Surge Protectors: Who’s Behind Tim Tebow’s Winning Streak?

November 29 2011, 12:30 PM

Tugly: adj. Tebow + Ugly = A surprisingly effective train wreck that’s fun as H-E-double-hockey-sticks to watch.

One month ago, Broncos’ fans were contemplating the seemingly endless ways their team could end up with a high pick—and thus a promising young quarterback—in next spring’s NFL draft. Today, they’re abuzz about the team’s playoff potential. Although the tendency among fans and media—at home and nationwide—has been to attribute this run to some otherworldly quality that only Tim Tebow possesses, there are (mostly) rational reasons to explain the Broncos’ winning ways:

John ElwayIt starts at the top. Elway reluctantly inherited Tim Tebow from the previous regime, and he was fairly dismissive of Tebow’s prospects until well into the regular season. (He was noncommittal about the kid as recently as last week.) But when a repeat of the 2010 losing season began to unfold, Elway supported coach John Fox’s benching of Kyle Orton, if for no other reason than: How much worse could things get? And even though, deep down, it has to just kill one of the league’s all-time great riflemen to see his team winning with a muddy, unglamorous (i.e., tugly) style that even Pop Warner might have found a little too conservative,, Elway retired as the NFL’s winningest QB for a reason: He’s smart enough to welcome his Ws however they arrive. 

John Fox: Most NFL franchises are notorious for their resistance to change, and fans in cities whose QBs aren’t named Brady, Brees, or Manning know that it can take weeks, months, sometimes years to convince their coach to replace a struggling signal-caller. Fox is about as old-school as they get—his defense-oriented wisdom and grit is what won him the job—yet he and his staff deserve tremendous credit for not only inserting Tebow, but also overhauling the playbook, on the fly, and realizing that for this team to have any kind of future, it had to go back in time—something Fox has done before. Fox briefly installed the throwback “Wildcat” offense one year in Carolina when QB injuries forced his hand (and before Miami made it famous). But switching to ground-and-pound option plays as a full-time, mid-season replacement for your entire offensive system has to be one of the boldest coaching decisions in years. It’s transformed Fox from a rebuilding placeholder into a coach-of-the-year frontrunner.

The Big Uglies: John Madden’s affectionate term for offensive linemen applies here on both sides of the ball. The O-line is protecting Tebow and bulldozing lanes for all of the team’s runners. The suddenly reborn Broncos’ defense—led by super-rookie Von Miller and revitalized vets Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins, and Elvis Dumervil—has been smothering opponents for the first time since Governor Hickenlooper was just happy being the mayor. The Achilles heel of the Tebow offense is its inability to come from (very far) behind or score in bunches, and the Broncos’ lunch-pail guys have been ensuring that he doesn’t have to. The revival of these one-time underachievers has been so quick and uncanny it’s tempting to attribute their turnaround to…

This GuyMany non-religious fans, myself included, could do without Tebow’s constant invocations of his Lord and Savior. His argument that it’s no different from expressing love for your wife doesn’t really make sense: Despite what some husbands might conclude, and some women might have you believe, wives generally aren’t omniscient. Plus, Jesus already knows he’s cool.

We fans may not need the evangelism, but maybe we need Tebow. We live in the most cynical era since Watergate. Nothing—government, the economy, the American Dream itself—works the way it’s supposed to. Civil discourse is a quaint memory. Everyone is looking out for number 1, even if it means betraying numbers 2, 3, 4…

Into this materialistic, fame- and gossip-obsessed swamp wades a young man whose personal qualities are the exact opposite of what usually wins out these days: He’s diligent. He’s earnest. He’s sincere. He’s humble. He’s constantly striving to be better, on and off the field. He shares credit for his successes and is grateful for his good fortune.

And he expertly runs a blue-collar option offense—one we thought was another quaint memory—to help an underdog win. In these dark and uncertain times, if the success of a genuine and devoted man can bring a little light to Denver and to the football-watching nation, best not to question why. Best to just enjoy it. Best to just believe.

—Image Courtesy of the Denver Broncos and Eric Lars Bakke