Trying to decipher what people and products are most marketable has become quite the compelling spectator sport. Morons committed to drinking, tanning, and sex on the Jersey Shore have enjoyed a longer shelf life than I would have imagined. I’ve also discovered that not especially well-written erotic fiction steeped in BDSM will get you an instant world-wide best seller. And Tyler Perry continues to prove that there will always be a place for a black man who’s willing to emasculate himself by donning a housedress.
Turns out Christianity is marketable. So is a virginal lifestyle, so long as it’s shipped in the Christian package—which it normally is. I can say with an unimpeachable record of heterosexuality that Tim Tebow is a very handsome guy, a hunk by any standard. He often appears shirtless. But he doesn’t sell sex because he doesn’t have sex. What he sells is having something and not using it. Or having it and saving it for the right time.
Based on the cover of this month’s Gentlemen’s Quarterly Magazine, now is the right time for running quarterbacks. I guess that’s the part of the Tim Tebow experience that I find unsettling. A running quarterback is hardly a novelty. Used to be a running quarterback was called an option quarterback. Most option quarterbacks ran the wishbone offense.
The wishbone was so named because the three running backs lined up behind the quarterback took the shape of a wishbone. Like any quarterback he was required to read the defense in order to make sound decisions.
But rather than retreating into a protective pocket and surveying the defense, the wishbone quarterback attacked his opponent. He would sprint headlong into the teeth of the defense, playing chicken with a charging defensive end. Only after the defender was committed to smashing into him, would the quarterback finally pitch the ball to his running back, who had been flanking him from the start of the play. Or the quarterback could keep it himself.
At his best Tim Tebow is an option quarterback who doesn’t pitch the ball. That’s basically what he was in Denver. That’s why the Jets signed him. Sure, he might make a few tackles on the punt coverage team, and the Jets might convert a few fake punts into first downs, but they really want him to get things done at the goal line, as an option quarterback.
There have always been option quarterbacks.
Most of them didn’t look like Tim Tebow. They looked like J.C. Watts, Thomas Lott, Turner Gill, Tommie Frazier, Major Harris, Tony Rice, or Darian Hagan. For the record, the very best quarterback I’ve ever seen—and this is based on how most folks measure a quarterback, which is his ability to lead a team to victory, and how I measure a quarterback, which is how much fun he is to watch while leading that team to victory—is Oklahoma great Jamelle Holieway. But Holieway was never a first round pick. Neither were the others. In fact, most weren’t drafted at all.
An option quarterback would have to be special to get the cover of GQ.
Cam Newton isn’t what you’d call an option quarterback. But he is special. That’s why he’s on the cover. But then again Newton has to be special. He has to be capable of breaking off a 70 yard run, he has to be able to make every throw, he has to be a gym rat, he has to be a student of the game, he has to be engaging and charming, and handsome and a Heisman trophy winner who led his college team to a championship.
Tim Tebow isn’t special. Not in the football sense, at least. He’s good. He’s strong, and bright and charismatic. But he’s mostly interesting. That’s what makes him marketable.
Comedian Chris Rock, the arbiter on all contemporary social commentary, once said that if he was only as funny as David Spade, he wouldn’t eat. He meant that he wouldn’t be as popular, and thus not as successful as his lesser talented colleague.
Same goes for Cam Newton. Christianity alone wouldn’t do it for him. It didn’t do much for Charlie Ward, and he was a good Christian soldier. In 1993, Ward wasn’t an option quarterback though, just a black one, which back then may have been worse. He won a Heisman and a national championship too. He even played basketball for the Knicks—in New York! But there was never a mania surrounding Ward, not that his personality ever lent itself to such a thing. I’m not convinced that Tebow’s personality does either.
Tebow strikes me as a fine young man and a good player. If I had a team I would certainly find a place for him on that team. Actually it would be the same role he currently has in New York.
Tebow has been chosen, in many ways. He’s been chosen to sell magazines because apparently these days abstinence—from sex, from drugs, and it seems from reason too—is what determines one’s value.
Alan Grant was a four-year starter and all-conference player for Stanford University. He played five years in the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco Forty Niners, Cincinnati Bengals, and Washington Redskins. He has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Postgame, and appears frequently on radio and television.