Commentary

NYC is perfect for Mr. (Good) Deeds

Tebow on big stage is true 'winning' -- unless you like Charlie Sheen's America

Updated: March 27, 2012, 12:25 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If Tim Tebow would never pass judgment on The Guy Upstairs, he did blame "the guys upstairs" for making him attend sports' most surreal news conference since Sunday's big winner, Tiger Woods, stepped through a blue curtain two years ago to apologize for his extramarital sins.

Management made me do it -- that was Tebow's plea to those asking why the New York Jets' new backup quarterback would participate in an event perceived less as an interrogation of him and more as a choreographed ambush of the starter, Mark Sanchez. And that was fine, even if his response suggested that Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan were eager to get the Tebow train rolling despite their claims to the contrary.

Only Tebow proved he can manipulate the truth, and use his aw-shucks naiveté as a weapon, when he dodged all responsibility for the giant ad that his sponsor, Jockey, slapped above the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel. "We Support Tebow & New York," reads a billboard that could be interpreted as, "Move Over, Mark, There's a New Sheriff in Town."

"Hopefully," the former Denver Bronco said of his Jets teammates, "they know that I had nothing to do with that. And I don't think that would really have an effect on people in the locker room because there's not much I can do to control that."

Really? If one of the world's most marketable athletes told his reps to respectfully low-key things until Sanchez had time to gather himself, they wouldn't have listened?

So no, Tim Tebow isn't perfect. In an age when star athletes plunge from grace faster than any of them run the 40-yard dash, we're constantly reminded that perfection is the most elusive goal of all.

But for all the alleged downsides of Tebowmania hitting Broadway -- the undercutting of Sanchez, the guaranteed division in the locker room, the uprising to come in the MetLife Stadium stands -- one major benefit has been lost in the hysteria.

By choosing New York over his Jacksonville hometown, Tebow picked the biggest possible stage for his good deeds, no mere footnote. You can call the wayward-throwing Tebow a fake quarterback, a fullback who happens to line up behind center, but this is no fake philanthropist. By all accounts Tebow leads the league in uncommon decency.

So it came as little surprise that Tebow was most passionate Monday when talking about his life mission, when explaining why he'll never define himself by touchdowns or passer ratings.

For most of this 32-minute, peace-in-the-Middle-East-sized news conference, Tebow said little of game-day substance. With the Jets' practice facility all but surrounded by satellite trucks, and with more than 200 credentialed members of the media waiting for him inside the field house, it was lights, camera, inaction.

Tebow wore a light-gray suit and Jet-green tie as he stood at a microphone in the field's end zone and spoke again of how exciting it was to be Sanchez's teammate. He did finally confirm that he preferred the Jets over the Jaguars because he knew Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano (Tebow has no relationship with the Jacksonville coaches), and he did volunteer that Rex's agent is also Tebow's agent, Jimmy Sexton (how convenient).

Yet Tebow mostly spoke in platitudes that sounded rehearsed, at least until the subject turned to his charity work here and abroad. The new recruit didn't light up the three dozen cameras aimed at him as he outlined his priorities; cynical reporters are conditioned to zone out on athletes rattling on about this cause or that one.

But Tebow's response on his foundation's work sounded more sincere than anything he said about his role with the Jets. It went like this:

"Absolutely I'm looking forward to doing things here in New Jersey and New York and figuring out a way to just try to make a difference and try to help. My foundation is something that is extremely important to me, and something that I'm very proud of, and so proud of the 650 orphans that we support, or the 18 Timmy's Playrooms that we're building, or the hospital in the Philippines that we're building.

"Ultimately I know that that's more important than anything I do on a football field. There's the ability to brighten a kid's day or the ability to make someone smile. ... We're put on a pedestal as a football player, which makes us no more important and no more special than anybody else. But you have ... a responsibility to be a good role model, to set a good example, to make a difference in kids' lives."

Tebow went on to tell how, as an 8-year-old, he waited in line for an hour hoping to get Danny Wuerffel's autograph at a church function. As it turned out, one Heisman Trophy winner at Florida waited around long enough to sign for another, and young Tim never forgot how Wuerffel's patience and kindness that day made him feel.

"Ultimately," Tebow said Monday, "I know that my biggest goal in being here, and being a football player, is to set a great example."

This isn't about Tebow's faith or his very public expressions of it. This is about what that faith inspires him to do.

Tebow is world-famous for hosting and comforting the sick and less fortunate (read Rick Reilly here). His foundation supports noble causes in his football stops (Gainesville, Denver) and in places where most people have never heard of the Wildcat (Haiti, Bangladesh).

The Jets have had their share of exemplary role models in the past; Curtis Martin and Chad Pennington come to mind. But they were widely respected football players, not transcendent global figures.

So it didn't matter that Jets officials remained at the league meetings in Palm Beach, far, far away from this strange introduction. It didn't matter that Giants co-owner John Mara mocked the proceedings, or that Tebow wasn't even given a jersey to hold for a photo op, or that Sanchez didn't show for the presser the way Derek Jeter showed for A-Rod's way back when.

Tebow was strong enough to handle it on his own. Some people say he's more famous for being famous than he is for throwing and running the ball, but his kind of celebrity is needed after the Lindsay Lohan-ization of Charlie Sheen's America.

So New York is the right stage for Tim Tebow. If the Jets lose, guess what?

Humanity still wins.

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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