The odd couple: Tim Tebow and John Skelton

There he was, once one of the most celebrated college football players ever, standing on the sideline Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.  Just standing.  The unsoiled numeral on his jersey, 15, rested easily below the name.  “Tebow,” it said.  Helmet on and hiding his crew-cut black hair, ready to go, he snuggled a football under his right arm, waiting for the call that never came even as his hapless NFL team, the Denver Broncos, were being pasted by 30 points. 

It has been a humbling rookie year for Tim Tebow.  Once the fiery quarterback who took the University of Florida to the heights and winner of the Heisman Trophy,  he plays infrequently these days.   Though he was the Broncos’ second pick in the first round last spring, Tebow is listed as third string behind starter Kyle Orton and backup Brady Quinn.  He has in fact thrown only one pass, a completion for three yards.   In fact Denver has used him more as a goal-line runner than anything.  He has rushed 12 times for 28 yards and scored three TDs.

It was further humbling Sunday for Tebow, who had to stand there and stomach John Skelton, the Cardinals rookie starting quarterback and a recent third-stringer himself.  Skelton, in the hierarchy of the college game, playing at little Fordham, was one of the least celebrated lights to join an NFL team this year.  And yet there he was, a fifth rounder out of nowhere beating the once-mighty Tebow to the gate as a starting quarterback in the NFL.  It was one of those strange moments that happens every once in a while in sports.   I would’ve given up plenty to peek inside Tebow’s mind.

It wasn’t like Skelton distinguished himself particularly.   His first seven passes were incomplete, though several were dropped, and he connected only once on his last 11 throws.  He finished with 40 percent completion rate and a low QB rating of 55.  And his 4 of 16 conversions on third down was nothing to write home about.  Still he threw no interceptions, did not fumble and was not sacked.   His performance was proof again that you do not have to field a dominant quarterback in the NFL to win.  Especially when the other team is so helpful, as Denver was, with six turnovers.  And too the Cardinals running game amassed an amazing 211 yards rushing, kicker Jay Feely accounted for 25 points including a TD run and the defense played one of its better games.

But in Denver, a tidal wave builds for Tebow to start at quarterback.   Few believe, it seems, Brady Quinn is the answer.  And a chant rose as early as the third quarter of Sunday’s game from the many Broncos fans present:  “Teee-bow, Teee-bow.” 

Mike Klis of the Denver Post concluded his game story thus:  “The thinking back home is, if a poor Cardinals can win an NFL game by 30 points with a quarterback who couldn’t hold Tebow’s gym bag in college, why not glimpse at the future when the present is so bleak?”

And, out here in the arid lands, no one is saying Skelton is the Cardinals quarterback of the future.  Tebow may be playing long after he is gone.  Many Cardinals fans are no doubt upset that their team won on Sunday, so eagerly do they want the Cardinals to lose the three remaining games now and get the highest possible pick in the next draft.  But Skelton did nothing to hurt his chances this day and will likely start again next week at 1-12 Carolina. 

For Cardinals fans to take this victory or Skelton seriously is to miss the point.  Denver was going to lose this game no matter what.  The Broncos were inept, confused and in the end demoralized by the recent coaching change.  And Tim Tebow’s time may have come at last.

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