Never in the history of sport has the arrival of a backup player generated the sort of fascination that Tim Tebow did when his trade from the Broncos to the Jets was completed Monday.
The spectacle of the NFL's most compelling bench-warmer provoked such a crowd of press types that, for his introductory news conference, the Jets abandoned the normal interview room and reconfigured the end zone of their indoor practice facility.
Hurricane Tim, the former Gator, descended on North Jersey with passive fury. It was like Super Bowl media day. Without the Super Bowl.
More than 150 vehicles, including 15 satellite trucks, sat parked outside the Jets' training center. They transported 202 credentialed media members - almost all of them local - to a Q&A that offered full catering and produced lines eight deep at the restroom.
And we thought the pope was visiting Cuba on Monday, not New Jersey.
Actually, in the sports world, Tebow is not that far removed from His Holiness. Verily, the congregation is divided.
Some would seek to kiss Tebow's national championship rings, kneeling, as Tebow famously kneels on the field.
Others would nail 95 theses to the door of an East Rutherford church challenging the presence of Tebow, with his grotesque delivery, in the NFL at all - much less for creating controversy for embattled young Jets starter Mark Sanchez.
Joe Namath, the greatest Jet, told USA Today last week that the trade "stinks," that it would be counterproductive to the performance and progress of Sanchez, that it was a slap in Sanchez' face.
That said, the similarities between Broadway Joe and Tebow are striking.
Both starred as athletically dominant quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. Both arrived in New York in a media maelstrom to a locker room resentful of their presence. Incredibly, both endorsed undergarments; Tebow, Jockey shorts; Namath, pantyhose.
Their differences are just as incredible.
Namath embodied avarice and vice. In his spare time, he courted models and actresses.
Tebow embodies virginity and virtue. In his spare time, he saves orphans and builds hospitals.
The most striking difference: Namath had a golden arm. Tebow is just the Golden Boy.
Like Namath, Tebow plans to heal the locker room by practicing and playing hard.
The Broncos gave Tebow a choice: Jacksonville, where first-round rookie Blaine Gabbert started 14 games last season; or New York, where Sanchez, a 2009 first-rounder, has started 47 games the past three years, generally without distinction.
Tebow insisted that his relationship with Jets coaches, especially Rex Ryan, helped him choose the promising Jets over the abysmal Jaguars. Tebow said his relationship with Sanchez is solid enough to withstand the inevitable calls for Tebow to replace Sanchez (inevitable, since Sanchez isn't very good, either).
Tebow's relationships with Ryan and Sanchez are built on the swampy ground of coincidental appearances at celebratory events, such as the ESPYs or the Super Bowl.
Tebow never had to deal with Ryan at halftime after having thrown three interceptions.
While Tebow and Sanchez have shared a podium, they have never shared a position.
Here in the leafy suburbs, the Jets are used to creating offseason stirs.
Brett Favre first landed in New York after his ugly divorce from the Packers in 2008. Less than two months after Plaxico Burress exited Oneida (N.Y.) Correctional Facility last summer, he entered the Jets' practice facility to resume his career, delayed two years after he shot himself in the leg.
But both Favre and Burress were, at one time, stars. Both were expected to start and to fill prescribed, traditional roles.
Tebow is expected to be the No. 2 quarterback who, according to Ryan, might be used as many as 20 times per game in gimmick plays.
None of which mattered much Monday.
Monday, what mattered was that 17 still photographers knelt, Tebow-style, and waited for the processional shot. They had been tipped off that Tebow would emerge from double doors at midfield, then walk 50 yards to the podium, which, elegantly, he did.
What mattered was that Tebow, his hair newly coiffed and stiffly gelled, his facial stubble manicured just so, looked smashing in a tight, gray suit with double vents.
What mattered is that, under direct questioning, Tebow refused to discuss the depths of his faith.
What mattered is that Tebow declined to criticize the Broncos for signing Peyton Manning and trading Tebow after he had salvaged their season, taking them to the playoffs for the first time in six years and winning a playoff game. Televangelist Pat Robertson criticized the ungrateful Broncos ... which means that Tebow agrees with Robertson on the right-to-life issue, but not on the right-to-trade issue.
What mattered is that Tebow asserted he wanted none of this attention. He repeatedly blamed the news conference on the Jets.
"The reason we're doing this," Tebow said, "is because I have bosses, too."
None of those bosses joined him on the podium. Like Stephen outside the Lions' Gate, Tebow bravely faced the masses alone.
With his Mitch Hedberg enunciation and cadence, Tebow deflected and hoped and praised.
Tebow called Sanchez "classy," said he felt "no ill will" toward the Broncos and thanked them for his two years of employment there; and said he was "humbled" and "honored" that the Jets would want him.
As for the contention that the trade was a publicity stunt, he replied, "I don't take offense to that. And I don't think it's true."
Dozens of cameras whirred and clicked, but Tebow never stopped smiling. He must have been wearing that Jockey "Staycool" underwear.
He will need it.
Naively, Tebow on Monday contended that his fame in Gainesville and the sideshow in Denver prepared him for what comes next.
Florida football is as big-time as college sports gets, and Denver is a real city in the most powerful of sports leagues.
Tebow now must bear the scrutiny of the most ravenous, intelligent, unforgiving press corps on the planet. His strategy: "I'm just gonna be myself."
He will Tebow them into submission.
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