Commentary

Fans should pause on calls for Tebow

If New Yorkers are as smart as everyone claims, they'll give Sanchez a fair chance

Updated: March 26, 2012, 3:38 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

They say Tim Tebow's new customers -- New York sports fans -- are the most knowledgeable in the biz, though collecting hard data on such things is always tough to pull off. Twelve years ago, before Tommy Lasorda's Team USA played the Australians at the Sydney Olympics, I conducted a most unscientific survey on how much (or little) the locals knew about American baseball.

Name the famous ballplayer who was married to Marilyn Monroe was one challenge posed to a 28-year-old spectator wearing a green flag graced by the image of a boxing kangaroo.

"I know it's not Babe Ruth," Patrick Walker said before some hemming and hawing. "It wasn't that Tittle fellow, was it?"

Y.A. Tittle. Where had you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

For all I knew, hundreds of Australians in that crowd would've provided the correct answer and the duration of the marriage (nine months). In fact, it was impressive that a young Sydney resident had even heard of a long-retired New York quarterback; I'm certain I couldn't name the Y.A. Tittle of Australian Rules Football.

This brings us back to New York's latest, not-so-greatest quarterback, and the tens of thousands of fans now expected to chant for him at MetLife Stadium, even before the Yankees start resting arms for the playoffs.

Tebow will be the ultimate test of their alleged knowledge and sophistication. I don't believe Jets fans will call for Tebow the moment Mark Sanchez throws his first interception, or loses his first game, a notion advanced by people hoping their sheer volume trumps common logic.

New Yorkers are better than that, at least that's what visiting star athletes and coaches so often say after they compete in Yankee Stadium, the Garden, wherever. Michael Jordan used to lead that chorus, and everyone played along. It became gospel that people who filled ballparks in this market understood the game better than the rest.

But if Jets fans do take the third time Sanchez misses his good bud Santonio Holmes as an opportunity to shout for the world's most famous role player, it's all over. New York would forever surrender its title as the heavyweight champion of, you know, getting it.

Tebow is a proven athlete and competitor, and he appears to be quite the human being, too. Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan made a good move in acquiring him from Denver, if only because Tebow's a better, more versatile quarterback than Drew Stanton, who was shipped to Indianapolis before the ink on his own contract was dry.

But Tebow has been hired as a lefty reliever out of the 'pen, a guy who can strike out David Ortiz in a big spot. He'll never be a talented enough thrower to act as the long-term ace of a championship rotation.

Mark Sanchez
AP Photo/Julio CortezNow in Year 4, Mark Sanchez has earned a fair chance to prove himself as the Jets' starter.

Jets fans saw that in their team's road loss in November, when Tebow put on a dreadful display of quarterbacking for most of the night. But on the absurd 95-yard drive in the end, they also saw that Tebow's desire to overcome his limitations can be devastating in small doses.

That's why he's the right guy to complement Sanchez, not replace him.

If New Yorkers are as smart as everyone says they are, they'll accept Tebow for what he is and for what he is not. The same people who have spent years criticizing Tannenbaum for his uninspiring Sanchez backups will accept Tebow as a major upgrade in a major area of weakness.

Of course, too many have spent too much time on the damage Tebow's presence and popularity will supposedly inflict on the starter's fragile psyche. Yes, Sanchez deserves to be the undisputed No. 1 after reaching back-to-back AFC Championship Games in his first two seasons. And yes, his one bad year wasn't even defined by a losing record (the Jets were 8-8) or a statistical regression; Sanchez actually put up his best numbers.

But he's not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or Eli Manning. Contract extension or no contract extension, Sanchez hasn't accomplished enough to play a fourth season without a credible backup, without someone behind him capable of providing winning relief.

And a little pressure, too. The last time Ryan threatened Sanchez's job for real, summoning Mark Brunell's name following a 2010 loss to Miami (Rex admitted last year's playful threat was a fake), Sanchez responded by playing "as good as any quarterback in the league," according to Phil Simms.

Maybe he responds the same way to this, maybe not. But for those quoting from the book of Bill, as in Parcells, and swearing that two quarterbacks equal no quarterbacks, run that one by the 1990 Giants. If Parcells didn't have two quarterbacks, Simms' broken foot would've ended the season. Instead, Jeff Hostetler won Title No. 2.

Tebow can be something of a Hostetler here if Sanchez is lost for three or four games. Tebow is a better Hostetler than Stanton would've been, a better Hostetler than the quarterbacks Parcells had behind Vinny Testaverde in 1999, when a Jets championship season-to-be blew up with Testaverde's Achilles tendon in the opener.

Only Tebow isn't a Simms or a Manning or even a Sanchez. For all of his struggles last year, Sanchez completed 56.7 percent of his passes to Tebow's 46.5.

So this one is on the fans. Tebow can help the Jets win as a capable second-stringer, a Wildcat quarterback, a special-teamer, maybe a dual-threat H-back. Sanchez?

He's earned a fair shot in Year 4. Not a free pass, but a fair shot.

That means another full season as a starter, the same full Year 4 the Giants afforded Eli, who entered that season with a postseason record (0-2) that couldn't touch Sanchez's (4-2). If Sanchez proves once and for all he can't cut it in this marketplace, and the Jets are 5-9 with two to play, OK, have at him.

But to those knowledgeable, sophisticated New York sports fans who are proud of their reputation, and who are still planning to jump Sanchez and force Timsanity on the Jets before the leaves turn, here's a word of advice:

Don't.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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