Why Tim Tebow’s Bad Throwing Motion Makes Me Feel Good about High School Sports

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.

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Why Tim Tebow’s Bad Throwing Motion Makes Me Feel Good about High School Sports

Who’s Your Fullback?

One of my favorite football players is a guy who’s scored exactly 6 touchdowns in his career. He’s never rushed for more than 175 yards in a season, nor caught more than 31 passes. By every conventional statistic measuring offensive players, he’s a non-factor. And he’s been told by 6 different teams that his services are no longer required.

And yet, for nearly his entire career (and in a league where the average player lasts less than 4 years he’s lasted 16), an interesting thing happens to every team to joins. They start to win more.

The player is Lorenzo Neal, and he’s a fullback.

A fullback basically serves as the bodyguard for a more highly paid, more famous, running back. The fullback is allowed to carry the ball, but very few do. Most often, when a play calls for the running back to run through a certain gap between linemen, the fullback’s job is to get there first and knock the stuffing out of the defender in the best position to make a tackle.

When a fullback does his job correctly, the viewer at home will be treated to endless replays of the highly paid running back prancing untouched down the field while the announcers talk about his “breakaway speed.” In success a fullback is invisible.

In the case of Lorenzo Neal, for most of his career, each time he’d arrive to a new team, that team’s running back would suddenly get much better. The running back would, running untouched through the holes opened up by Mr. Neal, start appearing in Nike commercials, get a big new contract, appear on the cover of Madden. Then Mr. Neal would be released or traded and the running back would suddenly be normal again.

This all occurs to me because, having spent the last number of years as an book editor, for many of us in the background of the culture business, we are fullbacks.

If I did my job well on a given product, the end result would have my fingerprints on it, but not my name.

Each project was an opportunity for me to block for an author, and that could mean fighting to get the right kind of marketing support, convincing them that a particular change to the book’s structure might more effectively tell their story, or keeping them on track when it felt like forces were aligning against them.

If I block well and a project is a touchdown, the satisfaction in watching the author get to do a touchdown dance is immense. If the result is a first down, I’m excited to take another shot. And if it’s a tackle for a loss, I know I’ve overextended a metaphor.

Do you have a fullback? Are you one?

Who’s Your Fullback?