By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
Like most men, I spend most of my day debating sports with other men, while infinitely more important topics – like war, unemployment, and America’s bankruptcy – fill the minds of more sensible folks.
But, occasionally, we stumble onto something intelligent. Don’t worry; we don’t solve anything significant. My boy merely asked me: who’s having a better season, Tim Tebow or Cam Newton?
I imagine 90 percent of you will instantly assert that Newton, by dint of dominant stats (over 4,000 total yards, 28 total touchdowns), long and strong dimensions, the glean of a Heisman and NCAA title still shining from his wide, white smile, is the better player.
And I agree. But I don’t think he’s having a better year.
Tebow and the NFL make for a carousel of contradictions. A peaceful man who plays a barbaric game; a man who doesn’t swear in a profane fraternity; a man who runs the ball in a passer’s league; and a mechanical mess in a league where every contour is measured with a jeweler’s eye.
Tebow has (occasionally) passed and (often) run, knelt, and prayed his way to a pretty good year, with his Broncos caught in a collective religious experience, going 7-1 with Friar Tim on top. The haters – or just doubters – declare that Tebow is the beneficiary of a dominant defense, a weak schedule, and boneheaded plays from Marion Barber. Some see Tebow as largely a one-trick pony whose new-car smell will waft away as soon as there’s enough film to figure him out.
But at what point does it go from happenstance to a happening? My math says 7-1 in the NFL = 2 months of football, far longer than a fluke.
Fantasy football devotees laugh at the question, as anyone who plucked Newton from their man caves sees the stratospheric numbers he’s posting while short-circuiting cell phones and laptops. Tebow sports a malnourished 11.5 points per fantasy week, while Newton, at a robust 22.5, is seen as a “must-start for anyone who doesn’t own Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady,” according to ESPN.
What if you want to win football games? Rodgers, Brees, and Brady are 33-6; Newton has more losses than all three combined. And if Tebow has one edge on Newton (which leads to more wins), it’s turnovers, where the former Florida Gator has thrown 2 interceptions to Newton’s 16.
You’ve seen the stats showing Tebow’s anorexic numbers in quarters 1 through 3, when the entire offense seems to hibernate. Then comes the endgame: Tebow’s fourth-quarter fingerprint is running through indignant defensive backs who are used to some No. 12 who trembles while preparing to safely slide like Derek Jeter three yards before the linebacker arrives, with a suspicious ref ready to pluck a flag from his back pocket in case you sneeze on the QB.
To most offended defenders, gelded by an offense-frenzied era, Tebow is an anomaly, stampeding defenses with a pigskin under his arm and the Gospel under his tongue. Some see Tebow’s vibrant, spiritually vocal off-field mien – basically a boy scout with deep pockets who walks old ladies across the street while building children’s hospitals in the Philippines – in direct contrast with the violence he perpetrates on the gridiron. But history has shown us that while faith and football made an odd couple, the marriage is solid.
Cam Newton, by contrast, is carved from central casting. He just looks like he’s better than everyone else. And it seems he pretty much is. By all accounts, he gets is, and punched his timecard the moment he was drafted, the first to arrive at work and the last to leave. And you needn’t be a fantasy football freak to understand Newton’s new laws of nature: 3,573 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns, and 554 yards rushing. (With three games left.)
But I have a hard time crowning Greatness the Man sans Greatness the Team. It’s like A-Rod hitting 57 homers for the last-place Rangers. Other than the novelty that Newton is doing it as a rookie, there’s no overarching lesson. Are you really kicking ass if your team is 4-9?
That’s not to say Newton won’t remold the moribund Panthers into a contender. Indeed, few of us would be shocked to see Cam Newton in Canton in 20 years if this year isn’t an aberration. He’s got all the physical and metaphysical bona fides of a born leader.
But it says here that Tebow’s team revival is more impressive because no one expected it. (No one even expected Tebow to play this year.) Newton, the first pick in the NFL draft, is supposed to be surreal. That’s not to trivialize Cam’s accomplishments. We’ve seen what the sheen of being the No. 1 pick has done to Newton’s predecessors, most notably JaMarcus Russell.
Tebow, whose throwing motion reminds you of Garo Yepremian, was considered a glorified wishbone quarterback who caters to the crucifix to fix the craters in his game. And not even the most divine intervention could fix the fissures in Tebow’s Pop Warner style of play, which defied the more dignified orthodoxy of the pocket passer, and would surely land him in the hospital before Honolulu. Here we are, however, with whispers of Hawaii for a long shot quite familiar with playing under palm trees.
Yet with all his rugged, rugby moves, Tebow can’t even run as well as Newton, who leads the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns. Think about that. Newton will throw for
4,000 yards and run for more scores than Adrian Peterson. And it’s hard not to be awestruck by Newton wrapped in an NFL uniform. His endless, gleaming silver silhouette is perfect for a player who looks like RoboCop on the field.
And most people would reasonably pick Newton long before Tebow if building a squad from scratch. Yet Tebow as an impossible intangible – he makes his defense better, too. Just read the sermons from Tebow’s teammates in this week’s Sports Illustrated.
If you’re old enough to remember Dan Marino’s entire career, you’ll recall he landed in Miami like a meteor, and had the otherwise anemic Dolphins – the immortal Woody Bennett was their leading rusher, with 606 yards – to the Super Bowl his sophomore season. Newton might be the most impressive freshman QB since Marino, but the profile is incomplete until Newton wins more games.
It’s a gripping contrast: pundits continue to talk about Newton’s unlimited ceiling while Tebow keeps crashing through the ones already clamped on him before he got the chance to play. These things are always subjective. But the subject of the month, if not the year, is Tim Tebow, football’s Rocky from the Rocky Mountains.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com