Since the year 2000, there's seldom been an athlete galvanizing football fans quite like Tim Tebow. Terrell Owens and Randy Moss drew criticism for the way they acted in the locker room and in the media, but nobody doubted their football acumen or ability to perform well. Eli Manning might not be the flashiest quarterback, but nobody questions his ability to be under center of a team winning a Super Bowl. Ray Lewis might've been controversial, but he'll go down as one of the greatest linebackers in football history.
At the college level, there have been controversial athletes as well. There's Johnny Manziel, now a rookie in Cleveland with the Browns, who won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and then saw segment after segment talk about his attitude and arrogance, neither of which are totally questioned. There's Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Even the questions about his character never really dealt with his abilities on the field. All of these players have on-field success and talent along with a desire to win. Nobody has ever doubted that.
The one athlete who seems to draw the most criticism and most heated discussion is Tim Tebow. Bring up Tebow's football accomplishments, and someone is right there to shoot him down as a product of a college option system that can't work in the pros. Bring up his ability to will teams to victory both at the collegiate and NFL level, and immediately someone will talk about his long throwing motion and poor accuracy. Heck, bring up his Christian faith and how he's a walking study in milk and cookies, and someone will automatically try to shoot that down either as a negative or as him being just plain weird.
So when Steve Addazio announced this week he was searching for "the next Tim Tebow," forgive us all if we raise our eyebrows.
There is one thing nobody can ever doubt about Tebow - he wanted to win. When the game was on the line, he managed to find ways to win football games. We might never know if that means he could be a consistent NFL quarterback, but in terms of Tebow's accomplishments, nobody was driven more to win. He could look at his whole team and say, "Guys, we are NOT losing this game" and do whatever it took to succeed. His skills might not have been the best, but there was never a doubt that he could captivate an audience with his passion for helping the TEAM win the game.
That sounds an awful lot like what Addazio stresses when he talks about the team game and trying to use the skills of the team to belie personal quests.
There's no way to predict how it will happen, but it's something that needs to be experienced moreso than witnessed. We all saw Tebow at Florida lead the team to the national championships. We watched his press conference where he stood up after a loss, apologized, and promised it would never happen again. We watched the fans' reaction when a flu-ridden quarterback was concussed against Kentucky and loaded into an ambulance while vomiting. While it certainly galvanized fans everywhere who called his actions overblown or genuine, one thing nobody can ever understand is how Florida fans felt when any of that happened. And that's because Tebow had the "it factor" - the one thing that a football player can have to put his team on his back and do whatever it takes.
The it factor is one of those things. It's a swagger that's not a swagger. It's the guy who is the most talented person on the team but still the first one to practice and the last one to leave. It's the guy who demands the most out of his teammates but demands more out of himself. It's the guy in the locker room who tells the coach to shut up but stands up himself, accountable for actions, and delivers the speech. It's the guy who works hard to be one of the guys off the field but is fiercely protective and defensive (and unapologetic) of his belief structure. To find a guy like that is very, very hard (Addazio says so himself), but when it's found, it's something that can take a team and a program to whole other stratosphere.
I'll be the first one to be critical of Tebow. I think he has poor accuracy, poor football skills, and his game isn't well suited for the NFL. I'm a fan of the pocket passing quarterback who has some mobility, a guy like an Aaron Rodgers that can stand in there and deliver the short pass or the long cannon throw, yet run when the pressure's on. I think a quarterback has to be able to make snap decisions at the line rather make reads as the play happens as an anticipation of all possibilities (like how Tom Brady always points out the mike linebacker). Even in college, I don't think Tebow was the most talented quarterback (there always seemed to be someone better). To be honest, from a pure football level, I don't think Tebow is remotely close to that level.
But if I'm a football team and I'm looking for a starting quarterback, I'm absolutely putting him under center over some of these other hacks (I'm looking at you, Blaine Gabbert). He has a great football acumen, and he can read a defense as the play happens. While he can't adjust the way Rodgers does, he is the guy who can make a play on the run when the play starts breaking down. Fading back to pass, three step drops, quick hits over the middle - that's not his game. He's a style of quarterback that I don't like, that I can't stand, but yet I'm willing to make him a starting quarterback because of his "it factor." And that's something I'd be willing to stake my reputation on because, quite simply, I want the team to succeed.
On the current Boston College roster, we don't know if that exists. The first player people we've been questioning like that lately is Troy Flutie. Flutie has the pedigree because of his last name, but the question goes beyond that. If you watched him at Natick High School (which a lot of you probably couldn't), you'd see a guy who could just get it done. Flutie is small, but he had "it" in high school. All he wanted to do was take his team to the next level. His football skills are something that divides us between two camps - 1) make him a wide receiver because a small, undersized quarterback from Massachusetts can't possibly succeed and 2) maybe he can be the quarterback of the future. Both sides feel passionate because of his skill (or lack thereof) and because of his "it factor." One camp wants to make him a quarterback because of what they experienced or think they can experience. The other says we're overblowing it because of who he is and that his football skills sorely lack.
Boston College is looking for that style of player, even if it's a risky move. Coach Addazio is the first to admit it's risky, it can divide a staff that has to base its decisions on football skills and x's and o's. It can make a coach a legend, or it can break him and get his entire staff fired. It can take a program to another level, or it can mire them in failure. But one thing's for sure - it'll get us talking.