Posted: November 21, 2011 by Keith Stone in Denver Broncos, football, Hulk Hogan, NFL, TEBOW!, wrestling

Whatcha gonna do when Tebowmania runs wild on you?

With Tebowmania running rampant around the country and dare I say, the world, my buddy Matt takes a look at the phenomenon and how Tebow compares to a certain icon from the past:

The babyfaced athletic hero takes the stage with great fanfare. Women and children scream for him. Grown men wear his outfit. The air is thick with anticipation of the history that is about to unfold. But then our hero spends most of the contest looking entirely inferior to the competition, bringing virtually nothing to the table. He makes his adversaries gain a sense of superiority, makes neutral observers scoff, and makes even some of his backers start to question why they bothered investing their emotions in this guy in the first place. Yet like clockwork, just when all hope seems to be lost, it happens. Our moribund hero springs to life and lets loose in a storm of fury on his tiring opponent. In the blink of an eye, it is over. Somehow, in the closing minutes our hero made a remarkable rally and added to his growing legend. Music blares over the PA and fans go wild as he assumes his trademark pose, victorious.

If the character we know as Timothy Richard Tebow didn’t exist, someone would have to create it. As it turns out, someone already did create it more than a quarter-century ago. But in its initial incarnation, the character wasn’t an NFL quarterback named Tim Tebow. He was a WWF wrestler named Hulk Hogan.

As I watched Tebow lead the Broncos on their improbable game-winning drive Thursday night, culminating in a 20-yard touchdown run to upset the Jets 17-13, I began searching through my memory. Precisely who did this unorthodox (perhaps that’s the wrong word given his devout faith) phenom remind me of? We hear a lot of Doug Flutie comparisons, but that doesn’t quite fit. As anyone who’s ever seen film of his Hail Mary pass to beat Miami while at Boston College can attest, Flutie had a fantastic arm. He had trouble getting a crack at a NFL starting job not due to a lack of arm, but a lack of height.

I realized that I had never seen a quarterback quite like Tebow, that I’d need to search outside the world of football to find an apt comparison. And finally, it hit me. Tim Tebow is the closest thing the NFL has ever seen to the Hulkster.

Before his public life degenerated into aging, balding, wrinkled, steroid-addled, reality show-starring, womanizing, wife-divorcing farce, Hogan was a cartoonish grappler who inspired kids across America to do the right thing. Clearly, the mid 1980’s were a different era in both the WWF and our nation for this situation (pro wrestler as role model) to even be possible. His mantra to America’s youth was to “train, say your prayers and eat your vitamins.” The children watching him didn’t imagine the “vitamins” to mean steroids. We assumed he meant Flintstones chewables, especially the purple Dino shapes. Those  were tasty.

Tebow’s persona is similarly straight out of a comic book. I’m tempted to call him a throwback, but to what? He’s a throwback to a past that never existed even in the popular imagination. Perhaps baseball superstars were once imagined to be as wholesome as peanut butter on whole wheat with a glass of milk, but quarterbacks were generally rough-hewn gladiators at best. At worst, you’d expect them to show up drunk on national TV asking Suzy Kolber to kiss them.

With more than two decades since his heyday to blur the memories, it would be easy to recall Hogan’s character in the ring as that of an irresistible force. We remember the bulging eyes, the driving “Real American” entrance music, the yellow shirt ripping off as if it were effortless. But here’s the thing: Hogan almost always struggled through his matches. In fact, he often brought virtually nothing to the table. He was a big, muscular guy to be sure, but if Mel Kiper Jr. scouted 80’s WWF wrestlers Hogan would’ve been given the dreaded “tweener” tag.  He would have underwhelmed at the combine. He had decent size for the WWF, but was no Andre the Giant or Big John Studd. He never was particularly quick on his feet. I’m fairly certain the Ultimate Warrior could have destroyed him in a bench-press competition. And he had no aerial moves anywhere near the class of a “Macho Man” Randy Savage or a Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.

A typical Hogan match would thus play out as follows: After a brief feeling-out process, Hogan would quickly fall behind, either his size or speed or strength apparently inferior to that of his opponent. The Hulkster would proceed to take a beating for 10 or 15 minutes, with the heel he was facing relishing every moment. Finally, Hogan would be wrapped in a submission hold. If his arm dropped three times, the match would be lost. Twice his legendary “python” would fall as if a dead weight. But you knew, we all knew, that you could simply not get Hogan’s arm to drop a third time. Just before hitting bottom, the muscles would flex. A fist would form and slowly begin to raise. Sometimes Hogan’s index finger would begin to wag an emphatic “no, no, NO!”

And then, in the blink of an eye, the tables were irreversibly turned. Hogan would escape the submission hold with a couple of well-timed punches. He’d toss the stunned opponent into the ropes, meeting him with his trademark yellow boot high in the air, striking the other wrestler square in the chest and knocking him flat on his back. Finally, Hogan would bounce off the ropes himself, land on his adversary with a leg drop, and pin him. One, two, three. Real American would start playing over the PA and the victorious Hulkster would parade around the ring, soaking up the adulation of his fans by cupping his hand over his ear in every direction because without the fans, Hulk Hogan would be nothing.

Compare this to Tebow. He will essentially futz around on the gridiron for much of the game. For the first three quarters, he is lost. He appears to have an arm made of gouda. Two games ago against a weak Kansas City team, he didn’t complete a pass in the entire first half. Yet, as with Hogan, “I’ve got something deep inside of me. Courage is the thing that keeps us free!” Suddenly, when it’s time to mount a late game-winning drive, Tim Tebow morphs into TIM TEBOW. The arm looks stronger. The accuracy is fine-tuned. And he appears as though he’s the only man on the field with fresh legs after an afternoon of football. He darts, he jukes, he evades, he cannot be stopped until he reaches the end zone. Game, set, match. Tebpwned.

And once Tim Tebow has proven the doubters wrong yet again, he himself Tebows. He kneels in humility and thanks because without his Lord and savior, Tim Tebow would be nothing.

I must offer a disclaimer here. I’m a practicing Christian myself and in no way wish to belittle Tebow’s faith. To the degree that it’s authentic (and I have no reason to doubt its authenticity), I think it’s a great thing. It’s also clear to me that a lot of fans and people in the media do not think it’s such a great thing at all, and are rooting for him to fail (either secretly or not so secretly) for that reason. His critics are, in their voracity, overselling his deficiencies.

Conversely, Tebow has his defenders who have elevated the myth of the man above and beyond his actual stature on the field. He is not a god, and I seriously doubt that God is up there actively rooting for Tim Tebow to win football games. He is not infallible. He can only affect the outcome of the games so much relative to the other players, coaches and conditions surrounding him. He can’t miraculously bust out of a figurative sleeper hold and deliver the leg drop every time, much as it may seem otherwise in the throes of Tebowmania.

The reality likely lies somewhere in between. From this neutral observer’s vantage point, Tebow will probably have a long career, but much of it may be spent carrying a clipboard. His arm isn’t as bad as some say, and his intangibles aren’t as incomparable as others maintain. Playing in a dreadful AFC West, I give Tebow a legitimate opportunity of leading Denver to the division crown this season. If he does, that will likely stand as the pinnacle of his NFL career. Defensive coaches will develop a book on him over time, it will be effective, and he will have to adjust. How well he adjusts will determine whether he ultimately thrives or falters at this level.

But that’s the realm of reality. For now, it’s more enjoyable to savor the realm of myth. On Saturday, I was with my daughter in the children’s section of the public library. Nearby, a pair of boys roughly eight years old sat at a table. They sang in the tune of the “Ghostbusters” song:

“When there’s something strange in your neighborhood… who you gonna call? TIM TEBOW!”

Mind you, I don’t live in Denver. I live in the Chicago suburbs. Tebowmania grips the nation. Funny that a pair of children would even know that song, which was a hit in 1984, a couple of years before Mrs. Tebow even made the now-famous choice to keep her baby. 1984 was also the year in which one Hulk Hogan first burst into the national consciousness and won the WWF championship for the first time.

Whatcha gonna do?

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