Tim Tebow is the cruelest man in sports.
No, the Most Famous Backup Quarterback In Human History doesn't start fights, mistreat women or do horrible things to pets. If he did, we'd know by now. All he does is play barely middling football for a below-average New York football team, looking nearly as awkward and out-of-place on the gridiron as he would on a "Girls Gone Wild" DVD.
But here's why he's cruel: For whatever unfathomable reason, against all evidence, Tim Tebow gives Jets fans hope. And as Bane taught us this summer in "The Dark Knight Rises," there can be no true despair without hope.
On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers absolutely waxed Tebow's Jets 34 to zip. Tebow himself was all but irrelevant, with two carries for zero yards and a lone, 9-yard completion that resulted in a lost fumble and an injury to teammate Dedrick Epps. Unspectacular, to say the least. But incumbent quarterback Mark Sanchez perpetuated his wretched run of mediocrity; he's thrown for two touchdowns in the last 11 quarters, and his completion percentage hovers on the low side of 50 percent.
And that statistical horror show has, of course, brought us to the moment we knew was coming ever since John Elway managed to pawn Tebow off onto the Jets back in March: the calls for Saint Tim to depose Sanchez. Sure, Vinny from Staten Island will bellow his support for Tebow on whatever sports talk show that will take his call, but we're seeing a starry-eyed infatuation with Tebow from a most unexpected angle: the New York sports media.
Check these love letters:
"Time for Jets to unleash Tebow" (Mike Vaccaro, New York Post): "You know how many snaps he should play? As many as he can. As many as [offensive coordinator Tony] Sparano's magic playbook allows."
"If Mark Sanchez doesn't turn Jets around in four games, Jets should replace him with Tim Tebow" (Gary Myers, New York Daily News): "Tebow's game is ugly, but it's all about the intangibles with him: enthusiasm, leadership, motivational skills."
"NY Jets need to put idle Tebow in backfield and let him run" (Tim Smith, New York Daily News): "If there was ever a need for Tebow Time, it's right now." (Note: This was written before the San Fran debacle.)
"Tebow Should Get Start for Jets" (Kevin Kernan, New York Post): "The Broncos were 1-4 last year and Tebow helped turn things around the following week as a starter. … Put Tebow at starting quarterback, Rex, and let the chips fall where they may."
"Rex" – Jets head coach Rex Ryan – isn't quite falling for the Tebowmania yet. Asked after the game about when he'd make the switch, Ryan left no door even slightly ajar, for the moment: "I just know in my heart right now that this is not the time. I think Tim is an outstanding player. I think Mark is. Right now, I think Mark gives us our best opportunity to win. I will always do, in my opinion, what's in the best interest of this team, and that interest is what gives us the best chance to win. No matter who it is."
Here's the thing about Tebow: The image has eclipsed the man. It's a peculiar quirk of 21st-century perpetual connectedness that the cultural figures famous for being famous can be boiled down to the one emotion that they inspire, intentionally or not, in their audience. Kim Kardashian: lust, then disgust. Paris Hilton: loathing. Tebow, of course, is hope against all reality, hope that he can single-handedly turn around a hopeless franchise.
Tebow is a genuinely good guy, a team player, a motivator, exactly the sort of gentleman you'd want your daughter to marry. (Or you'd want for yourself, if you happen to be a single lady.) What he's not is a franchise savior. Sports writers can fawn over his "intangibles" and rationalize away his spot-welded mechanics while he stands on the sidelines, but here's the truth: There will come a day when Tebow fails, perhaps spectacularly, perhaps by a thousand small miscues. And on that day, all of the New York media's blissful puppy love will turn into snarling fury.
In some strange way, it would be better for the Jets to keep throwing Tebow on the bench, throwing him out there every so often like seasoning on a leathery steak. Maybe this week he'll play cornerback! Maybe he'll throw a pass to himself!
But what happens if he does start and he does fail, as his history suggests he will? There lies the darkest despair.
Jets fans should be happy with the hope, because there's no way the reality will match the dream.
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