Commentary

Tebow's Big Apple circus is coming

Jets' challenge? Keep hoopla over 'backup' QB from consuming the franchise

Updated: March 26, 2012, 2:05 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

The Tim Tebow circus hits town Monday and, appropriately, it will be held under a big top.

Because of the anticipated media turnout, the New York Jets are planning to hold Tebow's introductory noon news conference inside their cavernous field house -- the length of a full-sized football field with a 100-foot ceiling.

They've never used the field house for a press conference.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireThe great Tim Tebow chase will begin anew on Monday in Florham Park, N.J.

The Jets are accustomed to the spotlight -- they were the subject of HBO's "Hard Knocks" two summers ago -- but life in Big Town is about to get bigger. And how they manage the madness could be a factor in determining if Tebow -- and the team -- succeeds.

Tebow hasn't put on a pair of shoulder pads yet, and already some of his teammates are dubious.

"Is he going to arrive on his private jet?" one Jets player asked sarcastically, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "This is unbelievable."

"The backup quarterback is having a full-blown press conference?" former Jets lineman Damien Woody, now an ESPN analyst, asked incredulously. "If you want to minimize distractions, why have a press conference? It makes no sense."

Tebow spoke to reporters for about 20 minutes late Wednesday night on a conference call, shortly after his trade from the Denver Broncos was finalized, but the franchise wants to give TV the opportunity to witness Tebow-mania. At least three networks are expected to carry it live. The streets of quiet, suburban Florham Park, N.J., could be snarled with traffic.

There was a scaled-down version of Tebow-mania on Thursday, when he showed up at the facility for about two hours in the afternoon. He arrived at the nearby Morristown airport in a private jet (the tail number: N15QB) and he was followed overhead by a news helicopter on the drive to the facility, where a dozen or so reporters were camped out.

The news conference was supposed to be Friday, but a contract glitch forced the postponement.

Call it a dramatic pause.

Nothing grabs headlines like a high-profile quarterback coming to town, and now the Jets have two -- Tebow and incumbent Mark Sanchez -- with the potential for a quarterback controversy.

"The downside [to the trade] is what we're already seeing, the level of distraction and the level of debate, and it's not going to go away," former Jets coach Eric Mangini, an ESPN analyst, said on 1050 ESPN New York.

Mangini was the coach in 2008, when the Jets stunned the NFL by trading for future Hall of Famer Brett Favre in training camp. He received the rock-star treatment, drawing huge crowds at practice (10,000 on his first day) and swarms of media.

But he was just a football player, albeit an all-time great, and nobody was talking about his job security.

Tebow is polarizing player, a cultural phenomenon, and he's aiming for Sanchez's job. One of the reasons he preferred the Jets over the Jacksonville Jaguars, who also made a trade offer, was because he felt he'd have a better chance to take over the starting job, a source said.

Mangini said there's no way Rex Ryan can possibly insulate his team from the looming storm, which could get worse if a full-blown quarterback controversy erupts.

"You might as well just embrace it, because it's going to be every single day," Mangini said. "Every single press conference, all the players are going to be asked about it. They're going to be asked a thousand different ways.

"The hard thing is to not open up that door even a crack to where you're saying, 'Well, maybe Tim can be the starter,'" he added. "Once that's opened a crack, it's going to be kicked in, and that's going to make it a harder situation."

Ironically, it was general manager Mike Tannenbaum, usually so measured with his words, who opened it a crack by saying Thursday in a radio interview that Tebow could see extended time if the Sanchez-led offense sputters.

Woody, who played for the Jets from 2008 to 2010, recalled those first couple of weeks with Favre. It was all Favre all the time.

"The difference is, Favre's credentials spoke for themselves," Woody said. "He was an all-time great. I can't imagine the guys wanting to answer a lot of questions about Tim Tebow. It's going to get annoying. It's going to be overwhelming."

It will be part of a delicate balancing act for the Jets, trying to keep Tebow from becoming bigger than the team.

And don't think Tebow will be intimated by the attention. That won't happen, according to his close friend, Riley Cooper, a former college roommate and current Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver.

Asked how he expects Tebow to handle New York, Cooper told ESPNNewYork.com, "Awesome. It'll be just another notch on his belt, to be honest with you. … How can you dislike a person like him? He's going to explode even bigger than he was in Denver. New York is the No. 1 freakin' marketplace. It's going to be awesome for him."

Cooper said Tebow will remain humble, but he also called him "the most competitive person I've ever met. Pingpong, video game, rock-paper-scissors, no matter what, he wants to win. I wish I could say he cheated, but he doesn't."

When the trade was finalized Wednesday, the Jets called Tebow and defined his role -- backup to Sanchez and spot duty in the Wildcat. Some people in the organization don't expect him to be satisfied with that.

"Are you crazy? He's the ultimate competitor," one person said. "He's going to try everything in his power to supplant Mark Sanchez. That's why he picked us."

Cooper said he expects Tebow "to go out and compete as hard as he possibly can to show how good a quarterback and how good a player he is. That's who Tim Tebow is. And whatever happens, happens."

Sanchez hasn't commented on the trade. His camp has closed ranks, with some of his closest confidantes declining to comment. The trade hit him hard, some say, because only three weeks ago he received a three-year contract extension.

His personal trainer, Todd Norman, said the trade didn't come up during workouts with Sanchez on Thursday and Friday. The morning after the deal, Sanchez showed up an hour early to his gym in Irvine, Calif., ready to work. It was business as usual, according to Norman.

"He's definitely not walking around sobbing," Norman said.

Others said Sanchez appeared jarred by the trade.

"If I'm in his shoes, I'm pissed," Woody said. "It's like, 'You're taking the ball out of my hands [with the Wildcat formation], you don't trust me. If you trusted me, you'd do everything you could to build around me.'"

This is the first time in Sanchez's career that he's had legitimate competition. The organization has been accused of coddling Sanchez, and that seemed to strike a nerve. Privately, owner Woody Johnson admitted the perception had some merit, a source close to him said.

Well, they can't be accused of coddling anymore. Tebow's in town.

After Monday, the madness will die down, if only because it's the offseason, players are scattered around the country and team activities don't begin until mid-April. In Favre's case, he arrived in training camp, so there was day-to-day coverage from the first moment.

And yes, he, too, arrived on a private jet. But he didn't have a news chopper like Tebow.

"They're following his plane in," Mangini said incredulously. "That's different than any backup quarterback we've ever seen."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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