The year is 2021. The month is September. It's Thursday, the first day of the NFL season, and the defending-champion Indianapolis Colts, led by eight-year starter Andrew Luck, are set to kick off the 2021 NFL season against the Josh Freeman-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Watching kickoff in his living room, a 10-year-old boy, just beginning to enter a delicate and confusing point in a young man's life known as "sports puberty," is browsing through his older cousin's old box of NFL playing cards from about ten years ago.
He picks up a card, a slightly-wrinkled Jets card with a faded-green trim, and asks himself, "Who's Tim Tebow?"
A day where Tim Tebow does not appear on the SportsCenter "bottom line" seems surreal to think about, yet to imagine anyone, sports fan or not, not knowing who he is, well that's just downright unrealistic.
Unfortunately for Tebow, forces beyond his control will slowly but surely make his NFL career a virtual impossibility. Over the next couple years, we will watch the unraveling saga that is Tebow's NFL career. This tragedy will not be made by drugs, alcohol or disgraceful behavior, but rather by constant scrutiny and relentless critiques.
Tebow will be a 21st-century victim, those that are tortured not on the playing field, but on the TV, the internet and, in the Big Apple, on the "back pages."
The Back Pages
Pick up any copy of The Daily News or New York Post, the two New York City tabloid-newspapers, and you will see two things without opening the cover. On the front page will most likely be a headline talking about a current political scandal, a controversial incident involving the NYPD or a celebrity meltdown that took place in NYC.
Flip over the hastily assembled publication, and the back page will feature the most polarizing sports story of the day, usually accompanied by a miserable, but impressive, pun.
These newspapers may, in reality, be 40 pages of complete fabrication and, for lack of a more creative term, crap, but their presence is significant given the quantity at which they are circulated. Both papers sell more than 500,000 daily copies, and sell more than 300,000 on any given Sunday.
That's a lot of eyes and a lot of minds absorbing these sensationalist takes on the current events of a city that is home to more than eight million people. As a whole, New Yorkers spend a tremendous amount of time taking public transportation—subways, buses, cabs—and all of these idle moments are valuable times when they can read, consume and think.
To make a long story short, New York is a city that can make a kicker into a superstar and can turn a saint into a pariah. We now have a situation where the most polarizing athlete in the world is playing in a city that thrives on polarization.
In the Big Apple, it's not about who's right and who's wrong, it's about making sure that no one ever figures that out.
The New York Jets Need a Distraction
If the word tumultuous is ever a fitting choice of adjective, it may never get more appropriate than using it to describe the New York Jets. The ups and downs that the Jets have experienced over the last three seasons have entertained most, disturbed some and made the headline writers at The Daily News and New York Post as giddy as I was when the newest Justin Bieber album came out.
Rex Ryan, their outlandish and well-fed head coach, has singlehandedly been the greatest gift to the world of puns, aside from Jeremy Lin of course. His optimistic, eccentric and what some may call ignorant personality has made phrases like "Rextasy," "Rexterminator" and "Better Luck Rex Time" possible—perhaps even all in the same day.
The Jets of the last few seasons have been hard cards to count. In 2009, their first season with the curious Ryan as head coach and also the first with Mark Sanchez at quarterback, the Jets surprised many and made it to the AFC Championship Game. Despite an offense that was often stagnant and a quarterback who usually seemed easily rattled and generally unconfident, the Jets thrived through the season on the strength of a good running game and an even better defense.
In 2010, Sanchez improved, the defense improved and the Jets once again returned to the AFC Championship Game.
Despite two consecutive losses in the AFC's semifinal, the Ryan-Sanchez era of the Jets should have largely been considered a success after two seasons with a new coach, a new system and a young quarterback.
But this is New York, baby, and the Jets got manhandled. Calls to fire Ryan were rampant ("He's too distracting"; "He's too loud"). Calls to trade Sanchez were even more widely heard. ("His accuracy is pitiful"; "He's too damn soft").
But the Jets pressed on in 2011 with a very similar roster of coaches and players from 2010.
At the risk of sounding like a chef, you can only leave the soup boiling so long before it finally overflows. Despite very high expectations in 2011, the Jets were a train wreck unlike any most have ever seen.
The defense—the strength of their organization—floundered. Their running game was virtually nonexistent. Sanchez slightly improved, but that didn't stop the Gang Green fans from booing him and questioning his presence every time he threw one of his 18 interceptions.
The Jets finished the season 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Only weeks later would reports surface that the Jets locker room was like a high school hallway: full of gossip, backstabbing and cliques.
So why would the Jets, a team railed by the media on a daily basis, want to bring in a backup quarterback who attracts more media craze than Jeremy Lin and Miley Cyrus put together?
Maybe it's because the Jets are praying for something to overtake their locker room hissy fits as the defining story of their current franchise. With Tebow on the team, the media is no longer concerned with Ryan's foot fetish, Santonio Holmes' complaints or Mark Sanchez's arm strength.
No, they are concerned with Tebow. Where is he, what's he wearing and what color is his underwear? (Orange and blue—for the Florida Gator, of course.)
But they are concerned with one more thing, and they will be relentless until they see their fantasy playing out in reality. When will Tebow play?
The New York Jets Fans
Fireman Ed and the 82,565 other people that will pack MetLife Stadium for the Jets' eight home games in 2012 will break into two groups.
The first will be the pack of fans who understand the logistics and strategy behind the game of football as it exists in our modern world. These fans will understand that the starting quarterback must be Mark Sanchez, for he is the man who: a) the Jets drafted with their first-round pick; b) led them to two AFC Championship Games in three years as a starter; and c) will be getting paid $40.5 million of the Jets' money over the next three years.
An economic investment in sports must lead to an on-field commitment; otherwise, you're just paying a benchwarmer.
While these fans will accept Sanchez as their starter, their understanding of the situation will lead to them being very confused: "If our team was confident and trusting enough in Sanchez to give him a huge contract extension, then why did they feel the need to bring in Tebow?"
This question will make its way around poker games and tailgate circles across the tri-state area. In the mind of these football intellects, Tebow spells uncertainty. The last impression that the Jets should be giving off to their fans is that they are uncertain in their own decision making.
There will also be a second pack of fans, however, who won't quite see the reality and sensibility behind the situation (maybe because there isn't any). These fans, devoted and loyal, will pile into MetLife stadium and watch the Jets struggle. They'll watch the defense give up an abundance of first downs and they'll watch Sanchez throw an incomplete pass, then another, then a pick.
As they watch the Jets struggle, they'll drink, and as they drink, they'll think. This drinking and thinking will lead to remarkable revelations. The next time Sanchez throws an incomplete pass, a small section of the stadium will shout, "Tebow."
Before you know it, much of the stadium will be shouting "Tebow!" This will distract the Jets, lower the morale of the already-sensitive Sanchez and frustrate the first group of fans that I described.
This will be the state of the Jets by midseason. A fanbase that is torn in two, yet bonding over a mutual frustration about how the team is being run. An unconfident starting quarterback, playing on a team with no chemistry. A large and volatile media market ripping apart Gang Green and noting all of their failures.
And lastly, an innocent man standing on the sidelines, pretending not to hear a stadium full of people shouting his name.
The Jets are going to stink, and who's fault is it going to be? Indirectly, that innocent man's.
Should the Mayans be wrong and the world exists past next December (the Jets will be hoping for a quick and painless apocalypse by then), then we should look at where Tebow and the Jets will stand.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the only way Tebow can save his career is if he wins a Super Bowl, and with the Jets in 2012, that's not going to happen. Tebow can be nothing but a victim in this scenario. Whether he plays every down or never sets foot past the sideline, Tebow can only be seen as the detriment to the team's season.
If he plays and they don't win the Super Bowl, the media and the fans will go straight back to debating if Tebow should be the starter in 2013.
If he doesn't play and the Jets flounder and flail, then fingers will be pointed at Tebow for how he distracted the players from playing and the fans from cheering. His ardent supporters will call him a victim and his opponents will call him a distraction.
Neither group is right, but neither group is wrong, either. That, my friends, is polarization.
I don't mean to be a pessimist, and I certainly don't want to be right, because I think Tim Tebow is a tremendous football player with astounding amount of athleticism and pride. Unfortunately, however, I think the spotlight that constantly shines over his head like a black-tinted halo will prove to be his Achilles heel.
If I were to head to Central Park right now, park myself down in the Great Lawn belly down and stare at the grass, I wouldn't notice any change at all. Even if I stayed there for a month, that grass would look exactly the same to me.
Would it be longer? Hell yes, but in my eyes, it didn't grow at all.
Tebow has a ton of growing to do in terms of being a successful NFL player. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone will ever shut their eyes for long enough to notice a change in the product. Tebow may be growing, but no one is going to be able to see it.
Everyone's just staring at that lawn, waiting to see an explosion of change and improvement.
Change, of course, doesn't happen in a burst of lights and fireworks. Change is boring and it requires patience. Yet in New York, the city that never sleeps, and where The Daily News and New York Post are printed twice daily, no one is patient.
Everyone is just trying to stay occupied.
And so the 10-year-old boy stares bewildered at the wrinkled Tim Tebow card in his hand. Unaware of the great storm that Tebow had caused in the league just a decade earlier, he tosses it aside. Just like most fierce storms, their dissipation and departure is almost always as brief and volatile as their arrival.