What the Sabres and Bills can learn from Tim Tebow
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 09, 2012 @ 10:34am
Tim Tebow was mentioned in a staggering 6.46% of all tweets Sunday evening as the beloved signal-caller led his resurgent Denver Broncos to an overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the NFL playoffs. He received an awestruck tweet from Lady Gaga, was praised by rival NFL players but was predictably deferential in the post-game interview.
The Broncos QB was asked by a member of the media: “Do you understand what kind of a phenomenon you are nationwide right now?” This question is amusing, largely because the same media members were pushing for Brady Quinn to see snaps just hours earlier.
Tebow managed to thank Jesus, his teammates, his coaches and mention that meeting a girl before the game who’d had 73 surgeries was the pinnacle of his day. He did not emphasize his own performance.
As a culture, we’re not accustomed to an athlete in the national spotlight partly for his on-field success and partly for his outspoken humility and religious views—two major reasons why the Tebow case is so fascinating. We’re a society drawn to bad-boys, often controversially selfish individuals who are divisive rather than uniting. Tebow is an exceptional athlete, but he’s entirely different than Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning in that it’s the power of his personality that’s franchise-altering, not strictly his athletic gifts.
To me, Drew Brees is the closest example, as his quarterbacking abilities, complemented by optimism and a team-centered focus, galvanized a city in need of a hope. There’s no more valuable leader in sports than one that is outspoken, positive and commands the respect of teammates. There are certainly alternate routes to this end—the Jets’ Bart Scott is certainly not a Bible-thumper—but franchise faces are often linked to strong, compelling personalities, whether they’re religious (Tebow), maniacal (Scott, Ray Lewis), nerdy (Manning) or classy (Brees).
Do the Buffalo Bills or Buffalo Sabres have a player or even look to add players with these character traits? I’m not arguing that Tebow-types are a dime-a-dozen—because they’re absolutely not—but character must hold greater weight in personnel decisions. The Bills, according to their owner at least, had absolutely no interest in taking a risk on Tebow, a player with impeccable physical tools, a magnetic personality and an unrelenting positive attitude. Even though there was no certainty that his physical gifts would translate into NFL success at the quarterback position, the prevailing notion was that Tebow, because of his determination, response to adversity and physical tools, would thrive at another spot like tight end or h-back.
Why shouldn’t the Bills have taken a risk on a player with the rare gifts like Tebow, a guy with a winning pedigree and a supreme work ethic? Shouldn’t more athletes—whether they’re Bills or Sabres—approach their sport with the same fervor and emotion? Aren’t these types of players more desirable than the exceptional athlete with the nonchalant attitude? There’ve been too many examples in Buffalo where talent has taken priority over character—Marshawn Lynch, Anthony Hargrove, Willis McGahee, Travis Henry to name a few—and that’s a trend that I’d like to see come to a halt.
The Sabres are even more of a chemistry disaster. Jason Pominville, while maybe the best choice for captain out of the group, isn’t someone who would elicit a statement like: “Wow, that’s a player whose attitude can both rally and inspire us to a championship.” What NHL players were Tebow-like? Trevor Linden, Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier, Joe Sakic—these were the NHL’s best leaders, all with slightly (to vastly, in Messier’s case) different approaches—and none of them played for Buffalo. Remember the impact that Michael Peca once had, love him or hate him now?
Advice to the Bills and Sabres: Find a player that can lead through personality, even if that involves taking a calculated risk like the Broncos took in Tebow.