Thursday, 15 December 2011

Green Bay v Tebow: When the Story Isn't the Story

This year in the NFL there have been an amazing set of storylines - the coming out party of rookie QBs (Newton, Dalton, Yates); the continued indiscipline of James Harrison; the implosion at Detroit after a great start (more down to the lose of Jahvid Best than their own indiscipline); the reinvention of the 49ers under the stewardship of Jon Harbaugh.

Yet there appears to be two stories that far outweigh all of these storylines; one involves a team heading for glory and the other is a man who is playing with glory in his heart.  The Green Bay Packers v Tim Tebow. One is playing for immortality, the other plays for an immortal.

The current Super Bowl champions from Wisconsin, who had a 7 game unbeaten run to win in Dallas this February over the favoured Pittsburgh Steelers, have continued currently 13-0. One more win this week at Kansas City will guarantee home field advantage throughout the playoffs at the formidabel Lambeau Field - a place that is so cold and hostile, it gives the Packers an added advantage as if they need one.

They do not need any extra help, as right now Aaron Rodgers is playing the QB position better than anyone else right now, in spite of it being a good year for his peers Drew Brees and Tom Brady.  All three are on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing record; as was Matt Schaub before his season-ending shoulder injury.

Rodgers is a beast - he throws it so accurately, so precisely with such poise and confidence he has made it look very easy.  He shakes off pressure that breaks the pocket due to his ability to run outside of it, he takes hit when necessary which is seldom, so maybe credit should go to his O-line for giving him time but he has an abundance of weapons downfield in Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings; coupled with the useful return of Ryan Grant who missed last year due to injury.

These Packers score for fun, when in a shootout they outscore the Chargers easily because the other QB will no doubt make a mistake either incompleting or being intercepted, and only once have they been run close which was at the Giants two weeks ago when with the game tied at 34; Rodgers with less than a minute marched down the field again with relevant ease to create a game winning field goal from reliable Mason Crosby.  The Giants were favoured to give the Pack a tough time, they did but in the end the result was never in doubt.

After the Chiefs (who fired Todd Haley this week, Romeo Crenel is interim) they have two divisional games remaining against the Bears (who are nothing without Cutler) and the Lions who may well need to win to sneak into the playoffs.  A lot of talk is being spoken about whether the Packers should aim for a 16-0 record to finish the season with or if they should rest key players (incl. Rodgers) once home field is secured. 

Now arguments may be made that the last team who went 16-0, the Patriots in 2007 did not win the Super Bowl as they lost to the Giants in Arizona - so maybe the search for perfection comes at a price and the need to have rest is paramount, although they would argue that the Packers will get two weeks to rest once the regular season concludes.  The Packers give the impression of not being overawed by the persuasive powers of history, of taking it one game at a time and they know that this is the only chance they get at perfection for this group of players.

And yet this search for perfection is being overshadowed by the performances of one man.  Tim Tebow.  Tebow the second string QB of the Denver Broncos who is metaphorically become their saviour of sorts as he has taken them from 1-4 to a 8-5 record atop the AFC West ahead of the Oakland Raiders and with a chance of making the playoffs and a home game at that,as they will be ranked fourth as a division winner.

Tebow-mania started in Miami, the same weekend as the NFL game at Wembley between Tampa and Chicago.  15-0 down with three minutes on the clock, somehow they managed to recover an onside kick and lead a charge to tie to force OT where Matt Prater converted the game winning, defying field goal.

The next week they were hammered at home by a rampant Detroit, but since then they have won 6 on the bounce each win more amazing than the last.  From Tebow's 20 yard rushing TD in the last two minutes against the Jets, to last week's 10 point comeback against the Bears with Prater again nailing an OT winning field goal.

Tebow is a conflicting figure in sports and culture at the moment, Tebow is a practising Christian with strong beliefs and values.  The use of faith in the workplace is always a strong point of conflict in a mutli-faith nation like America - some people do not like religion thrust in their face, yet Tebow is only the extreme version of every athlete who thanks God for every victory.  Tebow does not hide behind his fatih and instead embraces it.  What I think really upsets people about Tebow - is that he is a limited player in terms of technique and skill level, in comparison to Rodgers there is no comparison.  Tebow is proving to be a better running back, a young man of 260lbs who cannot be knocked out of his steps by 270lbs linebackers. 

And yet despite his mechanical defaults he is winning games, surely teams would rather win ugly than lose beautifully,  he is a phenonmenon granted and yet in the same season that a team is winning beautifully and playing football from a different planet they are not being exalted or praised, and overlooked by a savage media who always look for a hero amongst the muck - it has happened in America for decades (Iwo Jima, Miracle on Ice, Hoosiers) - the Packers are led by the MVP in Aaron Rodgers yet their accomplishments are being overshadowed by one young man.

Tebow is a game changer, a clutch player, a man who can inspire in ranks that were down and out; Tebow changed college football and his position, when colleges looked for his duplicate, hence why Cam Newton (13 TD's each thrown and run) was the No.1 pick and why Robert Griffin III won the Heisman this year and will be a top 5 pick in the draft in April.  There is still a place for in the pocket passers like Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck, but Tebow's influence is having a trickling effect from the professional to the college to the high school games thanks in part to the (over)exposure of his performances this season.

It is yet to be determined if Tebow will be a part of Canton's Hall of Fame, he still has 10-12 seasons at the top table and his sheer will and determination coupled with a fine work ethic will insure of employment; yet Green Bay are in the midst of a historical run it is rare thay you get the opportunity to witness history taking place at the moment it happens.  And if I had a choice between a team and one man; I will take the 53 man roster.

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