That sucking sound you heard on Tuesday morning was the final deflation of the Tim Tebow hype balloon. The hullaballoo mongers finally turned off the Tebow turbines, which were only on standby anyway. There would be no playoff reemergence, no sudden resurgence of interest, no excuse to throttle up the assembly line. Late-to-the-game Tebow tales were scrapped or are being repurposed, yesterday’s fresh bread ground into tomorrow’s turkey stuffing.
The H. Ross Perot reference in the last paragraph was purely intentional: Perot, like Tebow, received unprecedented -- some would say undeserved -- media coverage when he ran for president in 1992. Millions of Americans jumped on the Perot bandwagon, at least temporarily, before realizing just how dubious his presidential qualifications were. The Perot story sizzled, then fizzled, because there just wasn’t enough substance behind the style.
Perot didn’t make the following countdown of Epic Fizzles: the 10 biggest news stories to amount to nothing in human history. Consider this his honorable mention. Like Perot’s presidential run and Tebow’s tenure with the Jets, the events, advertising campaigns, doomed start-ups and popular delusions on the list below weren’t built sturdily enough to withstand the crippling pressures of their own expectations. We learned an important lesson from all of them, which we then forgot when the next one arrived.
Prepare to be dazzled (briefly), then feel lingering shame about having been swept up in it all:
10) Linsanity: The hive mind of the New York media, more overstimulated than usual after a Giants Super Bowl victory, decided to turn a 10-game hot streak by an unheralded point guard on a mediocre team into a mini Tebow tornado. Jeremy Lin was an exciting player during that geologic epoch known as mid-February 2012; but that is really all he was -- and that is really how long it lasted.
By the time people who don’t alter their lifestyles to chase trending topics got around to checking out the NBA’s new international superstar, he was already mixing 1-of-11 shooting nights and high-turnover games among his dwindling moments of “Linsanity.” The Knicks turned back into the Knicks, Mike D’Antoni was fired, the Lin puns went from strained to painful, and the hubbub traffickers began spouting Archie Bunker rhetoric, a sure sign that a story has grown stale. Lin got hurt, then signed with the Rockets. Luckily, the Big Apple got the real Tebow, and the knockoff became instant nostalgia.
9) The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults: In 1987, Geraldo Rivera was a popular, respected network television investigative reporter who had just been fired from ABC because of political differences. When building contractors found secret tunnels and a walled off “vault” beneath a Chicago hotel which had once been Al Capone’s headquarters, Rivera produced and promoted a two-hour syndicated spectacle: television audiences would be there, along with Rivera and a team of experts (including a medical examiner in case any former Capone “associates” were found) when the vault was cracked open and the treasures of Roaring 20s gangland were uncovered.
After two hours of canned documentary footage and televised tap dancing, the vaults turned out to be empty, except for some old wine bottles. The show became 1980s shorthand for any overhyped event that fizzles out, but Rivera and television producers noticed when the show became the most-watched syndicated program in history. "The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults" spawned the “infotainment” industry, showed fledging cable networks affordable ways to end-run the networks, and proved that viewers would tune in to watch two hours of empty, personality-driven bombast. This television special helped drive and shape contemporary programs like ESPN’s "First Take," something else it has in common with the Tebow fiasco.
8) Boo.com: During the height of the dot.com boom of 1998-99, the fashion startup Boo.com spent more than $135 million of venture capital in less than a year, launching huge marketing campaigns all over Europe. Boo.com got as much attention for its extravagant spending and hiring practices as it got from its own advertising. The company had just two problems:
1) Its website design was so cutting-edge that most Internet users in 1998 couldn’t load it.
2) Its financial model was built on the nebulous “we’ll make money by spending it” model that caused the 2000 dot.com crash. Consequently, the website shuttered 18 months after launch.
The similarities between the Jets’ style-and-spending-over-substance philosophy and Boo.com are too obvious to belabor. Today, the “boo” part of the name is taken literally: The site is a scary campfire fable told to employees of Internet startups to remind them to be efficient and keep costs low. On that note, let me put another half-lump of coal on the furnace before moving on.
7) Blind Faith: Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker in one “supergroup?” What could possibly go wrong? Start with sky-high expectations. Add the reluctance of the three key members to commit fully to the project. Factor in a series of high-profile debut concerts before the band had enough material to fill an album, guaranteeing that the group would sound rusty and that fans would prefer Cream and Traffic “covers” over the new stuff. Slap a naked under-aged girl on the album cover to attract the wrong kind of attention. The result: the album "Blind Faith," the most overhyped, underwhelming six songs in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Sure, “Presence of the Lord” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” are fine songs. The Jets looked darn good against the Bills and Colts, too. Keep in mind, the Jets-Tebow collaboration doesn’t come close to the quality of Traffic-meets-Cream -- it’s more like Crazy Elephant-meets-Vanilla Fudge. But the disinterest the Jets had in making Tebow anything beyond a gimmick (along with Tebow’s inability to develop into a viable backup) recall memories of a band so disorganized that, when millions of fans were clamoring to hear their new musical ideas, filled their record out with a Buddy Holly cover and a 15-minute jam. Also, bassist Ric Grech was the Greg McElroy of classic rock.
Blind Faith fell apart before they were finished promoting their album (judging from the Titans game, the Jets are on the same pace). Other rock supergroups would follow, and most of them would fall miles short of expectations, but that is fodder for a future Philadelphia Eagles countdown.
6) The XFL: Wrestling impresario Vince McMahon wanted to create a wild-and-wooly outlaw football league that would marry the successful components of his then-WWF with the most popular sport in America. Dick Ebersol of NBC wanted to create a prestigious competitor to the NFL. Do those two things sound the same to you? No? Well, they did to McMahon and Ebersol, who launched the XFL on prime time network television in February 2001.
Brett Forrest’s excellent "Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV’s Greatest Fiasco" explores what happened in much more detail than the subject matter deserves. Long story short: NBC put an NFL-sized promotion effort behind preseason-caliber football, McMahon’s involvement baffled wrestling fans who expected flying suplexes and alienated sports media outlets wary of fixed “wrasslin’,” and huge opening night ratings dropped immediately once fans realized that they were watching Jerry “the King” Lawler providing color commentary on glorified NFL Europe games.
To get a feel for what XFL games looked and sounded like on television, with their bombastic spectacle and listless offenses, watch Jets-Jaguars on NFL Game Rewind while someone bludgeons you in the back of the head with a folding chair.
5) The Edsel: The Ford Motor Company wanted to launch a vehicle line in the mid-1950s to fit somewhere between the Mercury (middle tier) and Lincoln (luxury) price points. So they spent $400 million developing the Edsel. Most of that money seemed to go into advertising: while the Edsel line included some visionary innovations (standard seatbelts, child safety locks), they were built at Ford-Mercury factories from existing Ford-Mercury parts and looked like Mercury models with a bedpan-shaped grille soldered to the front. Meanwhile, commercials showed the Edsel shrouded in sheets as if it were the Hovercar of Tomorrow, and Ford produced an hour-long television special, with performances by Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope, to hype the new line.
Once consumers realized that the Edsel was a rejiggered Mercury with an ugly grille, dumb name and no manufacture or maintenance history, they rejected the car, costing Ford tens of millions of 1950s dollars. The Edsel became a cautionary tale of what happens when the marketing and advertising departments grow more powerful than engineering and accounting. Some stories still boggle the mind: Ford hired avant garde poet Marianne Moore to brainstorm names for the Edsel models, and she contributed concepts like "Utopian Turtletop", "Pastelogram", "Turcotinga" and "Mongoose Civique."
We really need to explore Moore’s poems for ways to describe the Jets offense: The Tebow Turcotinga could have really caught some opponents off guard.
4) Y2K Scare: At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, every old mainframe computer still in service was supposed to trip over its two-digit year-recognition code and think that it was the year 1900. Suddenly, hip-hop CDs would become barbershop quartet 78s and Hummers would transform into Model-T Fords. More frighteningly, banks, telecommunications companies, media outlets and air-traffic control centers that still relied on mainframes and had not updated their software would go dark, resulting in worldwide chaos. Luckily, any bank, telecommunication company, media outlet or air-traffic control centers that still relied on mainframes and did not have the resources/wherewithal to prepare for the Y2K bug went dark long before Dec. 31, 1999.
The Y2K scare gave the world something it desperately needed in 1999: a pseudo-scientific sheen for millennial doomsday anxiety. The same people who are hoarding water for the Mayan Apocalypse this Saturday also did the same for Y2K; they are probably stacking this water on top of that water.
Getting thrown back to the 1900s would have had one unexpected advantage, however: If football were played now the way it was in 1912, Tebow would be a heck of a quarterback.
3) Tebow Time: It is hard to explain the claxon-sounding, “all hands on deck” bedlam that accompanied the Tebow trade within the New York media without telling tales out of shop. If you can picture J. Jonah Jameson pounding his fist on a desk and shouting “Parker! Get me pictures of Tebow punching Spider-Man, or you’re fired!” then you get the gist of it.
The story showed signs of fizzle as soon as the Jets headed to training camp: ESPN may have had interns sleeping in the horse stables next to the team’s practice facility, but SUNY Cortland was hardly overrun by religious pilgrims, and football fans almost instantly demanded stories more diverse and interesting than “Backup Quarterback Prays Often.”
Efforts to stoke a fire from the soggy kindling of Tebow’s occasional appearances and utterances grew increasingly desperate as the season wore on. By late December, you practically had to surround Tebow with Eric Clapton, Geraldo Rivera and Vince McMahon to make him interesting.
2) William Henry Harrison: Before he became a trivia answer, Harrison was one of America’s most popular and beloved statesmen. He was a war hero, congressman, territorial governor, ambassador and acclaimed horse breeder. He won battles in the War of 1812, signed treaties with American Indian tribes and urged Simon Bolivar to adopt democratic principles in Columbia. He won the 1840 election in a landslide; pamphleteer Nathaniel Silversmith’s broadsheet Two-hundred Ninety-four Dotcomme had him beating Martin Van Buren 234-60, which was right on the nose.
But Harrison gave a long, detailed speech in the bitter cold of his inauguration, outlining the Whig platform, decrying the spoils system and explaining the meaning of his new ankle tattoo. His first month in office consisted entirely of social receptions, arguments with Henry Clay about when Congress should be reconvened (the government was out of money and facing Ye Olde Fiscal Hollow at that moment in history) and receiving regular leeches-and-opium treatments for his pneumonia. That last point explains why Harrison’s first month in office was also his only month in office. Politics in the 1840s became a matter of too much “and Tyler, too,” and not enough “Tippecanoe.”
Plus, as we all know, Indian treaties were not worth the paper they were printed on. The War of 1812 was the Pro Bowl of American wars. Bolivar dabbled in democracy before becoming a dictator (which is usually easier and more fun). So all the accomplishments that made Harrison great came with powerful “yeah, but” caveats. All he was missing were some 13-10 victories, and a fluky playoff win over the Steelers.
1) The Neanderthals: About 300,000 years ago, homo neanderthalensis began a major marketing push to brand themselves as an exciting alternative species to homo sapiens. With thicker bodies and nearly equal brain capacity, Neanderthals looked like contenders. But timing and positioning are everything, and the Neanderthals mistimed the Ice Age and ceded the Fertile Crescent to homo sapiens, then stuck firmly to their “ground and pound” tactics while the ancestors of modern humans planted the seeds of civilization.
The Neanderthals were probably driven to extinction, though it is possible that they managed a forgotten, one-sided merger, like when the Browns and 49ers survived the old AAFC. Either way, the best evidence suggests that Neanderthals were more cultured and civilized than their chest-pounding, knuckle-dragging caricature would suggest. Therefore, we will refrain from insulting them with a Bart Scott joke.
(Also receiving votes: New Coke, Oliver Cromwell, the NHL on FOX, the 2001 Philadelphia “Blizzard,” the Segway, The Star Wars prequels, monotheism in ancient Egypt, The 1970s World Football League, Chinese Democracy, David Beckham’s American career, the magazine George, and Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football.)