Tim Tebow is one the most celebrated college football quarterbacks of all time. He’s currently preparing for the NFL draft, and the only thing NFL teams are worried about is the fact that he can’t throw.
This makes me feel good about high school sports.
Tim Tebow can throw, of course. Well enough to lead a pretty pass-happy University of Florida team to 35 wins and just 6 loses in his starts.
The problem for pro teams has to do with how he throws. When he winds up, he takes the ball down to his hip, where it sits for a couple of beats, practically begging a defensive lineman to reach out and knock it away. Then, it starts to move forward in a loping windmill, again staying away from his body, before leaving his hand with a decided lack of zip.
Compared to model NFL throwers like Troy Aikmen and Dan Marino, who look like they’re cocking back and firing a slingshot when they throw, Tebow’s motion might as well be an Edsel on the Autobahn.
Leaving his politics aside, I’m rooting for him.
I’m fascinated by professional quarterbacks who have some serious flaw in their throwing motion. Besides making me feel good about sports in general, their existence seems to run counter to the idea of how people respond to incentives and in doing so gets at what makes sports unknowable and compelling.
Tim Tebow provides just the latest example of this type. For years, one of my favorite quarterbacks was Byron Leftwich, probably because of the iconic game in which he broke his shin and still led his team (Marshall University) to a near comeback, his teammates having to carry him to the huddle after each completed pass.
After being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003, Leftwich spent several seasons as their starting quarterback. During that time, and still, the book on him never changed. Great leader, tough as nails, physically huge, big arm (unlike Tebow), but with an overlong throwing motion that makes him vulnerable to being sacked.
As it was, Leftwich got very well paid for being a quarterback, but if he had a release that was just a bit faster he could have made a hugely higher amount of money. Also, he would have been hit less by giant men with who wished him harm.
Either of those seems like a good reason to learn to throw a bit faster, and yet, quarterbacks almost never change their mechanics once in the NFL, and Leftwich certainly hasn’t. There are plenty of could-have-been former NFL quarterbacks out there who could just never effectively change their throwing motion. Tebow’s currently trying and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Of course, it’s impossible to know if Tim Tebow with a different throwing motion is a winner. Or even what going to happen to him now that he’s trying.
All pro athletes, and quarterbacks in particular, rely on their confidence to such an extent that even if someone learned a faster delivery, a lack of confidence in it might be more disastrous than no change at all. Tebow spent his whole life throwing a football in a particular way and now, as he moves to highest possible level of competition, he’s going to change that?
(Which, oddly enough, gives us a reason to be awe of Tiger Woods, who, despite being wildly successful and only 24, totally rebuilt his swing in a effort to be better still.)
All of which, oddly enough, says good things about high school and, to a lesser extent, college sports.
When Tim Tebow first became a quarterback, a coach took a look at his athletic gifts and thought, “I can win with that,” instead of, “I bet I can tighten up his throwing motion to the point that pro scouts won’t be perturbed by it.” (Tebow’s college coach did the same thing.)
This is exactly as it should be. The odds of a high school football player becoming an NFL player as so small as to be basically zero, so the idea of preparing a great high school player for what will almost always be an imaginary pro career would detract from what high school sports are about.
That it didn’t happen in Leftwich’s or Tebow’s case makes me feel good about the innumerable high schoolers we’ll never hear about to whom it likely didn’t happen to either.