Light Applause For Tim Tebow's TV Debtut
By Brett Spielberg
So Tim Tebow is back on television, and he started off with quite the bang.
Predicting that the Seminoles would topple Auburn 35-31, he might have been the closest pundit when it came to picking the score: the result was of course 34-31 with FSU coming out on top. And as the NY Daily News put it bluntly, "[Tebow] was a lot closer to predicting the final score of Monday night's BCS National Championship game than he ever was to being the starting quarterback for the Jets."
Now maybe that's just a low blow from some haters, but Tebow actually enjoyed significant praise for his performance on camera this week. Talking football and soaking up the bright lights of Bristol cameras without the prerequsite of having to throw a spiral might just be his perfect gig.
He won’t be on Sundays — he’s not good enough to be a QB in the NFL, so how could he analyze it? — so he heads back to his roots, the NCAA. Tebow will be the centerpiece of ESPN’s SEC Network and is already becoming their newest biggest voice when it comes to college football. While he was a player, he dominated coverage in Bristol. Now, after a year that didn’t warrant any Tebow time on TV, Tebow will become the one doing the coverage.
But will the happy-go-lucky, good-natured, heartland heartthrob with a shaky throw (masked by big play capabilities) be the same television goldmine without his helmet on?
This time he won’t be making highlights, he’ll be analyzing them with co-hosts.
And before, during and after the final BCS National Championship, he did just that. On top of his oh-so-close prediction, he pretty much nailed it during the pre-game. He was on the mark discussing Auburn's motivation and running game, and he had some pretty astute analysis of potential coverages and blitz packages that Jameis Winston indeed did face.
Wasn't all that "Xs and Os" stuff one of the main reasons Tebow was so unsuccessful in the NFL, where he couldn't wait until the play would break down and do the voodoo that he used to do in college?
Well it appears maybe he does get it, or at the very least, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski locked Tebow in a room for a week and forced him to take an extended QB camp.
But I don’t know if it’s just me, or maybe it’s everyone who’s not head-over-heels in love with his persona, but in the past I have found everything he says to be vanilla and just utterly boring.
Whereas a guy like Jesse Palmer wasn’t as successful as Tebow on the field, he has a vibrant personality and a bit of an edge to him. Maybe that’s just from having a chip on his shoulder as the Bachelor back in the day.
But then Johnny Football stepped into the booth with Tebow, and the theory that opposites attract was proven correct yet again. Watching the two most polarizing college football players in recent memory — let's leave out Winston and Cam Newton — interact is American television at its finest. It was a moment that showed a second side of Tebow ... or maybe it just showed that his faith is so deep that even he can forgive Manziel for all of his incredulous indiscretions.
But let's get back to the point, Tebow did and will continue have plenty to talk about. The SEC made the BCS national championship … AGAIN … and it will continue to be the preeminent conference in college football. Tebow’s appeal is still very real to millions, but that was as part superstar/part evangelical icon.
Now he’s a member of the mainstream media, a cog in the juggernaut that is ESPN, and it wouldn’t be a far cry for critics and audiences alike to find his personal brand stale as an analyst. He might be the guy you want to give your college commencement speech, but does he have what it takes to keep you informed, interested and entertained on the regular delivering conference-specific football news?
As much as I want to scream "NO! GET HIM OFF THE SCREEN!" I haven't been able to. Why? He's honestly not that bad for a rookie.
He needs time to continue to grow, but who knows, Tebow might be the next Chris Collinsworth. He has the mass appeal, he has the good-natured smile and he has the personal connection with millions of college football's most dedicated fans. But most important, he appears to have the chops for a career on camera. His experience giving speeches at megachurches and post-game interviews has clearly paid off, and paired with some strong producers and focused direction, ESPN appears poised to get more out of Tebow's skill set than Bill Belichick or Rex Ryan ever could.
But will his personal brand get in the way of him filling a role as part of ESPN’s larger brand?
ESPN is no stranger to allowing their talent to speak their mind, just think Chris Broussard and his feelings on same-sex marriage. While Tebow has managed to keep his message one of peace and love, there’s always the chance that with the camera rolling constantly someone could ask him something that they shouldn’t have. His bro-moment with Manziel could have been that slip up, but instead it was a charming moment that only helps him further relate to mass audiences.
While his analysis was predicted to be a combination of bland soundbites mixed with recounts of his own experiences, he seems to be cognizant of the skeptics and is making a point to try to make a point.
And when it comes to him eventually going on some personal tangents, he does have quite the list of accomplishments when it comes to the NCAA. Are you ready for Tebow’s memories of Aaron Hernandez made into a "30 for 30" in the next two years? Or what about his feelings on Riley Cooper’s racist remarks months ago? He has plenty of connections having come from an elite program, and I’m sure ESPN will tap into all the Tebow they can and sprinkle him in whenever they can. As long as he keeps the religion out of it for the most part, everything should remain kosher between him and management.
And lest we forget, he was a first-round pick, albeit a bust.
That’s the reason why he has a specific caveat in his contract that would allow him to jump ship if a team were to make him an offer to play under center. If Josh McDaniels is given the reins to a franchise again, don’t be surprised if he makes the same “mistake” twice.
So until the Browns hire McDaniels and then subsequently announce they’ve signed Tebow to a 10-year, $100 million contract to be their new franchise quarterback, Tebow will be the face of ESPN’s SEC Network and coverage. Not a surprise given he was practically the face of ESPN when he was an active player in the SEC, and even when he was a barely-active backup in the NFL.