A drab, wooden courtroom, with two tables facing the stand.
At the left table, Tim Tebow and his lawyer Skip Bayless review notes. At the right table, a sharply-dressed Prosecutor representing the National Football League confers with his assistants.
To the left of Tebow and Bayless stretches an impossibly long jury box, with millions looking on. This is the Court of Public Opinion, and it considers all.
Bailiff: All rise for the honorable Judge.
All rise. The Judge, a nondescript figure of authority, makes its way to the high chair. All are seated, and the NFL prosecutor begins his opening statement.
Pocket-passers all, these men represented the best of our sport, individuals who set and continue to set the bar which all other quarterbacks must be measured by.
Today, we convene this Court of Public Opinion so that Mr. Timothy Richard Tebow may be tried for his crimes against that mythical, golden quarterbacking standard. He stands accused of soiling the great tradition of quarterbacks who have come before him. Every snap he takes is an insult to the modern NFL definition of a quarterback.
During the course of this trial, we will hear from 10 witnesses for the prosecution, testifying in great detail as to the width and breadth of Mr. Tebow’s alleged depravity.
These witnesses are composed of respected NFL commentators, credible NFL analysts, first-hand observers, and even persons within the Denver Broncos’ organization itself.
I intend to prove without question that Tim Tebow’s presence as an NFL starting quarterback is an insult to the league. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, by the end of general testimony, you will come to agree with me.
The Prosecutor takes his seat. Bayless makes an impassioned opening statement omitted here due to its length and whininess. The prosecution moves to call its first witness.
Judge: The NFL may call its first witness.
Prosecutor: Your Honor, the prosecution calls Mr. Norman Julius Esiason.
Boomer Esiason makes his way to the stand, clad in suit and tie. Smiling, he is sworn in, and waves heartily to the crowd. When seated, the Prosecutor begins his questioning.
Prosecutor: Mr. Esiason, you are a four-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro selection in 14 seasons as an NFL quarterback, is that correct?
Esiason: Yes sir, that’s correct.
Prosecutor: You even won the MVP award in 1988?
Esiason: Yes I did. Go Bengals!
Prosecutor: Mr. Esiason, you are on record as criticizing the defendant as a quarterback in the NFL, saying quote “He can’t play. He can’t even throw.” Can you explain yourself?
Esiason: Well, it wasn’t my intention to insult the kid, I just think he’s not really a gamer in this league.
To be an NFL quarterback, you need to be able to throw, and he hasn’t shown any ability to do that at this level. To old school guys like me, it’s insulting that the Denver Broncos even let him step on the field, much less lead their offense.
Tebow might be great off the field, but on it he struggles and it’s painful to watch. He’s more of a runner than a thrower, and I just can’t accept that. Like I said, “What Josh McDaniel saw in him, God only knows. Maybe God does know, because the rest of us don’t.”
Bayless: Objection! The witness is speculating. He has no possible way of knowing what God or “the rest of us” are thinking!
Judge: Sustained. The witness will confine his opinions to what he can possibly know.
Prosecutor: Very well, let me rephrase. Mr. Esiason, in your professional opinion, is Tim Tebow an insult to the modern NFL because of his unorthodox play and inability to throw the football?
Esiason: Yes. He doesn't play like I did.
Prosecutor: Nothing further.
Bayless spends a few minutes cross-examining Esiason, and then sits down. The Prosecutor calls his second witness.
Prosecutor: Your Honor, the prosecution calls Mr. Merril DuAine Hoge
Sporting a Pittsburgh Steelers logo on the left breast of his black blazer, Merril Hoge makes his way up to the stand. After being sworn in, the Prosecutor begins his questioning.
Prosecutor: Mr. Hoge, despite playing in the NFL as a running back, you have been a vocal critic of the defendant. Can you explain to the jury what well of knowledge you draw upon to issue such vehement condemnations?
Hoge: Seven seasons in the league and over 14 years as an NFL analyst for ESPN. I’ve seen many, many NFL quarterbacks while on the field and on the couch, and Tim Tebow shouldn't be one of them.
The guy simply cannot throw. He has no accuracy with his passes and misses wide-open receivers all the time. He has this odd elongated throwing motion that prevents him from getting the ball out quickly, making a fumble or incompletion more likely.
He might be a great energy guy and give great speeches, but being a good guy does not automatically qualify you to throw in the NFL. The Denver Broncos should be embarrassed that they are forced to field such a farce at the most important position on offense.
Hoge: Because I love football. I love this game, and to see it played so poorly is not just an insult to me. It’s an insult to the fans. They should expect a good product out on the field, and that’s not what they’re getting.
Prosecutor: No further questions.
Bayless begins his cross-examination.
Bayless: Mr. Hoge, since my client has started for Denver in 2011, the Broncos are 4-1. He’s a winner, plain and simple, so why do you have to belittle his accomplishments? If all that’s really important in the NFL is winning, how can you say my client is an insult to the league?
Bayless: I’m done with this witness.
Judge: The witness is excused.
Hoge walks away, still trying to come up with a retort to Bayless.
Prosecutor: The prosecution calls Mr. John Steven Young.
Steve Young, smiling sheepishly, meanders toward the stand. He is sworn in, and testimony begins.
Young: This is hard for me, because I like Tim as a person. I like that he’s an tough guy with great feet. I’d love for him to succeed in the NFL as a quarterback, but right now, I don’t see it.
The way Denver is using him isn’t sustainable. Defenses are too fast and too smart in the NFL for a spread offense to keep working week by week, or more teams would run it. He’s had a good start, but as the season drags on, teams are going to beat him. Badly.
Denver will not continue to win this way, and Tebow will be forced into a regular, pocket-based pro-style offense. When he is, I’d hate to see what would happen.
Prosecutor: Mr. Young, do you believe the defendant is an insult to the modern NFL?
Young: I don’t know if I’d word it quite that way, but he’s not an NFL quarterback, or at least the kind we’ve come to expect. To give him false hope like this is borderline cruel. Put it a different way, I’d say he’s not doing the position of quarterback justice.
Prosecutor: (motioning to Bayless) Your witness.
Bayless: (rising) Mr. Young, I simply don’t understand how you can argue that my client is an insult to the NFL. Have you ever watched him play? My client inspires his teammates, runs into traffic with reckless abandon, and does everything he can on every down to win. He’s a role model off the field and on it. How can we expect anything more?
Young: He might be a winner, but that won’t last. Defenses will learn to stop him, they will learn how to scheme against him. Without his one trick, can Tebow still win? I doubt it.
Good character makes good men, but not always good quarterbacks.
Bayless: No further questions.
Young steps down.
Judge: The prosecution may call its next witness.
Prosecutor: Your Honor, we call Mr. Steven Anthony Smith to the stand.
Shaking his head slightly, Steven A. Smith steps forward, is sworn in, and is seated.
Prosecutor: Mr. Smith, you’ve been quite animated on ESPN’s First Take and your own radio show concerning the defendant. Like many others, you’ve accused him of not being a real NFL quarterback, and characterized his play as “pathetic” and “putrid.” Can you explain yourself.
Smith: Well, yes I can. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that Tebow is a bad NFL player, he certainly is a gamer. What I am saying is that I question his position choice.
Against the Dolphins, he was terrible for 55 minutes before somehow winning that game. He completed only two passes against Kansas City, and waited until his team’s final drive against the Jets to make plays.
Every game he appears in satisfies both his supporters and his critics, and sooner or later, one side is going to drown out the other. I think it will be mine. He still cannot throw, and like Steve Young said, defenses will figure him out and crush him.
Prosecutor: To put it plainly Mr. Smith, do you believe the defendant is an insult to the modern NFL?
Smith: Not in so many words, but watching him play does not engender pride in Bronco football, nor should it. It’s like they have him out there with the dancing bear and bearded lady, a show made for the rabid audience regardless of what it means to the performer. It’s insulting to everyone who watches and supports Denver.
Prosecutor: Thank you, Mr. Smith. Nothing further (sits)
Bayless: (stands) Mr. Smith, we’ve had discussions like this before. Let me ask you this: Why does it matter what my client does over the first three quarters if he wins games in the fourth. We’ve seen it over and over again so far, so why doesn’t that cut him any slack from you?
Smith: We’ll, I have eased up on the kid as the weeks have gone by. Whatever show they’re putting on in Denver seems to be working in the short term, and that’s great. But there are only so many times you can go to the fourth quarter comeback well. He’s going to run dry soon, and if he doesn’t learn how to throw, it’ll be for good.
Bayless: No further questions.
Smith is excused.
Prosecutor: The prosecution calls Mr. Colin Murray Cowherd.
Colin Cowherd sprints up to stand, smiling. He is sworn in, and after a few lawyer jokes, is questioned by the Prosecutor.
Prosecutor: Mr. Cowherd, you have used your ESPN radio show and position as co-host of ESPN’s SportsNation to criticize the defendant as a poor quarterback. You have decried his selection in the first round as an “egregiously horrible pick” and have gone on record as suggesting that the defendant should not have been selected until after the third round.
Can you explain yourself?
Cowherd: Well he’s a bad quarterback. Period. I mean, when you’re talking about a guy who was a system quarterback at Florida, and how little translates into the NFL from that system, there really is not other way to say it.
In college, Tebow didn’t need to pass, all he did was run defenses off the field from the shotgun. Urban Meyer knew exactly how to use the kid. Add his running ability together with an offense specifically tailored to maximize his running ability, and you get a great college team. That was Florida, but it won’t be the same professionally.
Tim Tebow: Good guy, bad QB for the NFL. It’s hard to say, I know, but it’s true!
Prosecutor: Does his starting for a contender make him an insult to the modern NFL?
Cowherd: Yes! His throwing hasn’t improved significantly from the day he was drafted, and he still has an irregularly long throwing motion. For the Denver Broncos to field Tebow as their starting quarterback is an insult to all the great QBs the NFL has seen. Is this what we’re reduced to? Is this a joke? They really can’t start a quarterback who can throw?
Prosecutor: Your witness (sits).
Bayless: (rises) Mr. Cowherd, your mistaken when you suggest my client will never make it in the NFL due to his inability to throw well. My client has won games against division contenders while barely throwing at all.
That game against Kansas City is a perfect example. My client went only 2-of-8, but one of his completions was a 56-yard touchdown to Eric Decker. More importantly, Denver won the game.
Mr. Cowherd, how can you explain my client’s ability to win games despite not being able to throw?
Cowherd: I can’t and frankly, I’m a little scared that I can’t. What Tebow is doing during this nice stretch of games boggles my mind. Everything technically he does, from footwork to decision-making to accuracy, is poor, yet he still wins. I just don’t know how he does it.
Bayless: No further questions.
Bayless sits down, Cowherd leaves.
Prosecutor: The prosecution calls Mr. Christopher D. Carter to the stand.
Wearing a serious look, Cris Carter is sworn in, and then takes a seat.
Prosecutor: Mr. Carter, as an NFL analyst for ESPN, you have seemed ready to loose criticism of Tim Tebow. Please tell this court what you think of him.
Carter: Well, he's not an NFL quarterback. He can’t throw for one thing—
Bayless: (standing quickly) Your Honor, I know that the prosecution intends to call every major pro football analyst who has ever criticized my client to testify one way or another about his inability to throw well in an effort to paint him an insult to the NFL.
Prosecutor: In light of what he’s accused of, it seemed only prudent.
Bayless: The defense is willing to concede that yes, my client does struggle to the throw ball, but only if the prosecution will also concede that none of their witnesses will dispute that he is a winner, great guy off the field, and that he can win games without needing to throw much.
The Prosecutor confers quietly with his assistants.
Prosecutor: (pause) The prosecution will stipulate.
Judge: Very well. Mr. Carter, you are excused. (Carter leaves looking confused) Does the prosecution have another witness?
Prosecutor: Yes Your Honor, we do. If we could place more chairs in and around the stand…
Prosecutor: Your Honor, the prosecution calls the members of the Detroit Lions’ defense to the stand.
General uproar. At least 30 football players, all wearing Lions’ jerseys, make their way forward to the stand, which has been magically enlarged to fit all of them. None are named, and when they testify, they speak in unison.
After order is restored and the players are sworn in, the Prosecutor begins.
Prosecutor: Gentlemen of the Detroit Lions’ defense, you've been called here today to testify about your actions during your team’s 45-10 win over Denver. You seemed to mock the defendant after numerous big plays, and were unapologetic in your assessment of him after the game. As a part of the NFL, to what do you owe your disdain?
Lions’ Defense: To be honest, we were a little insulted by his starting against us. I mean, did the Broncos' coaching staff really believe a defense as good as ours would be fooled by a guy like him? It was as if they were saying, “We can beat you with 10 players and this guy.” Who wouldn’t take offense?
He did exactly what he thought he was going to do; that offense is just too predictable. When we pressured him, he made poor choices and turned the ball over. It was so easy, it got boring real fast.
Prosecutor: So you’re saying that the defendant was not just an insult to you as a unit, but possibly to the other defensive units in the NFL?
Bayless: Objection, Your Honor! The prosecution is clearly leading the witness!
Prosecutor: Let me rephrase. Detroit’s defense: In your professional opinion, could the defendant’s position of starting quarterback possibly offend other NFL defensive units?
Lions’ Defense: Sure he could. We were certainly insulted.
Prosecutor: No further questions.
Bayless tries a cross-examination, but the Lions’ Defense just mocks him, answering in silly voices and making rude hand gestures. After a few minutes, Bayless gives up, and sits down.
Prosecutor: The prosecution calls Mr. Jason Steven Plummer.
Jake Plummer, face almost entirely obscured by hair, is sworn in and seated.
Prosecutor: Mr. Plummer, you were a quarterback for the Denver Broncos for your final four seasons in the NFL, is that correct?
Plummer: Yes it is.
Prosecutor: While you were there, did they ever ask you to run a zone-read based spread offense? Did you have to run at least eight times per game like the defendant?
Plummer: No, we ran more of a traditional NFL offense in my day. I wasn’t the most accurate quarterback out there, but I could make throws when it counted. I even made the Pro Bowl in 2005. We got to the AFC Championship game that year.
Prosecutor: With that kind of experience, do you find the defendant’s play to be a little insulting the modern NFL, specifically to the level of passing excellence you helped set while in Denver?
Plummer: No. I like Tebow’s play on the field. Even though he’s got a limited skill set, the way he competes on every down and inspires his teammates to do the same really impresses me. I think it’s great that the fans have something or someone to really cheer for again. That organization deserves it.
While his style might not be my cup of tea, I really respect him for winning through all the criticism.
Prosecutor: Is that admiration limited to his football play, or does it extend to all aspects of his personality? In other words, is there nothing you find objectionable about the defendant?
Plummer: Well, I wouldn’t go that far. You see, his constant protestations of faith bug me a little bit. It’s great that you're a religious, god-fearing guy, I get that. But to praise the Lord every time he makes a good play, or credit him in every press conference, is a little too much for me.
Prosecutor: Do you think other NFL players with different beliefs might find it insulting?
Plummer: Hey, don’t misrepresent me here. It’s a free country and Tim can do what he wants. All I’m saying is I’d wish he’d tone it down a notch. It’s true, not everyone has the same beliefs, and it makes you easier to like if you keep that kind of stuff outside of football.
When we step on the field, we’re all just players, and should be judged by our skills, not our personal beliefs. While I honestly don’t find it insulting that he “Tebows” before and after every game, some people might. Why leave that to chance?
Prosecutor: (motions to Bayless) Your witness.
Bayless: (stands) Just so we’re clear Mr. Plummer, you are not saying that my client’s behavior is offensive to the point of insulting the NFL, are you?
Plummer: Not really, I’m just saying that it could, not that it does. Again, I like the guy, and, “I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I'll like him a little better.”
Bayless: Thank you. No further questions.
Prosecutor: The prosecution calls Mr. John Albert Elway Jr., Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Denver Broncos.
The courtroom is filled with muffled gasps. Slightly uneasily, John Elway heads to the stand and is sworn in. Elway is seated, and then is questioned by the Prosecutor.
Prosecutor: Mr. Elway, you are perhaps the greatest quarterback the Denver Broncos have ever had. Now in the front office, you have a clear view of the defendant’s alleged crimes against the league. As a former quarterback, surely you find his play insulting to the modern NFL and your legacy in particular.
Elway: Well…not really…I have faith in the guy…but I’m not sold on him yet…
Prosecutor: I’m sorry, that’s a fairly vague answer. Could you be clearer?
Elway: Well then, I’ll just come right out and say it. “We can't go 3-for-13 and win a world championship,” alright? That’s just self-evident. You need to be able to pass somewhat effectively, and so far we can’t with Tebow as our starter.
Prosecutor: So while you wouldn’t go so far as to say that Tebow is an insult to the modern NFL, you might say that you don’t feel that he’s your long-term starter, correct?
Elway: (long pause) …Yes.
Prosecutor: Doesn’t that imply that you feel starting the defendant long term would be insulting to your franchise?
Bayless: Objection! The prosecution is leading the witness again!
Judge: Sustained. Be careful here, sir.
Prosecutor: Yes Judge, I’ll rephrase.
Mr. Elway, would you consider starting Tebow if there was a solid pocket-passer available on your roster?
Prosecutor: Permission to treat the witness as hostile.
Prosecutor: (voice rising) Mr. Elway, do you or do you not believe that, if a good pocket passer were available to start for Denver, you would push the coaching staff to start him? A straight answer please!
Elway: Yes! Yes. Forgive me Tim, but we’re already scouting your replacement for the 2012 draft…
Prosecutor: (yelling) And would the reluctance to start him have anything to do with his insulting, atypical performance at quarterback?
Elway: Yes...Yes...It's all true...(tries to stifle a sob)
Prosecutor: No further questions.
Bayless attempts a cross, but Elway is too distraught. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Bayless gives up an excuses Elway. As he leaves, the former Denver star adjusts his shades to hide the lone tear trickling down his face.
Prosecutor: The Prosecution calls its final witness Mr. Johnathan Fox, head coach of the Denver Broncos.
Another murmur whispers through the gallery. John Fox, headset and all, is calmly sworn in and takes a seat at the stand
Prosecutor: Mr. Fox, you were quoted recently as saying that your quarterback would be “screwed” if he were every to try and run a normal NFL offense, rather than the relatively pass-free scheme he runs now. Can you elaborate on your comment.
Fox: Let me say that first of all, I’m Tim’s biggest fan. No one wants him to succeed more than I do. He’s a winner regardless of his physical limitations.
Honestly, “I screwed up,” in giving that quote. I actually want Tebow to do well; it was just a mental lapse on my part. I’d take it all back if I could.
Prosecutor: What made you think that he would be “screwed” in the first place? Why talk about that at all?
Fox: I just…I just lost my head a bit. That’s all, honestly.
Prosecutor: Permission to treat the witness as hostile.
Prosecutor: Mr. Fox, could you have let that quote slip because you, like everyone else, is a human being with two eyes? Don't tell me you can't see what's right in front of you! Some of public respected you for being honest about one of your own guys, why take it back? You were right!
Fox: No! Tebow would be great in any offense! All we do is modify our running game a little bit to suit him—
Prosecutor: By running all the time and passing only occasionally? Is that what you mean by “modifying?”
Fox: No! I mean…I just…oh God…(buries head in hands)
Prosecutor: Face it Mr. Fox, you were right about the defendant in the first place. You never wanted to start him, but were forced to when the now-released Kyle Orton proved so incompetent. You wanted a pocket-passer, not Josh McDaniel’s fixer-upper.
You see the defendant play every day. You call the plays. Admit it here and now, you know Tebow won’t function in other offensive schemes because he can’t throw, and that’s an insult to the modern NFL. Admit it!
Fox: Yes! It’s all true…I didn’t have a choice…my job was on the line…
Prosecutor: Nothing further.
Bayless: Mr. Fox! Are you, or are you not my client’s biggest supporter?
Fox: Yes I am! No one wants him to succeed more than me. I’m in his corner 100 percent.
Bayless: Does he not also have the support of his teammates?
Fox: Yes! The whole team is behind Tim 100 percent. We can win with him.
Bayless: No further questions.
Fox is dismissed.
Prosecutor: That’s all I have, Your Honor The prosecution rests.
Judge: Very well. Is the defense prepared to call a witness?
Bayless: (rising) Yes, Your Honor. The defense calls its only witness, Mr. Timothy Richard Tebow.
Downcast, Tim Tebow slowly moves toward the stand. He is sworn in and sits down.
Bayless: Mr. Tebow, you sit here accused of being an insult to the modern NFL and all the great quarterbacks that came before you. During this trial, NFL commentators, opposing defenses and your own employers have criticized you for a multitude of reasons.
Still, you are 4-1 as a starter in 2011 with the Broncos back in the playoff race. You have shown uncommon poise in taking usually personal attacks from the football establishment and continue to improve on the field game after game.
What, if anything, do you have to say for yourself in response to allegations made against you?
Tebow: Well sir, I just want to play football. I want to win. All I do, I do for the team and the guys who work so hard so we can succeed together.
I’ve always dreamed about being an NFL quarterback ever since me and my dad played catch when I was little. And now that I've gotten my shot—it's hard to take the abuse sometimes, especially when it gets personal. I know I’m not such a good thrower, but I’m working hard every day to improve.
I love and respect the history of this great league. I wouldn’t want to do anything to insult it when it’s given me this great opportunity. I know that one day, God will give me the strength to finally quiet all my naysayers and detractors, but until then, let them talk. I’ll answer them on the field.
All I can do is try my best. If that’s not good enough, sir, I’ll just try harder.
Bayless: No further questions (turns to Prosecutor)
Prosecutor: (with contempt) I have no questions for this witness.
Judge: The witness is dismissed.
Tebow walks solemnly back to his table with Bayless.
Bailiff: All rise.
The Judge leaves. Court is adjourned for the day. Briefcases are packed. People begin to talk amongst themselves.
So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, how do you find the defendant?