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The Mercy Rule

The Black Comedy of Tim Tebow

The most important thing to remember, as Tim Tebow's career makes its official transition into farce, is that it was already, and always, a joke.

by David Roth
Mar 21 2012, 10:55am

The most important thing to remember, as Tim Tebow's career makes its official transition into farce, is that it was already, and always, a comedy. It was a complicated one, but broadly comedic even as it resembled drama—as Tebow's Broncos backed, or lucked, or pratfell into one ungainly win after another; as Tebow's name was uttered every 41 seconds on ESPN, even if it meant leatherette error-puppet Skip Bayless was barging into Nissan commercials inna Kool-Aid Man stylee and howling invectives about Tebow's leadership; as the heft of the NFL commentariat wondered in earnest how much more it could possibly take for people to believe that this scatter-armed goofsteak might actually be Jesus Christ returned to earth as a scatter-armed goofsteak.

This all was funny enough on its own, this steak-scented cuddle puddle of columnists, sports pundits, and grown-ass adults in jerseys, all humpily pondering the metaphysical implications of Tebow's 2-for-8, 69-yard passing performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10 (a win!). It was made funnier still by the fact that Tebow, grinning anthropomorphized jug of whole milk from which flowed one-hopped passes, popular bible quotes, and Successories captions of self-praise for his own work ethic, was at the center of all this. This rectangular column of Wonder Bread pudding, at the center of all that. And now, with Tebow's reported trade to the New York Jets, at the center of something even bigger.

In many ways, Denver was the ideal spot for Tebow, both since the Broncos were one of the reliably more competent teams in the NFL's crappiest division, and by dint of Broncos HQ’s proximity to the mile-high ops center of Tebow's own strain of perpetually aggrieved nu-Christianity: the world headquarters of noxious bedroom creepers Focus on the Family, the anti-everything politico-religious organization for which Tebow cut a few cornball anti-abortion television commercials, is in Colorado Springs, an hour or so's drive south of Denver.

Denver's decision, earlier this week, to replace Tebow at quarterback with four-time MVP Peyton Manning was risky, in the sense that Manning has endured a handful of neck surgeries over the last year or so and hasn’t played in over a calendar year. It was not risky in the sense that Manning is an exponentially better quarterback than Tebow is now or is likely ever to be. (He would be so even if he had to play in a full neck brace while zipping around in a Jazzy motorized scooter.) Tebow's celebrity and running skills, in that order, made him appealing to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the sinus headache of a team that plays its mostly blacked-out home games in Tebow's hometown. That the Jaguars were outbid by the New York Jets—a talented but underachieving team comprised of reality show contestants and people too harrowingly sociopathic to survive even a Real Housewives vetting process, who are led by handsomely mediocre quarterback Mark Sanchez and a bellowing foot fetishist of a coach—was both puzzling and fascinating. It is also the perfect next act in the grand comedic epic that is The Tim Tebow Story.

Provided the deal goes through—and there are some clauses in Tebow's contract that could make a trade to any team difficult to swing—one of the NFL's coarsest and most demanding fan bases, covered with pathologically undermine-y glee by the nation's vilest and most giddily destructive tabloids, will get the player for which they are absolutely least-suited. The Jets, who started bailing on each other about two-thirds of the way through last season, will have as one of their two quarterbacks the universe's greatest existing magnet for cunty anonymous quotes from exasperated teammates in Tebow; Sanchez, for all his mediocrity, has already proven formidable in that category, as well.

Tebow, for his part, will work very hard and play quarterback as well as he can—which is better than some NFL backups, though less effective than Sanchez—and, more importantly, live out for real the fed-to-the-lions martyrdom fantasies of a prickly, paranoiac fanbase intent on reading every criticism of his falling-down-the-stairs passing mechanics as an anti-Christian hate crime. And they may almost sort of be right this time—the Post's sports page, and Jets-world, actually are as debauched as Tebow's more politicized superfans believe the entire nation to be. The better part of the Tebow mystique has involved making him some sort of avatar—for conservatives, both the football types that can't process a quarterback better at running than passing; and the religious kind, who boil teachings of Christian love into adversarial culture war junk, and so shrink many of the world’s better ideas into spew better befitting their small hearts. As a quarterback, in any uniform, Tebow is not much. But as a character in the ongoing black comedy that is American life, he just got that much more interesting.