The other day I asked my brother Brian, a long-time Denver Broncos fan, if he had any thoughts about a certain mystical starting quarterback and if he would be interested in sharing them on this site. He happily obliged and he created the magnificent post below. I did add the picture though, to really cement his status as a super fan.
I have been a Denver Bronco fan since I was a kid. I am not exactly sure when it began, or why, but by 1989, I was a full-fledged fan. I can remember believing that Bobby Humphrey was going to be the missing piece that finally led to that elusive Super Bowl victory. I made sure to get his rookie card knowing its value would sky rocket when he got paired with future hall of fame QB John Elway. Unfortunately, neither Humphrey, nor Elway, nor the Three Amigos played on the Broncos defense, and they ended up suffering the worst defeat in Super Bowl history at the hands of the juggernaut 49ers, 55-10.
Several years later, I proudly cheered as John Elway and new star RB Terrell Davis were finally able to climb the mountain and end the pain and suffering of millions of Broncos fans everywhere by defeating the reigning champion Packers in the 1997 Super Bowl. They repeated the following year, knocking off the Atlanta Falcons.
In the years that follow, I have maintained my affinity for the Broncos, despite relocating to Pittsburgh, a rabid sports town in which fans love their Steelers as fervently as any team I have ever seen in person or have seen portrayed in movies. There are Steeler bars all over this country. People wear jerseys to church on Sunday, bring terrible towels to the ends of the earth (perhaps you have seen the commercial playing on ESPN), and talk football right through baseball season (although to be fair, the Pirates haven’t been cause for much discussion since Francisco Cabrera destroyed the Bonds-Bonilla-Van Slyke dynasty). Still, I remain a Broncos fan, and have chosen to not switch allegiances (although I do cheer for the Steelers, who are now my 2nd favorite team).
I tell you all this to show my credentials for what I am really here to talk about: Tim Tebow.
Tebowmania is sweeping the nation, and everyone seems to be caught up in it. He may be one of the top 10 most well-known players in the NFL, despite having started only a handful of games in his short two year career.
Much has been written about Tim Tebow in the last few weeks, and probably a lot better than what I will provide here. If you want sharp analysis about his throwing mechanics, you might want to look elsewhere. If you are hoping for a grand discussion about God’s role in determining the outcome of football games, sorry about your luck (although I assume he takes the under in Broncos games). What you will get here is what a casual Broncos fan thinks about the enigmatic QB who is leading his team to improbable victories.
First, a little history. In 1999, with his two championships, and his legacy secure, John Elway decided to end his career as a professional quarterback. He became one of only a few legends to choose to “go out on top”, leaving the game as a champion. For the first time since 1983, Denver would have a man not named John Elway as quarterback. They enlisted such players as Bubby Brister, Brian Griese, and Jake Plummer to try to take his place to no avail. They thought they had drafted the quarterback of the future in Jay Cutler, but as Bears fans can now attest, his brilliant highs can only be matched by his brilliant lows. The trade of Jay Cutler brought on the Kyle Orton era. After a spectacular start (6-0 in 2009), he crashed back to earth, proving that he too could not take the reigns as leader of the Broncos. Just like the Cubs trying to replace the now ‘Future Hall of Famer’ Ron Santo at 3rd base, it seemed like the Broncos would never find a franchise QB.
Enter Tim Tebow. I remember having a faint glimmer of hope on draft day after the Broncos selected Tebow (and faint is being generous), thinking that then head coach Josh McDaniels, who was known as something of an offensive whiz kid, would use Tim Tebow to help revolutionize professional football. Perhaps he had schemes worked up that would unleash an offense that had never been seen and would be an unstoppable force. Perhaps I gave him too much credit. 12 losses later, McDaniels was out of a job. But Mr. Tebow still had his job – as a back-up.
It turns out that I had the wrong coach pegged to lead the revolution (welcome John Fox). And it turns out the revolution was more like a trip in the way back machine. What was cool before becomes cool again (I hoped you saved those Z Cavariccis, Matt), and what used to be successful in football can be successful again. After starting off 1-4 under Kyle Orton, the Broncos are now 7-1 with Tim Tebow under center, by launching the return of the triple option offense.
After a very successful college career, including two national championships and a Heisman, it could easily appear that Tim Tebow is set to follow that up with a successful professional career. Not many quarterbacks start this well, although it does happen (Ben Roethlisberger went 15-1 to start his career, and has since won 2 Super Bowls). There is something to be said about being a winner, and by every sense of the word, Mr. Tebow appears to fit the label of “winner”.
Yet something doesn’t quite sit right. Winning is a result, not an action.
One of the first lessons taught in Psychology classes is that correlation is not causation. The famous example is that ice cream consumption is correlated with drowning. When ice cream consumption is high, the drowning rate is high. When ice cream consumption is low, the drowning rate is low. The easy conclusion to draw is that ice cream consumption leads to drowning. In reality, the fact is that ice cream consumption goes up in summer, which happens to be the time of year when people are more likely to go swimming, which increases the rate of drowning.
In more advanced Psychology classes, I also learned that there is a need to separate decision-making quality from the result of that decision-making. A decision that leads to a positive outcome is not necessarily a good decision. For example, calling/texting and driving verifiably increase the likelihood of a person getting in an accident, and injuring or killing themselves or others. It is clearly a bad decision. But when no accidents result, the outcome can make people believe that the decision-making was ok. This is why it is important to separate what was done with the result. There are often hundreds and thousands of situational variables at play when a decision is made, and changes in any of them can alter the result. All we can do is make the best decision possible and hope that variables outside of our control fall in our favor.
Ironically, baseball has recently begun wrestling with the same “winner” question. Over the last decade, baseball has undergone a bit of a statistical revolution. Popularized most recently by the book, and now movie, “Moneyball”, statistical analysis of player ability has blossomed into a required course of study for General Managers throughout the league. Two stats have come under the most fire by this new “statistics” crowd. The first is Runs Batted In, which they argue is more a factor of how often a player comes up with another player on base rather than innate ability to produce runs. The second, more germane, argument revolves around pitcher Wins-Loss record. A pitcher can let up 7 runs over 5 innings and get the win if his team happens to score 8 runs over those same 5 innings and can hold onto the lead. Alternatively, a pitcher can let up a single run in 9 innings, and take the loss if his team is unable to score that day. Other statistics such as ERA and WHIP (Walks/Hits allowed per inning pitched) more justly showcase what a pitcher has contributed to his team’s victory (and even these have their flaws).
It is clear that Tim Tebow starting is correlated with Denver winning football games. This correlation also existed in college at the University of Florida, and I would guess high school as well. There are probably very few athletes who could boast such a strong correlation between their starting and their winning. So is he a winner, or does he just happen to win a lot?
Let’s just say I am not convinced. I think that he had a lot to do with winning up through his college years. He was athletic enough and was a good enough quarterback to take advantage of the talent around him to win games in college. But the NFL is a different beast. Everyone in the league is supremely athletic, so athletic ability only gets a quarterback so far. To be successful long term, a quarterback has to actually become a good quarterback.
In a strange twist of fate, I think the biggest tale of caution for Tim Tebow lies in the fate of the man who he replaced – Kyle Orton (Vince Young could also serve as a note of caution). Orton was successful in college – not by Tebow standards, but definitely by Purdue standards (sadly). Orton then came into the pros and immediately found success. He was 10-5 his first year as a starter. He continued to have moderate success with the Bears (over .500) and started out 6-0 as a starter with the Broncos.
Since then, things haven’t gone so well. Did Orton lose his magical touch all of the sudden? My guess is that he wasn’t as good as his record indicated in the beginning, and not as bad as it appears now. He was a quarterback doing a decent job, and the variables around him (defense, running game, luck) changed as time went by. He wasn’t winning games in the beginning, and he wasn’t losing games towards the end. He just was.
I feel the same way about Tebow. It would be easy to point to some intangibles, such as leadership, or drive, or passion, but a lot of people have these things, and not everyone wins regularly. In reality, I believe that he plays his role adequately, and occasionally does something worth note. Right now, the variables are working in his favor. That won’t last forever.
Of course, I also though Bobby Humphrey would be the missing ingredient for the Broncos once upon a time, so what do I know.
Don’t forget to check out my post about Tim Tebow here.