New York Jets back up QB Tim Tebow has become one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports. After leading the Denver Broncos to a playoff win, Tebow was shipped off to the media meat-grinder of New York. Though he spends the majority of his time on the bench, he remains a hot topic all over the country. He may be the most discussed second-stringer since Steve Young.
While his skill and mechanics are debatable, his faith is not. That tends to draw a rather unique fan-base. During an exchange of Thanksgiving pleasantries, a question was posed to me by someone who previously could not explain the difference between cornerback and linebacker:
"Why don't the Jets let Tebow play?"
I tried to explain that the decision was complicated by many factors, but she quickly cut me off. She began to rattle off several facts about games he started for Denver. That is when I realized that I have had this conversation before.
Michael Vick Divides Atlanta
Atlanta was a very different place when Michael Vick was drafted in 2001. A mere three years removed from the Super Bowl, the Georgia Dome was a ghost town. While longtime fans were excited about having a new owner, the Atlanta Falcons first round draft pick, Michael Vick, was beginning to generate buzz.
In 2002, Michael Vick started his first full season and set the fan-base on fire. His unconventional style and unmatched running ability made him a hit both on and off the field. After shocking the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs, the Vick bandwagon was overflowing. But his detractors were becoming more vocal as well.
As Vick's career began to have more valleys than peaks, his most ardent, unconditional supporters were increasingly divided by race. What Vick meant to the black community in Atlanta is still discussed on Atlanta sports radio even though Vick has not played there in six years.
Vick and Tebow: Same Argument New Face
Anyone who has followed the Atlanta Falcons over the last decade might immediately recognize the pro- and anti-Tebow argument. For those that support Tebow, there are no stats, no amount of game film that could convince them otherwise. They rely on one simple, undeniable argument:
"All he does is win."
This is the exact argument that pro-Vick supporters relied on even as the Falcons failed to compile a winning record. Even after Vick admitted his many failures on and off the field, this argument still is bandied about.
For Tebow, this argument will stand until he is given a chance to prove otherwise.
Michael Vick drew new fans to the Atlanta Falcons. Whether for the excitement or the deeper cultural meaning, the once empty Georgia Dome began to fill up with first-time ticket buyers. Number 7 jerseys began to take the place of former favorites.
Similarly, recently converted Denver Broncos fans are now recently converted New York Jets fans; and discussions of Tim Tebow are as likely at Sunday school as a sports bar. Do not expect this to change anytime soon.
Despite the many similarities, Vick and Tebow are very different. Vick's incredible skills went to waste due to poor work ethic. Tebow's great work ethic fails to cover his shortcomings, and Tebow will never have to deal with the racial undertones.
Their NFL paths have already diverged greatly. Most likely, their careers will never mirror each other. But as long as people relate to them, they will continue to be two peas in very different pods.