The NBA suspended playoff competition on Sunday night. Major League Baseball went on hiatus. Thirty-two "meet the draft pick" NFL press conferences were summarily canceled. The NASCAR race in Richmond ended with a result that was neither a Danica win, a Danica crash, or a Danica wardrobe malfunction, the only three ships that might have been fast enough to run the news blockade.
A fourth-string quarterback was released. Stop the presses. Cancel vacation plans.
When the universe is in proper balance and humanity achieves true enlightenment, news of a fourth-string quarterback getting released will be handled thusly:
JETS NOTES: Fourth-string quarterback Tim Tebow was released … The Jets signed Pitt wide receiver/tight end Mike Shanahan, no relation to the Redskins head coach, as an undrafted free agent … Work has begun on planting new azalea bushes outside the Jets practice facility …
But true enlightenment escapes us, so the release of fourth-string quarterback Tim Tebow creates a Monday sports-news moratorium. The NBA and MLB did not really take Monday off, any more than the NHL disappeared down a sink hole in 2006 or so, but that was the impression ESPN gave as it resumed an April edition of last summer's 24/7 Tebow cycle, and few other outlets showed any more restraint.
The Worldwide Bleater prepared exactly two Tebow montages to play over their Monday filibuster, which featured analysis by Ron Jaworski, Adam Schefter, New York correspondent Rich Cimini, and the inexplicably employed Bill Polian. One montage showed a handful of Tebow's best scrambles and fake punt runs: the 22-yard run against the Steelers, and so forth. The other montage was noteworthy in its absence of highlights: Tebow listening to headphones with his cap backwards; Tebow and Mark Sanchez examining Polaroids; Tebow throwing a screen to Jeremy Kerley, who is quickly stuffed; Tebow faking a handoff and running against the Titans, the montage ominously fading out before we see the result of the play. (He rushed three times for 15 yards in that game, so you get the idea.)
In the course of 30 minutes, ESPN showed the scramble montage at least five times and the Kerley montage about ten times. The two montages combined to show exactly zero productive forward passes. Which begs the question: if a player's highlight montage is a glorified GIF that contains no real highlights, who decided that he was worthy of a highlight montage?
Tebow coverage has always required a suspension of such logic. Tebow reported to OTAs a few weeks ago 15 pounds lighter than last year. He reportedly worked extra hard to shed the weight. But wait: the whole reason why this fourth-string quarterback was so super-duper special was that he always worked as hard as he (or any human) possibly could, right? So if it was possible for him to work even harder in 2013, it logically follows that he was not working as hard as he possibly could in previous years. And since that hard work is what allegedly made him so special, he must not have been as special as we were told. And if he is not that special, why were we writing stories about a fourth-string quarterback who showed up to camp 15 pounds lighter? Curtis Painter could run around Giants camp looking like Thor and no one would notice.
The Tebow release is somewhat noteworthy, because it means something. It means that the Jets have finally figured things out. They realized, for example, that he was a fourth-string quarterback. Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy started ahead of him last year. Geno Smith leapt past him on the depth chart the moment he was drafted on Friday night. Calling Tebow a fourth-stringer is actually charitable, because David Garrard is also on the roster, but some nagging injury will befall Garrard soon enough, so let's give Tebow a little credit.
The Jets figured out that a fourth-string quarterback cannot be a sideshow, that Smith needs a puncher's chance of learning his craft in an environment less chaotic than the lawn at a Dethklok concert, that ceaseless media scrutiny is their greatest enemy. They realized that headlines in late April are far less distracting than headlines in August, when the players are trying to get something done. The Jets realized that they have to cut losses on the lunacy that engulfed them over the last two seasons and turn a symbolic page. The Geno Smith pessimism that many (like me) expressed when he was drafted suddenly feels more like Smith optimism: when camp opens, he will not be swamped with Tebow questions, questioned by Tebow lovers, taking reps with one eye over his shoulder. A sunbeam peers through the clouds over Jets headquarters, a ray of hope.
Releasing Tebow made the Jets a real football team again. Maybe the kid works miracles after all.
You love to see Tebow go, but you hate watching him leave. He overshadows his team one last time as he dominates the news cycle on Monday. We are left with the montage, the speculation of what happens next, the supposedly compelling narrative of Tebow the Quarterback. Except that there is no narrative of Tebow the Quarterback. He stinks.
It will be shocking if any team decides that it wants what Tebow is offering. Tebow's biggest problem is the fact that he is not a competent quarterback. His second-biggest problem is the phalanx of true believers who refuse to accept his biggest problem, a dwindling minority still vocal enough to convince ESPN and web-traffic monitors that Tebow talk moves the needle. Tebow is a bad quarterback with baggage, just like Vince Young. The team that signs Tebow does not make Tebow look credible, it makes itself look desperate.
The Jets did the world another service on Monday morning (two miracles!): they stripped away the waffling, the equivocations, the outright lie that this player was something more than a fourth-string quarterback, a lie they believed and perpetuated for over a year.
The lie was uncovered when Tebow was lapped on the depth chart by McElroy. The lie was uncovered when Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson proved what dedicated, high-effort scramblers can accomplish after just a few starts if they actually possess the ability to throw a football properly. The lie was uncovered when the Incomparable Leader and Inspiration led no one and inspired nothing.
Many of us knew the lie was a great big fib anyway, but we played along or reserved judgment. I appeared on an NFL's Top 10 saying the nicest things I could think of which were factually true, wrote goofy song parodies, marshaled skeptical reasoning to explain his brief success and called in Greg Cosell as artillery support to predict his inevitable New York failure.
But often, I bit my tongue and sidestepped the precise truth when there were true Tebow believers within earshot, like I do when my sons bring up Santa Claus. Any day now, you will figure the truth out for yourself, and I will tell you that I let you believe because I wanted you to enjoy that sense of wonder while it lasted.
But here's the good news. The world is an even more wonderful place without childish fantasies: more challenging, yes, but full of mysteries, delights, and opportunities. The Jets may soon have a real quarterback who can accomplish real victories. Jets fans may have something to follow besides a glorified gossip column. Football fans, and sports fans, can enjoy the real feats of legitimate superstars without the intermittent lunar eclipses when you-know-who scores a training camp touchdown.
Let this be the last time we are denied baseball or racing highlights because a fourth-string quarterback is released. Let this be the last NFL-related essay devoted entirely to Tim Tebow, ever. And let Tebow provide us with one final act of charity, and bless us with his absence for a while.