By Timothy Bella
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Since the New York Jets acquired Tim Tebow last week upon Denver’s signing of Peyton Manning, most New Yorkers have an opinion on the Jets’ new backup quarterback – he of “Tebowing,” pro-life commercials, SportsCenter specials, fourth-quarter comebacks, this college speech and this throw. Some say he should start over incumbent Mark Sanchez, while others are talking themselves into Tebow being an effective Wildcat quarterback in short-yardage and goal-line situations, an offense that has been run less and less by teams due to, well, its ineffectiveness.
Regardless of the actual football opinions surrounding Florida’s favorite son, the conversation inevitably goes back to his personality and the divisive nature it extracts from people of all walks of life. It’s safe to say that a backup quarterback has never been ranked as the fourth most coveted celebrity endorsement like Tebow was recently in the Davie-Brown Index from The Marketing Arm, trailing only Oprah Winfrey, Adele and Kate Middleton as the most effective celebrity endorsement.
Still, Tebow’s evangelical personality and beliefs, as well as a playing style that gets called more lucky than talented, have New Yorkers divided on Tebowmania. But this isn’t the first time in recent memory that a polarizing sports star has come to town via trade or free agency and inhabited the back pages. The biggest difference so far? Unlike these five recent polarizing star athletes, Tebow has yet to be booed by a home New York crowd.
Biggest accomplishment(s): Overcoming his past playoff failures to play a crucial role in the 2009 World Series championship team.
Lowest point(s): Admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs during his tenure in Texas; Batting the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove and killing a potential Yankees rally in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS; Publicly stating that him and Yankees captain Derek Jeter were no longer close friends; Agreeing to do an embarrassingly egocentric photo shoot.
A-Rod is the undisputed king of polarizing athletes in New York. When he was traded for Alfonso Soriano before the 2004 season, the main issue people had from him was his contract, which was the largest in the game at the time. Those were simpler times for A-Rod. Since then, he’s had to address New York critics time and time again, who’ve asked why his bat goes cold when October comes around and whether the team will win more than one World Series by the time his 10-year, $275 million deal expires in 2017 when he’s 42. And his personal life, whether he’s dating Cameron Diaz, Madonna, Kate Hudson, or current beau Torrie Wilson, is usually pretty dependable fodder for the Daily News and New York Post.
This season: After heeding the advice of Kobe Bryant, a polarizing figure in his own regard, Rodriguez had a special treatment done on his right knee in Germany and says he’s in great shape. He’s long passed being the new kid in town when it comes to handling the media.
Biggest accomplishment(s): Helping bring back a substantial buzz and big-game feel to Madison Square Garden last season.
Lowest point(s): Sapping the fun out of Linsanity; Unable to bring the Knicks above the .500 mark to this point.
Anthony’s case is an evolving one and a prime example of a polarizing-athlete-in-progress in New York. The same fans and media who applauded the Knicks for making the move and making the team relevant again have, in part, turned on Anthony in less than a year, questioning why the organization gave up four players and two first-round picks. There’s also the backlash as a result of Jeremy Lin’s ascendance. And the perceived diva attitude of wife, La La Vazquez, doesn’t help ‘Melo’s cause either. All that aside, the Knicks remain a .500 team with their four best players being Anthony, Lin, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler in a conference void of real contenders other than Miami and Chicago.
This season: After coach Mike D’Antoni’s dismissal, the Knicks have gone on a run, winning seven of their last eight games with Anthony buying into interim coach Mike Woodson’s game plan on a nightly basis. But much like the wind, this season’s love-hate relationship with Anthony changes by the day and that may not change.
Biggest accomplishment(s): Catching the winning touchdown in Super Bowl 42 for the Giants.
Lowest point(s): Literally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan club; Derailing the Giants’ chances of making a run for a second straight Super Bowl; Requesting a trade during his legal situation; Signing with the rival Jets.
From dominant yet mercurial receiver to Rikers Island inmate no. 09-R-3260 to decent red-zone target three seasons after he last played, it has been a weird road for Burress. He has come a long way since his days of butting heads with Giants coach Tom Coughlin and leaving the Giants without a viable threat in the passing game as the team was trying to defend its title in the latter stages of the 2008 season. (Of course, that didn’t stop him from signing with the Jets after toying with a return to Big Blue.) It was inevitable Burress was going to get some grief upon spurning the Giants, but he played about as expected and kept a low profile in his one-year run with the Jets, finding the end zone eight times on 45 catches and 612 yards. The Giants? They just went on another Super Bowl run, this time without Burress.
This season: Burress is unlikely to return to the Jets and is seeking another one-year deal. And his New York story may not be over just yet. He has made it clear that he wouldn’t mind returning to the Giants, saying in a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview earlier this month that coming back with Big Blue is “always a great possibility.”
Biggest accomplishment(s): Making the Mets relevant for a year or two; Joining the 3,000-strikeout club as a Met.
Lowest point(s): Injuries, injuries, and more injuries; Being a part of the Mets’ historic 2007 collapse.
Martinez was a different pitcher by the time he came to New York. Gone was the bombastic, arrogant Boston Red Sox pitcher, who thrived (and occasionally flopped) against the Yankees. This was the same guy who called the Yankees his daddy and promised that he would throw at Babe Ruth if he were still alive. Mets fans, however, loved that guy and had hoped he could take some headlines away from a Yankees team coming off the ’04 ALCS collapse. After a 15-win season in 2005 that included 208 strikeouts and a league-leading 0.95 WHIP, it all went downhill from there. He would win just 17 games in his last three seasons as rotator cuff, calf and hamstring injuries plagued his time in New York. This wasn’t the guy the Mets had thought they were getting when he signed, but that didn’t bother Yankees fans all too much.
This season: Martinez announced his retirement in December. After leaving the Mets, he had a stint with the Phillies, which even led to a return to Yankee Stadium during the 2009 World Series matchup with the Yankees. He offered one last subtle, self-serving jab to his New York critics: “When you have 60,000 people chanting your name, waiting for you to throw the ball, you have to consider yourself someone special, someone who really has a purpose out there.” The Mets just wish he could have done that while playing for them.
Biggest accomplishment(s): Scoring 20 points in 29 games to help push the Rangers into the 2007 playoffs.
Lowest point(s): Accepting a fashion internship with Vogue while under contract with the Rangers; Butting heads with Coach John Tortorella; Waving his hands and stick in front of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur in an attempt to distract him and block his view during a playoff game, thus marking the creation of the Sean Avery Rule; Calling Brodeur “fatso.”
Controversy has been no stranger to Avery during his two stints for the Blueshirts. Previously described by Tortorella, his future coach, as a “selfish [expletive],” Avery’s outlandish behavior has been amplified as his quality of play has significantly declined. Despite the drop in his play, Avery has been able to effectively get into his opponents’ heads, none more so than the Rangers’ playoff series win against the New Jersey Devils in 2008. Upon seeing some of the tactics used by Avery in the series, he summed up the feelings of many fans: “Once a jerk, always a jerk.” And Avery’s dabbling in fashion brought some groans among the hockey community, questioning if he really cared about hockey.
This season: Avery’s future remains uncertain. He has been waived and resigned for short periods of time by the Rangers a couple of times. Earlier this month, Avery vowed to retire, though his agent clarified later that his client was kidding. Whatever the future may hold, there’s a good chance he’ll stick around Manhattan in some form, whether it be by MSG or a few blocks south in the Garment District.
Who do you think is the most polarizing figure in New York sports history? Sound off below…