September 30, 2009
Tebow gazing from the proprietor of Tim Teblog.
"Health-wise, we won’t play him 'til he’s ready. 'Til Tim is Tim." That's Urban Meyer this week, on the status of Tim Tebow. Meyer also threw out this little doozy, when asked about Tebow's availability for the LSU game next Saturday: "I think so, but I don't know that." I think so.
What was left undefined: What does "'Til Tim is Tim" mean? If the Tim Tebow Concussion Crisis -- if sports was covered like cable news covers politics, there would be some kind of flashing logo and 24/7 coverage -- there would be talking heads on half a dozen stations debating that question round the clock, and a couple more:
Can Tebow play? This was the first reaction, after watching the replay of the hit that knocked him out of the Gators' win over Kentucky ... over and over and over. This was not about him re-entering the game; this was about his entire football future. (Anyone else watch him lying motionless on the field and think -- even for a second -- "Cripes, he's paralyzed." Just me?)
Will Tebow play? After the initial news -- really, after he got up and wandered off the field -- the dominant topic turned to: How bad is it? What "grade" of concussion are we talking about? How quickly can he return to the field? And finally: Will he be ready for LSU in two weeks?
Urban Meyer did his best to fast-forward the rehab, with the winning anecdote that Tebow was asking him if he held onto the ball -- that it was "great to be a Gator." An instant addition to the (probably apocryphal) canon of Tebow myth. Word circulated: "Mild"... "Chatty"... "Back to Gainesville..." Keep in mind, we were 24 hours into this.
Start with this assumption (and I am no doctor): The concussion is not career-ending, and there is some point in time where Tebow's return to the field will present no relatively greater risk than if he had not suffered a concussion -- that he is as healed from this concussion as he can possibly be.
My question would be: Why the rush? If doctors agree that three weeks' convalescence is better than two -- even that four is better than three, and so on -- why would Meyer and the Florida medical staff push him to return?
As Florida/Tebow fan Orson Swindle put it so pointedly Sunday morning, concussions are not the kind of "mild" injury you can afford to screw around with. It's not just the rest of this season or even the rest of Tebow's career -- it's his life. How can he minister if the verses have been throttled out of his memory?
Is there a concern that Florida without Tebow -- correction: without a concussed Tebow -- will lose the game at LSU? Two points: a) Let's weigh that against the potential risk of long-term (season-ending) or long-term (career-ending) injury to Tebow, and b) What indication is there that Tebow-less Florida is likely to lose at LSU, unless they play with a less-than-100-percent Tebow?
The Gator defense is still one of the best in the country. Their collection of running backs is one of the best in the country. The special teams are the best in the country. Tebow's backup, John Brantley, is widely considered to be -- before taking his first snap as a starter, anyway -- no less than the fifth-best starting quarterback in the SEC. Comparatively: LSU should have lost to Mississippi State, which -- for the record -- does not have the fifth-best starting quarterback in the SEC.
I follow Tebow as closely as anyone, and this may be the most absurd part of the Tebow phenomenon: Even without him, Florida is arguably the best team in the country -- and certainly the favorite in every single game they will play leading up to the SEC Championship. Great teams have made championship runs sans injured stars before. Presuming that Florida's D, ground game, special teams and a competent "within-the-offense" QB all perform as expected, there should be no dire need for Tebow -- at least, until the SEC Championship in early December.
To expand on this perception that the Gators need Tebow, at least now: His leadership is unparalleled. His skills are as good as any college quarterback's. His ability to gain tough yards is unmatched. But the reality is that not one of those things -- perhaps leadership -- can't be replaced sufficiently for the Gators to keep winning. And nothing about his concussion should keep Tebow from stalking the sidelines, leading and inspiring his teammates.
I don't buy any suggestion that "They'll have to chain Tebow down to keep him out of the game -- what a competitor!" It would take nothing more than a directive from Urban Meyer to keep his star out: "Tim, you're sitting." If nothing else, Tim is a loyal soldier -- Meyer is Nathan Jessup, Tebow is Jonathan Kendrick. If Meyer gives the order, Tebow will follow it. Tebow may not be happy, but he will follow it.
Meyer is arguably the best coach in college football. I think he wants to win, obsessively, but I think he cares about Tebow as much as any coach has ever cared about a player. That's why I was confused about Meyer saying he "thinks" Tebow will play against LSU. It's like Meyer was softening up the media and fans, 13 days away, for the decision to actually play him.
Even if the house docs clear Tebow to play against LSU, you will find plenty of expert medical opinion to support more rest, not less. Even if Meyer's only interest was in winning the LSU game, I can't believe he would jeopardize the rest of the season for a potentially half-speed player, when the rest of the team can pick up the slack well enough.
Florida doesn't need Tebow to win ... yet. It will need him in December, for the SEC Championship, and in January, for a BCS game, presumptively the championship in Pasasena. Can he play? Short answer: Who knows? Should he play? Short answer: Not yet.