By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) — It’s not joy, just relief.
Let this be the end of it forever, one of the dumbest – if mostly harmless — chapters in modern sports history. We should look back at this embarrassing cultural spasm years from now, if only to determine how it was allowed to happen.
This is not to celebrate a man losing his job, but the possible final triumph of truth over myth.
A terrible passer gained a legion of swooning fans who believed he functioned as some kind of heavenly lightning-rod, chosen to receive divine power and channel it to the gridiron. Successes were acts of god, failures all but ignored.
Since his college days, Tim Tebow’s role as religious football soldier has been championed as a cause, with touchdowns serving for many as larger points on the celestial scoreboard. His self-serving, pious poses were offered as evidence of devotional strength, while the true-believers lapped up his “inspirational” speeches that read as if cut and pasted from pamphlets handed out on street corners by glassy-eyed volunteers.
At the height of his NFL popularity, the fairy tale was sold by ESPN demagogue Skip Bayless, the high priest of the lowbrow plains. The television pulpit made for a revival-meeting tent where he could say such things as “Tim Tebow is the next Brett Favre” (1/15/09) “Tebow is the most underrated player in the game” (2/1/12), and “Tebow would be a better fit for the Ravens than Flacco” (1/19/12), and countless more examples of erroneous, insane statements over years that nonetheless succeeded in elevating Tebow to the position of America’s favorite athlete, per an ESPN poll.
But after John Elway saw him exposed in the playoffs and shipped him from the Broncos to the Jets, the silliness began to wane. He languished in New York, with Bayless in full freak-out over his treatment there, decrying it as “sabotage.” After a spring with no suitors – not even hometown Jacksonville, in need of a quarterback and smack-dab in bible country — Bill Belichick brought him to the Patriots for a potential reclamation, where the NFL’s purported leading mind could teach him how to play.
It didn’t work out. Tebow threw 30 preseason passes, completing eleven of them for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a pair of interceptions and was sacked seven times. He was released.
If no other franchise wants to endure the commotion of bringing him in for a last look, this would appear to be the end of this bizarre saga that laid bare some unfortunate aspects of sports fandom in this country, shining a light on an insatiable, irrational desire to connect football to religious belief.
Even if that illusion can now return to the Dark Ages where it belongs, Tebow will be available and willing to feed his followers sufficient doses of spiritual comfort food for the price of a ticket to a civic center near you, so anyone craving a vapid pep-talk from the home-schooled 26-year-old should be able to find it. Perhaps he and Bayless can appear together, combining forces to separate fools from their money in the most direct way possible.
He seems a decent enough kid, if just not quite right in that way typical of the overzealous and underinformed. He has had more than a deserved chance to prove he belonged.
The NFL product satisfies largely due to its meritocratic nature. Players survive, adapt and thrive because of what they prove they can do, not because of wishful narrative, emotional personal stories, or the magical hand of unseen forces in the clouds.
Professional football is better without the lamentable, middle-American phenomenon that was Tim Tebow.
At long last, it’s time for the league to move on, and for his ridiculous fans to be left behind.