We're just two weeks into the NFL season, and already there is a groundswell of purported football "fans" in northern Florida connecting the dots on how to fix the moribund Jacksonville Jaguars and coming up with the smiling visage of…Tim Tebow.
The Jaguars are horrible, with few signs of getting better this season or any time soon. Through two games, the Jags have scored 11 points, while gaining just 426 yards against two teams—the Chiefs and Raiders—that combined to win six games last season.
The official Jaguars depth chart lists Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Ricky Stanzi and Denard Robinson, who is a wide receiver, as their four available quarterbacks on the active roster, with rookie Matt Scott from Arizona listed on the team's practice squad.
Without question, first-year head coach Gus Bradley has the hardest job in the NFL, most notably due to the abominable situation at quarterback.
Gabbert, who started the season opener but missed the second week with an injury, has been a complete bust so far as the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Henne is at best a serviceable backup, and at worst a warm body to fill in as a tackling dummy behind an offensive line that, through two games, has allowed 11 sacks.
The season just began, and already Jacksonville looks to be in a race with the Cleveland Browns to secure the rights to select Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in next year's draft.
It's that bad in Jacksonville. Which is why some locals want the Jags to hop on the Tebow train. The team would be better off moving to London. They'd be better off moving to the moon.
As the Jaguars sink further and further into despair, until the team announces a move to London (or the moon), they will have to deal with a far more polarizing controversy: the local savior without a job.
To the picket line! From Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union:
In what organizers hope will become a weekly event, a small group of Tim Tebow fans held a tailgate party at EverBank Field Monday imploring the Jaguars to sign the unemployed quarterback.
The gathering started at 3:16 p.m. in honor of the John 3:16 biblical verse that Tebow used to paint in his eyeblack when he played at Florida. It was scheduled to last about 3 hours and 16 minutes. About 40 people showed up.
The story highlighted above quoted several folks in attendance, including a local pastor who was wearing a Denver Broncos jersey while waving a Florida Gators flag. The story also mentioned a man, identified only as "Matt," who only showed up to debate the group and offered no support at all for signing Tebow.
At this point, I know what you're thinking: Why write about a group of 40 fans who like Tim Tebow when nobody else cares?
I thought the same thing at first. Then I saw the story on the front page of ESPN.com. The Worldwide Leader—buoyed by the Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith carnival barking their way through Tebow's career to ratings and notoriety on First Take—has developed a cottage industry around the polarizing star. A protest, no matter how small, fits right in their wheelhouse for "embracing" debate.
Rally organizer James Stewart said, "It's the perfect time in our view to do a Tebow experiment. Whether you like him or not, I think everyone would watch. It would be compelling."
See, here's the thing: These are not actually Jaguars fans; they are local fans of Tim Tebow dressed up as Jaguars fans—or Broncos fans, in some cases—in an effort to put pressure on the local NFL team to employ their jobless hero.
The media (myself included) took a bite on the story because it involves Tebow, the NFL and irrational fans. It has all three rings of a big top media circus. (Let's hope every one of those protesters showed up in the same tiny car.)
Don't be surprised if the number of media members grows every Monday afternoon, if for nothing else than to add to the body count and continue the conversation. While the Times-Union story suggested there were 40 people at the rally this week, the ESPN.com story suggested there were only 20, with another 30 media members who showed up to cover the event.
Within a month, if the protests continue, ESPN will surely send First Take on location. It would be their Valhalla.
The beauty of a story like this is that it could get bigger the longer Tebow is out of a job. Jacksonville's schedule is brutal, with games at Seattle, home against the Colts, at the resurgent Rams and at the Broncos in the next four weeks. There is not a win in sight for the Jags anytime soon, and the longer the team struggles, the more the story can become about what they don't have over what they do.
But back to today. The ESPN.com news story managed to discuss both sides of the wholly manufactured Tebow-to-Jacksonville debate, linking to the ramblings of the protest's organizer at Jags-tebow.com, while also linking to a site called Evenifheisreleased.com, which seems to be some sort of petition from "real" Jaguars fans to not sign Tebow, with nearly 590,000 digital signatures. I think I signed it twice by accident. (Note: ESPN had an original story about that site back in May, which came with an accompanying column too.)
ESPN was not done embracing the Tebow debate with just a news item about a small protest. The news story linked to a column by ESPN's Jags beat writer Michael DiRocco, who tried to rationally discuss—and deny—any merits of the team signing Tebow, yet he managed to sneak in comparisons to three of the game's top young talents in the process:
Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are quarterbacks who can run, but they’re also more accomplished passers than Tebow. Kaepernick, Wilson and Griffin all complete at least 61 percent of their passes. Tebow’s career completion percentage is 47.9. In the NFL, you win because of a quarterback’s arm, not his legs.
This, in part, is how the ESPN machine continues to embrace the debate about Tebow.
A small news story sparked a reaction piece which—albeit unfavorably—compared Tebow to RGIII, Kaepernick and Wilson. Even by suggesting he isn't close to the three stars that were named, Tebow becomes part of that conversation, at least for a day.
It's an age-old gambit, really. If an incumbent politician is concerned about losing a local election, he or she announces an ill-conceived run for higher office, thereby suggesting that if he or she is a candidate for that office—even a long-shot candidate—he or she must be overqualified for the current role. "Wow, she's running for president? She must be qualified to be a senator."
Wow, Tebow is in the conversation with RGIII, Kaepernick and Wilson? He must be better than Gabbert or Henne.
The ESPN debate-embracing machine didn't just stop with a news item and a column. It churned on, linking from both the news story and the column to a SportsNation poll asking which quarterback is the best choice as starter for the Jags—the two they actually employ or Tebow, whom they've said on multiple occasions they have no interest in signing—while publishing some comments from the Facebook conversation they've been having about the topic. After all, nothing embraces debate like comments on Facebook.
As of Tuesday morning, Tebow was winning the SportsNation poll with 66 percent of the more than 21,000 votes. The Facebook conversation had more than 2,600 comments.
That's how polarizing and engaging the Tebow debate can be. The guy was traded away from Denver and had a choice between the Jags and the Jets. He chose the Jets, and the move failed miserably. He was then signed by the Patriots before this season but was cut because he is not a viable NFL quarterback—not in New England or New York or Denver or Jacksonville or London or the moon.
Of course, that doesn't actually matter. As long as Tebow is available and the Jaguars struggle, the debate will linger. Before Tebow decides to officially retire to become a coach, a public speaker, a preacher, a politician or an ESPN pundit, the debate will be embraced, cultivated and nurtured—every Monday at 3:16 p.m. until Tebow gets a job.
Twenty people can, in fact, create a circus. After all, we all love a clown car.