Tim Tebows favorite sports movie is Rocky. The original, the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1976, the tale of the sad sack Philly club fighter who lucks into a shot at the heavyweight title and proves he aint just another bum from the neighborhood.
Tebow watched the movie dozens of times as a kid riding in the back of his parents mini-van. They had the movie on tape and Tebow played it so many times he wore it out. He said he identified with Rocky because Rocky was the classic underdog, a hapless down-and-outer who refused to quit in the face of impossible odds.
Thats me, Tebow said. I see Rocky get knocked down and get back up and I think, Thats me.
I remember having this conversation with Tebow at the 2009 Maxwell Club dinner when he was accepting the Maxwell Award as College Football Player of the Year. At the time I didnt see the connection.
I mean, Rocky is a wonderful movie. When Glen Macnow and I wrote our book, The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies, we selected Rocky as the best sports movie of all time. But I didnt see Tebow as a Rocky-like figure. He was an All-America quarterback at the University of Florida, a Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion. It was hard to see him as a scuffling underdog.
I mentioned that to Tebow and he laughed.
From the time I started playing football in Pop Warner, I had to overcome things, he said. In high school, they said I couldnt be a quarterback. In college, they said I didnt throw the ball well enough. But thats the great thing about sports, overcoming obstacles and proving you can do it.
I laugh when people say, For you, it came easy. It didnt come easy.
Ive thought a lot about that in the past two seasons as Tebow transitioned from the most celebrated player in college football to the most scrutinized player in the NFL. He has been hailed by some, dismissed by others, but here we are moving on to the second round of the AFC playoffs and Tim Tebow is bloodied but still standing. It really is a Rocky-like story.
Tebow isnt going to win any style points. He may be behind on the judges scorecards as the fight goes into the late rounds, but he just keeps coming. He takes the punches but he never gives up. Like Rocky, he wins mostly because he refuses to lose.
That certainly was true Sunday when, after three consecutive Denver losses and a week of speculation that he was on the verge of being benched, Tebow played his best game. He passed for a career-high 316 yards and two touchdowns (and ran for another) as the Broncos upset Pittsburgh 29-23 in overtime.
Few people (including myself) gave the Broncos a chance in this game. They were eight and a half point underdogs and when you consider the Broncos had scored just 40 points in their previous three games and limped into the post-season with an 8-8 record, it was a foregone conclusion they would be one and done.
But Tebow played superbly, completing five passes of 30 or more yards against the pass defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL during the regular season. The game ended in true Hollywood fashion with Tebow throwing an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.
Credit offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for a good, aggressive call. Denver had only thrown the ball once on first down all day and the Steelers were not expecting them to pass on the first play of overtime, but McCoy took the shot. Tebow, who was ridiculed for his inaccuracy all season, threw a perfect pass that hit Thomas in stride and allowed him to race away to the touchdown.
Credit McCoy for the call. Credit Thomas for a nice catch and great run, including an old-fashioned straight-arm on Pittsburghs Ike Taylor. But most of all, credit Tebow for making the big throw in the big spot.
If Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers made that throw, people would say it was the mark of a great quarterback. So what do you say when Tim Tebow makes it? Is it less somehow? I am not putting Tebow on the level of those quarterbacks, that would be foolish, but I am saying on that all-the-marbles play they could not have thrown it any better.
During the season when Tebow was winning seven of eight starts and dominating the national discourse, it was pointed out (correctly) he was getting credit for wins that werent entirely his doing. The Denver defense was playing lights out and kicker Matt Prater was hitting field goals from the other side of the Rocky Mountains yet each week the narrative was all about Tebow which was wrong.
But on Sunday, a day when no one thought he could win, Tebow really was the story, he really was the difference. He was the single biggest reason the Broncos now advance to the divisional round of the playoffs Saturday against New England. The Patriots beat the Broncos just a few weeks ago, but Apollo Creed beat Rocky the first time around, too. I just thought Id point that out.
Tebow still isnt the smoothest operator in the pocket, but Im reminded of what Mike Holmgren said about him at the 2010 scouting combine. Holmgren, who worked with Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre, acknowledged that Tebow was a different kind of player who ran a different style of offense. He wasnt prototypical.
In terms of his mechanics and throwing motion, there are things we (the pros) have talked about, Holmgren said raising the questions we heard so often. Then he added a footnote.
But do you want a Tim Tebow on your football team? he said. Absolutely. You need guys like that, players like that.