Posted: January 13th, 2012 | by: Steve In Iowa
Categories: General Sports
Yes, there have been a lot of happenings in the #NDFB world–assistant coaches leaving (Warriner, Hinton), players signing, players de-committing, Coach Kelly getting a two year contract extension– that sort of stuff just isn’t our bag. If you are reading this right now, you already know you can get more and better coverage of all those events at any of the fine links down our right hand sidebar. (By the way, Melrose Mauler, WTF is up with Marcus Coker? Why can’t the Hawks keep a starting RB on their team?)
But since I still love to write about football and the only real football we have left is the NFL, well there you go. Even if you are casual football fan, the media frenzy surrounding Timothy Richard Tebow is impossible to escape and I have now fallen past the Tebow-horizon and into Tebow’s blogitational pull. Hey Notre Dame fans, do you remember when Sam Young was picked over Tim Tebow as the best high school football player in the state of Florida? Sure you don’t because the memory of Sam Young has been scrubbed clean from your synapses long since then, while Tebow has become, well, the biggest Twitter Trender since Jesus–or the Beatles– take your pick.
For myself, I cannot escape Tebow. I drive to work in the morning and listen to Dan Patrick and I hear Tebow talk. When I’m driving over my lunch break I’ll tune in to the Jungle and Rome will be hitting Tebow. Saturday Night Live. Jimmy Fallon. ESPN Radio. If you are reading this you know what I’m talking about.
But I don’t get sick of it because I find the whole thing fascinating.
Why? As it happens I just recently re-watched Moneyball. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book you can do both immediately by following this link (and no, I don’t get any revenue from the link– I’m just giving that strong of a recommendation). In the book the brilliant Michael Lewis follows around the Oakland A’s front office, led by GM Billy Beane, during the 2002 season. At a time when Commissioner Bud Selig was testifying to Congress that it was simply impossible for small market teams to compete with large market clubs because of the gross disparities in revenue Beane build back-to-back 100 win teams with one of the lowest payrolls in MLB. Beane and his team, inspired by the ideas of Bill James, Pete Palmer, and other pioneering sabermetricians had exploited gross inefficiencies in the way MLB teams evaluated and compensated their players. Baseball teams commonly over-paid players for a high batting average or stolen bases and underpaid players who walked a lot and thus made fewer outs. Beane’s club would not. They also shed the accumulated detritus of baseball folk-wisdom and superstition passed down from generation to generation from their evaluation process and just asked whether players could play, rather than factor in biased evaluations like what a player “looks like” or if he has a “good face” or a “hot girlfriend.” I’m grossly oversimplifying things so I strongly suggest that you read the book or see the movie.
What I have been struck by since re-watching the movie, is how eerily similar Tebow’s critics in the media, and even in some of the public statements of Broncos management, sound to the public backlash and criticism that Beane endured when he made his personnel moves. Tebow doesn’t “look” like an NFL quarterback. He can’t throw like an NFL QB. He is a specialist. He is just a runner. Some of these arguments are completely meaningless. Some invoke dubious claims to authority (e.g., “I’ve played this game professionally and so know more than you”) of the same type that were used to ostracize and ignore the work of Bill James. Some of the arguments are much more sophisticated and involve actual data that purport to objectively demonstrate that Tebow is not nor will he ever be a quality starting QB in the NFL. And without question, numbers like Tebow’s completion percentage and QB ranking are pretty awful.
But what if we’re not looking at the right things with respect to Tebow and other players like him? What if we haven’t developed instruments that adequately measure the value he brings to a football team? I have nothing but the greatest respect for the strides that have been made in the quantitative analysis of football statistics and the analysis of best football strategy. I think that the work of guys like Chris Brown and the team at Football Outsiders and other similar sites have done tremendous work in advancing the state of the art of our statistical football knowledge. They can certainly and more accurately describe Tebow’s strengths and shortcomings as a player than traditional stats that you’ll see scroll across your television screen. But at the same time, I think that our statistical understanding of football is not as well-developed as it is in baseball. This is for a variety of technical reasons, but in principle I think that some of this can be overcome and sooner rather than later our football knowledge will be on par with the state of our baseball knowledge. I think we first need better data and second, and more importantly, a better way to understand that data.
Where does this leave us with respect to Tebow? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers, I was just struck by the similarities in the types of things that are said about Tebow and the types of things that were said about the Oakland A’s ten years ago. I don’t know if players like Tebow will reinvent the NFL or if they are truly a flash in the pan. Probably Tim Tebow will not make it as a starting QB in the NFl. Probably, the Broncos will lose against the Patriots tomorrow. Probably, and perhaps mercifully as a result, Tebowmania will go away and we can turn our attention to the next bright and shiny object in our view.
That is, as they say, why they play the games.
UPDATE: January 21, 2012
Well, it was pretty predictable that the Broncos would stumble against the Patriots. While I expected them to lose, truthfully, I thought it would be a closer game with both the offense and defense giving better efforts. Tebow looked very bad to mediocre, and while I don’t want to minimize the less-than-stellar nature of his production it has been reported that he was pretty severely injured during the game with torn cartilidge in his chest. The D faired no better yielding a record tying six touchdown passes to Tom Brady, and like the rest of the league, had no answer to the receiving tour-de-force of Welker, Gronkowski, and Hernandez.
While there has been tepid public commitment from Broncos management that Tim Tebow “has earned” the right to be QB1 heading into training camp (whatever that means as an endorsement), I hope that John Elway remembers what it would be like to be judged by the outcome of a bad playoff game (Elway himself had barely 100 yards and two interceptions against the 49ers in the Superbowl XXIV on less than 50% completions).
There is however at least one person out there who has not lost faith in Tim Tebow and probably never will. I give you 1980s one-hit wonder, John Parr!