Tim Tebow, Jacksonville Jaguars Fans Talk: What B/R Overheard at Jaguars-Broncos
This past weekend, the atmosphere surrounding Tim Tebow's return to Jacksonville with the Denver Broncos inspired fans to say some of the darnedest things.
As an organization, the Jaguars hardly played it safe with the issue of Tebow, the hometown hero they passed on in April's draft.
In the buildup to Sunday, five-dollar "We Are Jaguars" shirts went on sale for the game, their bright teal in distinct contrast to the Florida Gators' and Denver Broncos' respective shades of blue.
During the game, Jacksonville's mascot worked the crowd by body-slamming a performer dressed in a full Denver uniform—including that ever-present and divisive number-15 jersey.
On the field, the real Tebow received the same treatment on two runs for two yards as the Jaguars overpowered the Broncos 24-17.
With the game behind us, let's take a look at the top 10 soundbites from the streets of Jacksonville.
Pulling Both Ways: Split Gators, Jaguars Loyalties 70 Miles North of Gainesville
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"I'll be pulling both ways a little bit, but I'll be rooting for the Jaguars."
One self-proclaimed Jacksonville fan in a Florida Gators shirt and hat acknowledged that his heart was divided between his favorite college team and his favorite NFL team.
Over the past five years, it's been pretty easy for Gators fans to adopt the Jaguars.
First-round picks Reggie Nelson (now with the Cincinnati Bengals) and Derrick Harvey came out of Florida, as did former team leaders Fred Taylor and Mike Peterson. At times, the University of Florida has seemed like Jacksonville's NCAA farm team.
But Tebow captured Floridians' hearts as no amateur football hero had before. His presence on the opposing sideline was hard to reconcile for fans accustomed to having all their North Florida eggs in one basket.
Realistic Expectations: NFL Glimpse of Tebow Plenty for Faithful Floridians
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"I just hope he gets to throw a few passes so we can see him."
By and large, those who flocked to EverBank Field to support Tebow weren't getting their hopes up for an All-Star performance.
(Which is good, considering how emphatically the Jaguars stuffed him on those two called runs. No sense in spending upwards of $100 on the off chance Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels would try Florida's shotgun spread for a day.)
Rather, most of them were just pleased to see the Nease High School (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.) product playing at football's highest level. They've been watching him for the past eight years, and Sunday was their chance to keep up that streak.
Great Expectations: Some Denver-Born Fans Embracing Tebow's Legend
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"I grew up in Denver watching John Elway and got transplanted to Florida, and our kids in college are big Florida and Tim Tebow fans. I'm convinced he's the next Elway."
Amidst a mixed group of fans in Broncos and Gators gear at the Jacksonville Landing, one Denver native offered the bold opinion that Florida's favorite son might be next in line to wear Hall-of-Famer John Elway's mantle.
That's an ominous comparison, considering how heavily it weighed on former Bronco Jay Cutler. But Tebow has been dealing with legendary expectations ever since he arrived on Florida's campus and helped the Gators to a BCS national championship.
From a critical standpoint, the biggest difference between Elway and Tebow as quarterbacks is in their mechanics. Elway was drafted by the New York Yankees on the off chance he'd choose to play pitcher in baseball, and he torqued a football into tight spaces even better than he threw a baseball.
Tebow, on the other hand, would do well just to tamp the hitch in his windmill delivery enough to pass for former Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich. Long-term, he might have to settle for imitating a tight end.
The Bright Side: Other Broncos Fans Find Silver Lining in Tebow's Public Image
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"I hated [Tebow] in college, but at least the No. 15's not a crybaby now like Brandon Marshall was."
Not every Denver weekender was prepared to hand Tebow the keys to the Broncos.
Even on the East Coast, cross the Florida-Georgia border or head west on I-10 and you'll run into opinions on the 2007 Heisman winner that aren't as sunny as the praise heaped on him by his hometown.
Over 1,700 miles to the west, nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, it's understandable that fans in Denver might be a little miffed at shipping three draft picks to the Baltimore Ravens for another city's much-debated hero.
In the jersey formerly assigned to Brandon Marshall, a troublemaker under Josh McDaniels' regime in 2009, Tebow's team-first persona marks a changing of the guard for the Broncos.
Even so, "crybaby" is an interesting word choice.
All Gators Fans? Jags Fans' Boos, Heckling Directed at Tebow Suggest Otherwise
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"[Tebow fans] will probably be about 30 percent [of the crowd], but they'll all be pulling for the Jags. You've got to remember, we're all Gators fans, too."
Wrong on all counts.
Tempted as many Jacksonville natives may have been to sport their orange and blue on Sunday, the capacity crowd at EverBank Field proved that not even Tim Tebow beats a five-dollar NFL shirt. The teal seats might've helped, but no more than 10 percent of the stands stood out in colors that broke the "We Are Jaguars" teal solidarity.
Once the game got going, those who broke ranks to support Tebow were chafed by the hostile reception he received from the home crowd. Judging from the comments flung at the field, there were quite a few Florida State Seminoles and Georgia Bulldogs fans in attendance.
Before long, fans in those number-15 jerseys were hollering and high-fiving over plays by Denver quarterback Kyle Orton and his receivers.
Keeping It Teal: Some Jags Fans Shocked at Broncos' Bandwagoner Locals
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"You know, I just figured [the fans wearing Tebow's Broncos jersey] were from Denver."
She wasn't joking, either. And this 12-year season ticket-holder wasn't the only teal-clad Jaguars fan who seemed affronted that some local supporters had picked a player over their city's team.
"I respect some of the things he's done," another said, "but no, I wouldn't consider [wearing his jersey to this game] for a minute."
The gear came in all combinations. Several fans paired Broncos number-15 jerseys or shirts with Jaguars hats, and some customized Jaguars Tebow jerseys lingered from before the draft. One guy had crafted a cap that blended the Denver and Florida logos into a horse-gator hybrid.
As mentioned earlier, the overall effect was largely teal, but the individual fans got pretty creative in expressing their fan confusion.
Drawn and Quartered: Do Tebow Fans' Hearts Still Ultimately Lie in Jacksonville?
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"I bet you most of 'em are Jaguars fans. But, suppose he gets in and plays well. Who will they be pulling for then?"
Fortunately for the inwardly-conflicted fans described in the last slide, Jacksonville defensive tackle Tyson Alualu didn't give them a chance to jump ship. On both of Tebow's runs, the Jaguars' surprise first-rounder met Denver's rookie quarterback just past the line of scrimmage and put him down.
Going forward, the hope is that those fans will stick around for Jacksonville's other seven home games. At the moment, the Jaguars—like the Gators, whose stadium is always sold out—are undefeated, and North Florida loves a winner.
Where's the Love? Broncos' Brian Dawkins, Marcus Thomas Have Jacksonville Ties
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"[Denver defensive lineman] Marcus Thomas is from Jacksonville! Why aren't you guys wearing Marcus Thomas jerseys?"
There are a few obvious answers to this question posed by a heckler Sunday, with most of the important bits centering around Tebow's prominence on national championship teams, his Heisman candidacy, and fans' fixation with the quarterback position.
Still, it's an important point to make. Time and again, the reason offered by Jacksonville locals sporting Broncos jerseys was that they'd been pulling for Tebow ever since he was Florida's Mr. Football in high school, the "local boy made good" story.
Well, former All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins and physically-gifted defensive lineman Marcus Thomas have both made pretty good since leaving Jacksonville-area high schools for college and the NFL. Without years of undefeated seasons in their wake, though, neither brought legions of fans along for the ride.
Live and Let Live: Heat, Hospitality Make Most Jags Fans Tolerate Tebow Support
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"Actually, everyone has been pretty friendly."
When asked if he'd had a rough time among Jacksonville's faithful, one fan in a Gators number-15 jersey seemed surprised by the question.
Perhaps it was a common understanding forged by the 100-degree heat index on Sunday. Broncos, Gators, and Jaguars fans alike were frying through three quarters before a merciful fourth-quarter downpour cooled things down.
It's also true that EverBank Field isn't notorious for nastiness. The North End Zone can get a little hairy, but most of the vitriol is generally aimed at the players on the field. On Sunday, for instance, boos louder than anything Tebow heard were reserved for the players' one-finger show of solidarity before the coin toss.
As fans and Floridians, most of the people in the stands had more in common than reasons to fight.
No Reason To Hate: In Targeting Tebow, Passionate Jaguars Fans Miss the Point
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"There's no reason not to like Tim Tebow. It's the Jags who didn't draft him. You can't blame the Broncos for that."
Through no fault of his own, Tebow is at once championed by the Jaguars' harshest critics and lampooned by their most faithful supporters. Simultaneously, he is alleged to represent an organization's disconnect with its fan base and a city's delusions about its college and pro football teams.
Somewhere in the middle, there's a 23-year-old young professional in his first year on the job.
Does Tebow look, throw, or go through his progressions like a surefire franchise quarterback prospect? No.
Would he have drawn fans in Jacksonville to EverBank Field like moths to a flame? Yes.
Between selling season tickets and five-game packages as fans' only way to see Sunday's game, marketing "Teal Sunday" to the fan base, and getting the mascot to body-slam someone wearing Tebow's jersey, the Jaguars' handling of Jacksonville's happy/angry Tebow fixation makes dollars and sense.
But it's misguided and unhealthy on both sides, and only more winning momentum by the Jaguars can smother the fire.