DENVER – I could dive headlong into the numbers — some good, some bad — surrounding Tim Tebow’s second-half performance. I could remind you that it was Willis McGahee’s runs that, until the game’s final nine minutes, were the only signs of life in an otherwise inert offensive performance.
Instead, I’ll just tell you what I did on the final play of the game:
I stood up.
It would mean nothing in the grandstands; most of the 71,683 who remained at Sports Authority Field at Mile High were on their feet for the game’s last play. In the sterile press box, though, it’s something different.
Being in the front row of the press box * means you can sit comfortably, see everything and never have to rise for anything but a trip to the water closet. And for approximately 99.95 percent of the plays I’ve witnessed in this environment over the last 15 years, that’s been my perspective: rear end in my chair, one hand’s fingers poised at the keyboard, the other with a pen jotting down substitutions and other notes.
* (I wasn’t blocking anyone; the people sitting behind me had already evacuated their desks for a field-level view. There was no tangible reason to stand; I wasn’t seeking a better view, nor was I trying to crane around a 6-foot-5 leviathan in an oversized novelty Stetson.)
But as Tebow began his 11.13-second bob-and-weave around the backfield on the game’s final play, desperately trying to create an alley for a plausible end-zone shot rather than a random Hail Mary, I had to stand. This isn’t because greatness seemed imminent; frankly, I was afraid the guy might get clobbered into the bye week as he released the football or lose his grip on the snap, since he was plagued with bobbles earlier in the half.
No, it was standing because something big could happen. “Big” could mean completing the Broncos’ most dramatic comeback since, well, last Dec. 26, when Tebow led a rally from a 17-0 deficit against Houston that remains the Broncos’ biggest comeback since John Elway’s rookie season.
“Big” could also mean calamitous; the possibility of the afore-mentioned hit, or a split-second and likely unwise decision to try and run the 29 yards himself (a decision he largely avoided Sunday, as he showed a patience to persist with the pass that he didn’t always display last year).
You stand and watch Tebow for the same reason the crowd at the circus comes to its feet when the acrobat attempts to walk across the high wire, or 350,000 at the Indianapolis 500 rise as 33 cars hit Turn 1 at 225 miles per hour. Because the result will be big: splendid success or a spectacular crash. Either way, there’s the potential of a sight you might never see again.
Just a half-hour before, the only people standing were those heading for the exits. Tebow’s first two possessions had resulted in multiple underthrows, four incompletions in five attempts, no passing yardage, a 39.6 quarterback rating and three punts.
Now, the entire crowd stood. Most stood out of hope, as fans do. Some, like myself, rose out of curiosity, knowing that something interesting could happen after this shotgun snap.
“Interesting,” of course, is not necessarily a synonym for “good,” but that’s precisely the point. At 1-4 and with games against the Lions, Jets, Patriots and Bills looming among other challenges in the next three months, the Broncos will have to win all the games they should — plus nearly all of the toss-ups and more than half of the ones they probably shouldn’t — just to have a chance at ending a six-year playoff drought.
Success in the traditional NFL definition, e.g. a deep playoff run, making the Super Bowl, is unlikely. But the season can still be interesting, can still provide some hair-tingling moments, and make Broncos fans stand up in the hope of the extraordinary.
That hope largely resides in the relatively untested young quarterback.
For reasons that go beyond conventional or statistical definition — which drives a numbers wonk like myself a bit crazy — Tebow makes the entire American football-watching world stand and take notice of a team that has endured a slow, painful descent into irrelevancy beyond its home turf.
Perhaps Tebow will become the long-term answer. Or perhaps his role will merely be to get the team through the season before another quarterback prospect captures fans’ attention. And perhaps he isn’t truly ready for the week-in, week-out rigors of the position.
But at 1-4, and with the most electric 15 minutes of the season taking place on his watch, it’s time to stand up and find out which one.