peyton-manning-john-elway-530x340

Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow and Why John Elway Better Be Careful What He Wishes For

Of all the things I love about sports, two that I don’t generally care for are Skip Bayless and the Mike and Mike radio show. Never liked either, and doubt I ever will.

Yet ironically, it was the confluence of the two on Tuesday morning, which brought the article you’re about to read together.

It was on Tuesday morning that I flipped on the radio, and reluctantly put on Mike and Mike; if only because I got tired hearing traffic and weather reports every 30 seconds. Anyway, Skip was filling in for Greeny, and when I tuned in, he was discussing his favorite topic, Mr. Timothy Richard Tebow. We all know Skip loves Tebow, but when Bayless spoke about him, he made one especially poignant comment that really caught my attention.

That comment? It went a little something like this:

In all my years in the media, Tim Tebow is the only athlete I’ve ever covered- EVER- who isn’t defined by the most important thing in sports: Winning.

Wow. In all the conversations I’ve had on Tebow through the years, I’ve never really thought of it like that.

But isn’t Bayless right? After all, what defines a team, athlete or coach more than winning? The answer is nothing.

Regardless of sport and regardless of the era, it’s always been this way. Wilt Chamberlain was inarguably the greatest compiler of stats in the history of team sports. His contemporary Bill Russell was the greatest compiler of championship rings in the history of team sports. Unanimously, we give the edge to Russell.  Thirty years after he retired Ernie Banks is still known as the guy “who never won a World Series,” John Calipari is currently known as the guy “who has yet to win an NCAA title” and Ray Bourque’s career wasn’t considered complete until he left Boston and got a Stanley Cup in Colorado. Ironically, John Elway and Dan Marino were two contemporaries who put up eerily similar stats. But because Elway has two rings and Marino none, we all give the edge to Elway.

As the old saying goes: Winning trumps everything.

Except in Denver, CO, where since the day Elway took the job as the Broncos de-facto GM in January 2011, the man has been trying to get rid of Tebow, in the same way you or I would desperately try to give away a car with 250,000 miles to anyone who’d take it. The difference is Tebow doesn’t have 250,000 miles on his odometer. He’s a seemingly healthy 24-year-old quarterback with little injury history, no character issues, and no reason to believe he won’t get better. He also is coming off a trip to the playoffs, after leading the Broncos to an AFC West title and Wild Card weekend last January.

To Elway, none of that matters. In a profession where everyone is judged solely by wins on the scoreboard, since Day 1 Elway has been desperately trying to get rid of the most precious commodity in sports: A winning NFL quarterback.

Well, by now you’ve probably heard that this week delivered an early Christmas in the Elway house. Little Johnny didn’t get the new red Huffy he was hoping for, but something even better, when Peyton Manning signed on the dotted line and became a Bronco on Tuesday afternoon.

Once pen went to paper there were no semantics from Elway. Unlike the dance he played for the last nine months with Tebow, there was no mistaking where Peyton Manning fits on the team. From Day 1, Hour 1, Minute 1, Manning will be the Broncos starting quarterback, with Elway even going so far as to  “There is no Plan B.” Meaning that unless Peyton is struck by lightning sometime in the next few hours (which, given Tebow’s track record wouldn’t totally shock me), Tebow time is officially over in Denver.

Now, before we continue, let me say a couple quick things here.

The first is that while I’m an unabashed Tebow supporter, even I’m not dumb enough to try and say this was a bad football move for Denver. It wasn’t. Assuming he’s healthy, Peyton Manning is the better quarterback, and quite frankly, the best quarterback that I’ve ever seen. Tebow may give the Broncos a chance to win. Peyton gives them the best chance to win. Big difference.

At the same time, what’s bothered me about the coverage of all this, is how black and white it’s being reported as. Peyton is good and Tebow is bad, Manning the 6’5, strong-armed Adonis under center, Tebow the little quarterback that couldn’t. Apparently everyone seems to think it’s that simple.

Only, it isn’t that simple. It never is in sports. Having Manning guarantees nothing. Getting rid of Tebow guarantees less. And while it was the right football move, let me be the first to say that it wouldn’t shock me if this all came back to bite Denver.

Why? Well let’s start with Tebow. By now, you probably know more about him than you ever cared to; his strengths, his weaknesses, what he eats for dinner, what his cat’s birthday is. We’re saturated by Tebow on TV, the radio and the internet. Overwhelmed by him at times.

Therefore, I’ll save you the pomp and circumstance and get straight to the point. Regardless of what you think of him, the only thing that matters to me is what Bayless said on Tuesday morning: The guy just wins. It doesn’t matter at what level, or under what circumstances, he always comes out on top. If death and taxes are the only certainties in life, “Tebow” and “winning” are right behind them.

Beyond just the winning though, has been the doubting that has come along with it.

As best I can tell, it all started when Tebow was a freshman at Trinity Christian High School, where his coaches didn’t let him play quarterback and because of it, he ended up transferring. I’ll save you the details in between, but the story ends with Tebow becoming a two-time Florida High School Player of the Year, and All-American… as a quarterback. The same thing happened at Florida, where tradition told us that a ground-based quarterback couldn’t win in the SEC. All Tebow did was win a National Championship as a starter and another as a back-up. And obviously, we all know what happened this year in Denver.

Speaking of Denver, I feel like we have a pretty nice sample size to know what we’re getting from Tebow at this point. Over his first two years in the league, Tebow has started 15 regular season games, going 9-6, with one playoff win and one playoff loss as well.

Those obviously aren’t great numbers, but let me ask you this: If Andrew Luck went 9-6 next year, how do you think most folks would perceive him? Because I’m pretty certain that a couple people over at ESPN (Yeah, I’m looking at you Merrill Hoge) would be ready to splice together a highlight tape to send to Canton. But Tebow? 9-6 doesn’t mean a damn thing. Again, he’s the only person in sports who isn’t judged by wins and losses.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about that playoff win over Pittsburgh as well. It came a little after Tebow’s 24th birthday, which is a darn impressive feat for someone so young. As a matter of fact, some quick internet research shows that Tebow’s first playoff win came more than two full years before Elway won his first postseason game, and a full four years before Manning won his first. That’s right, Peyton Manning was five full years, and 82 starts into his career before he won a single postseason game. Tebow was in year two, with a full 15 starts under his belt before his.

Now you’re probably wondering, why I would bother to bring that up. Please understand that it’s not to imply that Tebow is a better 24-year-old quarterback than Elway or Manning, or that at some point down the road his career will eclipse either of them. That’s not it at all.

What I am trying to say, is that it’s just downright stupid to pigeonhole any 24-year-old quarterback, let alone any that has already had the success in the NFL that Tebow has had. If every quarterback’s career trajectory was determined by the age of 24, Manning- who, as I mentioned before is the greatest quarterback I’ve ever seen- would’ve been run out of the league before he was old enough to rent a car. All these years later, and I think it’s safe to say Peyton’s done alright for himself.

By the way, not only is Tebow the only quarterback who isn’t judged based on wins, but he’s also the only quarterback I’ve ever heard of who is presumed to have peaked at 24-years-old.

Look, I see what Tebow does every Sunday like you do. It isn’t always pretty, and at times, downright ugly. The guy throws more ground balls than your typical Little League dad and his completion percentage is so low you need a microscope to see it. It’s bad. I understand that. But who’s to say it can’t get better? As a matter of fact, let’s flip the argument around: If Tebow is winning this many games when he’s playing this poorly, what happens if he even gets incrementally better in the coming years (which, given his work ethic, I suspect he will)? What if he gets a lot better?

Heck, let’s take this one step further: What if he just gets some half decent talent around him?

Oh, you forgot about that, right? Well I didn’t. The Broncos team Tebow just left had arguably the worst skill position in the league, not helped in any way by Elway, who traded Brandon Lloyd in attempt to bottom the team out. The problem was, Tim Tebow kept winning, despite the second-rate talent around him.

Speaking of which- and I cannot emphasize this enough- did you see the skill position talent around Tebow last year? I’ve discussed this on my podcast, but it’s worth repeating here: Couldn’t you make a very, VERY compelling case that Tebow had more talent around him in his junior year at Florida than he did last year in Denver?

I know you think I’m absolutely nuts right now, but let’s break this down.

I will take the 2008 Percy Harvin that Tebow played with at Florida (a guy that had 60 catches as an NFL rookie the following year) over anyone on the 2011 Denver Broncos, and I’d take the 2008 versions of Aaron Hernandez and Louis Murphy over anyone other 2011 DeMariyus Thomas as well. You can keep Eric Decker, Black and Decker, and whoever anyone else the Broncos had last year. I’ll take my chances with Tebow’s old running mates in Gainesville.

All this leads me to one, big-picture conclusion: If somebody was asking me for my advice, I’d tell them to go ahead and trade for Tim Tebow and I’d tell them to trade for Tebow right now.

That advice would with one big caveat however, and that’s this: If you trade for Tebow, you’ve got to be 100 percent all-in. There can be no waffling. No indecision. No trying to fit him into your scheme. From the owner to the coach to the last cheerleader on the squad, everyone’s got to be ready to ride or die with Tebow and back him 100 percent.

That starts with the offense, and it starts by you handing the keys to Tebow.

Now, before we go any further, let me answer the question I already know you’re going to ask. That question: Why would you change everything to appease one quarterback?

My response? Why wouldn’t you? If we all agree that the quarterback is the most important position in all of football, isn’t it the coach’s job to put the quarterback in the most ideal situation to win? Isn’t that why Drew Brees throws the ball 40 times a game and Alex Smith throws it 15? With their particular skill-sets, doesn’t that put each (and their team) in the best position to win? I’d say so. And by the way, isn’t Denver going to fundamentally change what they did at the end of last year to appease Manning?

Speaking of Denver, I’m not done with them yet. Not by a long shot.

Again, I understand why they made the move. I do. As I’ve said 50 times in this article already, Manning is the single biggest difference-making quarterback I’ve seen in my life. At his best, I wouldn’t trade him for anyone, and even at 60 percent, I’d have a hard time trading him for a fully-healthy, 100-percent ready to go Tebow.

At the same time, who’s to say Manning is 60 percent? Why are we so sure? Because he looked good in some unpadded workouts at Duke? Because he stood upright in his press conference? I know he was cleared by doctors and all, but what happens when Manning has a 290 lb. defensive end bearing down on him Week 1 next year?

Let’s also not forget that the guy is 36 not 26, and it was literally less than two months ago that we weren’t sure if he’d ever play in the NFL again. Now we’re supposed to believe that he’s going to hold up for a full 16 game season, plus the playoff run that Elway is already planning in his head? What if he takes a good shot and has to miss a game? Forget a game, what about a series? Then what? John Elway has no Plan B. Kyle Orton’s gone. Brady Quinn’s gone. Tim Tebow is out the door. What the heck do the Broncos do then? Is Elway going to come down from the owner’s box himself if Manning goes down?

Oh and one more thing… Manning is 36!! I did mention that, right? Even if he is healthy, how long will that last? To quote the movie ‘My Cousin Vinny,’ his “Biological clock is ticking like this… (stomp, stomp, stomp on the floor),” and do we really believe that he has the pieces to win a title right now? After all, Elway isn’t “masterminding” a five-year plan or a three-year plan. It’s a “win now, with no Plan B” plan. Good luck with that.

Especially given what’s around Manning. I already mentioned DeMariyus Thomas and the rest of the Island of Misfit Wide Receivers, and this would also be a good time to point out that starting running back Willis McGahee is so old and beat up even the Salvation Army wouldn’t accept him. And as for Denver’s incredible defense, well, they looked pretty average when Von Miller was out last year and pretty below average when Kyle Orton was playing quarterback in September. Which leads me to this: Everyone said how much the defense helped Tebow last year, except isn’t there a chance it may have been the other way around? Didn’t Tebow and all those long, clock-chewing drives help out the defense out too? Maybe just a little bit?

Only time will tell, but ultimately what’s most important is, everyone is getting a fresh start. Tebow will hopefully end up in a place where he’s fully embraced from top-to-bottom, and Manning landed in the exact landing spot he wanted.

As for John Elway, well, he got what he wished for as well. It took a few days digging through the shelves at the consignment shop, but Elway got his traditional, drop-back, 6’5, strong-armed quarterback, and can now finally alleviate himself from Tebow, the little quarterback that couldn’t.

But even with Manning’s arrival, what does it mean? He brings with him plenty of stats and plenty of pedigree, but also hasn’t played a single down of organized football in over a calendar year. He doesn’t guarantee a Super Bowl win, heck, he doesn’t even guarantee the AFC West title that Tebow just won.

To John Elway, congratulations. You got what you wanted.

But as my parents always used to tell me: Be careful what you wish for.

(Love the article? Hate it? Have your own reasons to be excited? Share them by commenting below or e-mailing at ATorres00@gmail.com

Also, for all his articles, interviews and podcasts, be sure to follow on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or on Facebook.com/AaronTorresSports or download the Aaron Torres Sports App for FREE for your iPhone or Android phones.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.

Quantcast