It isn't the criticism that baffles me. It's the glee.
It isn't the doubt that bothers me. It's the scorn.
It isn't the notion that Tim Tebow's NFL career might turn out to be on the wrong side of ordinary that surprises me. It's the venom.
More and more, as Tebow shows less and less chance of becoming Denver's starting quarterback, the comments surrounding him have become vicious. There are claws on the Internet, and there are teeth on the Twitter comments, and on Facebook, there is a bloodlust.
It no longer seems as if onlookers expect Tebow to fail; it's that they seem to want it to happen. There is a frenzy here, a look-at-me, I-told-you-first, pile on.
And here's the question:
Don't get me wrong. I'm in the business of criticism myself, and over the years, I have raised an eyebrow so often, I fear that one side of my face looks taller than the other. I get it. Wobbly passes are wobbly passes, no matter whether the shoulder that is throwing them has been knighted or not. Being a good guy doesn't forgive a bad pass.
Still, you get the feeling some people cheer every Tebow incompletion. You get the impression that when Tebow brushes his teeth, some people are pulling for his gums to bleed. It is almost as if, on his way to Sunday school, Tebow keyed the critics' car.
Merril Hoge, the normally reasoned, respected analyst for ESPN, made national news recently by suggesting on Twitter that it is "embarrassing" to think of the Broncos winning with Tebow. A reporter on CBS Sportsline has already declared Tebow to be a bust. And on Facebook, the "I Hate Tim Tebow" group is already up to 3,458 members.
As for me, I don't understand the tenor of the debate.
Not only that, I don't understand the debate at all.
For crying out loud, why is anyone outside of Denver talking about Tebow at all? He's a 24-year-old backup to a bad starter on a bad football team. He has started all of three games in the NFL, and he has thrown as many incomplete passes as completed ones. He hasn't been good enough to be a success, and he hasn't been bad enough to be a failure. Why even bring up his name?
Expectations? No, that isn't it. If you listened to the scouts, there weren't any expectations of Tebow. He was taken with the 25th pick, and most analysts were surprised he went that high.
Given that draft position, how good should Tebow be?
Except for Aaron Rodgers, who was picked 24th by Green Bay, most of the quarterbacks who have gone 20th or later in the first round haven't amounted to much. Over the past 20 NFL drafts, eight other quarterbacks were taken in that range. The names: Jason Campbell, by Washington; J.P. Losman, by Buffalo; Rex Grossman, by Chicago; Patrick Ramsey, by Washington; Jim Druckenmiller, by the 49ers; Tommy Maddox, by Denver; Todd Marinovich, by the Raiders; Tebow, by Denver.
First, do you see any John Elways in that group?
Two, do you remember any of those guys turning the Internet into a screaming match?
No, you don't. There isn't a star in the bunch, and there certainly isn't the same volume surrounding their second seasons. Most of those came and went quietly, except for Grossman, and people only got loud in his name after he thoroughly proved he wasn't the answer for the Bears.
In other words, you can make a case that the understudy role is exactly where Tebow should be. Especially when you consider that the coach who believed in him has been chased off the premises, and that the offseason was a waste, and that the offensive system has changed.
In Denver, people seem to see it differently. A local poll said 92 percent wanted Denver starter Kyle Orton traded in the offseason. If you are asking why Tebow is unreasonably criticized, there are those who suggest it is because he is unreasonably praised.
For some reason, however, there always has been a backlash to Tebow. The world seems divided between those who want to declare him a bust and those who want to carve one for him, between those who can see his virtues and those who will not see past his shortcomings. As they say, it is a small patch of land that lies between two groups of zealots.
It's odd. There is so much of Tebow that fits what we say we want in a role model. He's humble, charitable, hard-working, scandal-free. With Tebow, however, all of that seems to drive people batty. For instance, Tebow isn't the first religious player in the history of the league, but has there ever been anyone who could turn a football discussion into a Holy War so quickly?
Was Tebow hyped in college? Yes, he was. But I covered him off-and-on for four seasons, and he never once chased me down and asked me to write about him.
That never matters, however. With Tebow, the conversation gets louder all the time. About his virtues and his flaws, about his past and his future, about his intangibles and his inconsistency.
At the core of it, you have a young player who is trying to get better. Nothing else.
If he does, or if he does not, the conversation will continue. Bet on loud.