Which of the various incarnations of Tim Tebow did you see in the preseason? Your response is likely informed, at least in part, by some of the extreme media frames used to capture his story.
Perhaps you witnessed the Tebow in waiting; this Tebow has made modest improvements as a pocket-passer, an ingredient made potentially combustible when added to his recipe of undisputed scrambling skills and unquestioned drive to win.
Or conversely, maybe you saw the Tebow in flux; this is the barely-fit-for-fourth-string-practice-squad QB who continues to sail passes as if he were practicing shooting T-shirts into the stands.
That Tebow, it appears, secured an NFL contract with a new team through some mix of luck or divine-intervention and as a gift from a supposedly world-beating Bronco defense that magnanimously brought him along for a ride of improbable 2011 comebacks. All the while making it appear as if Tebow had something to do with those victories.
Tebow through this frame now looks doomed to nosedive down the Jets' depth chart.
These opposing frames are misleading. The truth is likely to be found in a middle ground between pictures of boom and bust.
These polarized Polaroids are also ruining a lot of the fun that Tebow could potentially still generate for a wide circle of NFL fans. Consider for instance what these wildly incompatible assessments have done to a pitiable lot that I will call "Tebow-obsessed detractors."
This group is so sick of Tebow, so weary of the non-stop media drone about the Jets' backup quarterback that they express that aversion with a less than intuitive path of avoidance: they light up comment boards on nearly every article about Tebow they can find to express how tired they are of hearing about Tebow. It goes something like this:
"Tebow, Tebow, Tebow, Tebow!" they lament. "Can't we just hear about someone other than Tebow? Tebow is terrible! If I hear 'Tebow' one more time...well, I sure won't Tebow, that's for sure."
At best this behavior is a disingenuous mask to hide a fascination with Tebow; at worst, these are pitiable acts from benighted folk who are reinforcing all the heated discussions that keep the media spotlight so blindingly fixed on Tebow in the first place.
I don't blame them for paying attention. Tebow is fascinating. His play is unpredictable. His passion is palpable.
Most people would acknowledge that we do not have an unmediated view of either Tebow the person or Tebow the player, but we don't always see the work that goes into constructing frames for our pictures of him.
We had a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the framing of a football icon after pictures of Tebow appeared in GQ, in which he seemed to be striking a crucifixion stance. Turns out, as reported by Cavan Sieczkowski of The Huffington Post, that the "Sexy Jesus" picture was a photoshopped regurgitation of a Tebow shoot at the Swamp when he was still a University of Florida Gator.
And there is also a more subtle example of framing the Tebow narrative (with both retrospective and predictive goals) that appeared in the NFL 2012 preview edition of Sports Illustrated (September 3, 2012).
If you turn to page 68 of a section called "Scouting Reports," you will find a large live-action picture of Tebow as a Bronco engulfed in Packer defenders. The explanatory caption to the right of the picture creates context: "The Packers rode herd on Tebow during a 49-23 victory last October at Lambeau. The rematch would be a much closer affair."
The most representative picture for that Packer lambasting of the Broncos last year is Tebow stymied in a run?
Guess how many carries Tebow had in that game? One.
Kyle Orton was the starting quarterback at that time. But somehow Tebow's one brief, fleeting appearance against the Packers provides the snapshot par excellence for contrasts between last year's Bronco defeat to the Packers, and what is projected to be this year's more evenly-matched showdown between Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning?
It is true, though, that everything has changed since 2011. Tebow is no longer a starting quarterback and unless Sanchez gets hurt, he will not be in that role this year.
Still, he is going to see the field in Wildcat formation. There are so many unknowns about how that will look, how frequently it will be employed, and, of course, what success it will bring the Jets that the only reliable frame that you can count on is the one that your television set will provide you when the Jets take the field.
For a lot of us, at different nodes of NFL networks, and with various views of his abilities as a QB, that will be a welcome relief.
Finally, the real framing of Tim Tebow the Jet can begin.
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