories imaginable. It’s basically the Today show for dudes, and it’s hard to blame them. You can always pin the glory on a particular player, and you can nearly always spread the blame to another one. It’s a shell game in which we’ll only hit on the truth by accident.
There are a really just a handful of announcer types. They are:
a) The surface-level guys
b) The parrots
c) The guys who actually try to explain what’s going on
d) The moralists
Taking them one, by one:
The surface-level guys
This is almost everybody, from really good announcers like Mike Tirico to really bad ones like everybody. They describe game action without describing the game itself. There’s enough game action, and more, to fill the time. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but it should be the baseline from which we strive to learn more, not less. Instead it usually works the opposite way around, and we think we know shit-all about football because we have the volume on. It’s just not true.
I’m sticking with the Monday Night guys because it’s a Tuesday morning, but Ron Jaworski, who is awful, awful, awful, is a parrot. The parrots describe to you what you just saw. They do nothing more. They assume, implicitly, that your eyes do not work. Jaworski is getting worse at this, if anything. Maybe he feels like he’s being pushed aside in the X’s and O’s department by…
The guys who actually try to explain what’s going on
I can’t remember who said it, but I read on Twitter last year that “Jon Gruden likes football the way a kid likes dinosaurs,” and that couldn’t be phrased any better. Gruden believes in both halves of the equation, the Tebow-esque mysticism and the deep-cut diagramming, but it seems like he’s been actively discouraged from the second. He can’t help himself sometimes, however, and before you know it you’re thigh-deep in the intricacies of the Tampa-2 against four-receiver sets from seven to nine yards between the hashmarks. Cris Collinsworth is one of these guys, too, and better at it than Gruden, but less hilarious.
Daryl Johnston, specifically, but almost all of them at one time or another. The strange thing about the moralists is that they’re fairly easy to tune out. They’ve become such a part of football that moralizing is essentially background noise until a guy like Tim Tebow shows up, and everybody starts doing it.
It’s clear that people want Tim Tebow to succeed, for reasons that are flimsy projections of their own self-images, and that a delusional 50.5 percent of the Broncos’ fanbase has hijacked the impressionable franchise the same way 50.5 percent of the populace steered the world into nonsense seven years ago. Why did they do this? In both cases, it was the invisible quality of “leadership” as embodied in an evangelical Christian. The difference is that Tebow doesn’t have a four-term. He’ll be lucky to last four days.
You might think I’m writing off the quality of “leadership.” I’m not. I just don’t think Tim Tebow is a leader in the NFL. Leadership in the NFL is about talent and preparation, and Tebow looks unprepared out there. Let’s agree to learn from Tebow, and let’s learn that football is a lot harder than it looks, even when it looks simple. Tim Tebow is very good at a specific type of football, but pretty much every player in the league is better than Tim Tebow at NFL football. Some of these players are leaders. All of them are very, very good at what they do.