Fans of various affiliations are treating the first-round playoff matchup between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers as if the ending were already leaked on the internet. If this season has taught us anything, though, it is that the story of Tim Tebow will not conform to predetermined scripts.
Sure, a lot of the components are there for a classic sports film. You have the underdog with obvious limitations (throwing accuracy in this case), who is dismissed by analysts and sidelined by his coach from the bright lights of success.
Enter Tim Tebow screen left into the blinding limelight of the first Broncos vs Chargers game of the season. Tebow dashes around and dekes opponents, hurling desperate fourth quarter passes that include one that sails in slow motion fashion into the outstretched single arm of a wide receiver falling backward at the top of his prodigious leap.
If it were a movie, after watching Brandon Lloyd make that impossible grab, you would have turned to your friend in the theatre and said, “Yeah right, like someone could jump that high and catch the ball with one hand from the rusty underdog quarterback at the exact moment the team needed it. Wish that stuff could happen in real life to the Broncos.”
You would have found that catch improbable. But it was nothing compared to the avalanche of improbability yet to come.
At least in that first game Tebow was playing according to sports-film script. He couldn’t win that early in the film and exhaust the spectator with an exhilaration meant for the concluding, climactic scenes. So Tebow dutifully got everyone on the edge of their seats and fell just short, leaving fans wanting more.
At this point, though, Tebow scrambled far off script.
What you should have had at this stage was a montage of either dispiriting losses that leave the audience perpetually worried that the underdog is going to get pulled from his position, or a sizzling series of highlights set to a pulsating musical score, revealing that the protagonist is being primed for some elongated concluding scenes of triumph.
Instead with our real-life Tebow we got a consecutive series of spectacular wins that contained drawn-out unspectacular play, followed by a sudden cavalcade of turnarounds.
As a film viewer you would have been so weary from the relentless drama of all these games that when that extra came on for the other team and ran out of bounds, to give your team extra life, you would have turned to your theater-mate in disgust and said, “This is so unrealistic!” And then when that was followed by a fumble, you would have rolled your eyes in incredulous protest.
All of the drama of Tebow’s fourth quarter comebacks would have seemed relentless for just two cinematic games, let alone for a six-game string.
Then Tebow started losing again, much the same way that he was winning: in Cinderella-stepsister-ugly fashion.
You might have permitted that losing streak if, instead of watching a movie, you were following a reality show, especially if producers had hinted in advertisements that they were going to give loyal fans who stayed to the end a huge payoff.
And lo and behold, they contrived an ending so deliciously sinister, so rife with drama, that you couldn’t look away. This is where you have the return of that evil cast member who got thrown off the show in some drunken rage earlier in the season.
Enter screen right, Kyle Orton.
But what is supposed to be a matchup of global proportions, the football equivalent of Rocky vs. Drago, turns into a snore-fest in which punters get first billing.
At this point it begins to dawn on you that you are not watching a movie following a script; and you are not immersed in one of those trashy television shows where most of the “reality” is concocted and concluded beforehand.
Then as you proceed to read some morose article about how your favorite underdog team led by a perpetually unpredictable underdog player has no chance in the playoffs, hope bubbles stubbornly against all this doom and gloom.
Feeling a surge of “what-if,” you think back to all those well-heeled analysts who get paid to parse every nook and cranny of the game, and you start running out of fingers and toes counting up all the times they have been wrong this year about outcomes of various games.
And even though your head still says Steelers 21-3, your heart is now screaming Broncos 17-14 [Insert your own underdog team scores here.]
At this point, it is just a matter of time before you will bounce to the fridge for a cold beverage, pop some popcorn in the microwave, and plop down on the couch to watch a main attraction with an unwritten ending.
This is the most real of reality shows, folks: The NFL playoffs, where absolutely anything can happen!