EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Whether in Florida Gators or Denver Broncos jerseys or green and white T-shirts emblazoned with his name on the back, New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow brought a legion of fans with him to MetLife Stadium for his first home game with his new team. It doesn't matter that he's the team's backup, he's the starter in the hearts and minds of his passionate following.
"Tebow Nation" comes in all ages, genders and variety of fans, both young and old. Some are drawn to him because of his brand of smash-mouth football, others due to his outspoken Christian faith, but no matter the reason why, they love Tebow. More often than not, the Tebow-supporting crowd on hand this Saturday night aren't even Jets fans and their allegiance dates back to his college career in Florida or the last two years in Denver. They couldn't care less about current Jets starter Mark Sanchez or that Tebow is the backup.
Frank Spallone of Brick, N.J., came to the game with his wife and their two children. A New York Giants fan, he came to support his niece who was part of the youth dancers who participated at halftime. But despite his allegiance to the Giants, Spallone was wearing a Broncos No. 15 jersey.
That's right, his Giants were playing and Spallone was wearing the jersey of the other team's quarterback.
"We always cheer for Tebow, that's why we bought the jerseys last year. You hear more about NFL players doing the wrong thing, he does the right thing," Spallone said.
"He's a fantastic role model, my son plays football and he's a fantastic role model."
Spallone's daughter Kailey carried a sign into the stadium, proposing to Tebow -- it was confiscated by security and thrown out. Her younger brother Ryan, who grew up a Giants fan, said he's now splitting his allegiance with the Jets "since Tebow is with them now."
The curious thing about many of the Tebow fans is that they have no ties to the Jets team he now plays on. Simply, they are there for Tebow and purely Tebow. No other player in the NFL can boast of such a purpose-driven following. It is all Tebow all the time.
It is a curious twist from many diehards of the team who are firmly entrenched in Camp Sanchez. In fact, during the first open session of training camp three weeks ago, Tebow was getting booed and heckled by many Jets fans when he missed receivers. He was the only player on the team to receive such treatment.
Saturday night saw a different reaction.
When he entered the game in the third quarter for his first series under center, he got a loud cheer from the Jets faithful, bringing some life to a game that the New York Giants led 16-0 at that point. In his first series under center, Tebow went 4 for 5 for 52 yards and added two carries for 5 yards. He led the Jets to a field goal, their first points of the game.
Among those cheering on Tebow was lifelong New Jersey resident Carmine Monte. A self-described New England Patriots fan, Monte was wearing a Tebow Gators jersey that he bought after Tebow was drafted by Denver in the first round. Monte is drawn to Tebow because of the Jets backup quarterback's "morality."
He came with his friend, Tom Zeukas of Middletown, N.J., a lifelong Jets fan. But Monte isn't switching from the Patriots to their AFC East rival anytime soon.
"If they don't play the Patriots, I'll cheer for Tebow. Not the Jets, I'm a Patriots fan and not a Jets fan," Monte said.
"I'm here for Tebow, not anything else."
Most Jets fans, however, aren't as rabidly Tebow.
William Ng of Bayside in Queens, N.Y., wore his Sanchez jersey to the game while his wife, Christine DeMarco, was sporting a Tebow shirt. When asked about his thoughts on Tebow, Ng took a deep breath and put his hands on his hips before answering.
"I think Tebow is an exciting player, he says all the right things," Ng said.
At this point, Ng looked over a few feet away where his wife was laughing. It was apparent that her husband was trying to be diplomatic.
"However, I think the Jets are better off with Mark Sanchez leading the team," Ng continued. "If he doesn't do well after a couple games, the fans will be screaming for Tebow and that's going to be a difficult thing for him. Sanchez said recently he wants to be a top 10 quarterback, but the fans are getting a bit impatient."
DeMarco admits that she wore her Tebow T-shirt to rile up her husband a little bit, but she acknowledges that Tebow "can bring a lot to the team on the field."
And off of it too.
"It's new eye candy for the ladies," DeMarco said.
"Tebow's giving Sanchez a run for his money there."
Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer
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