Vick and Tebow's is a tale of two NFL quarterbacks
Late afternoon on Sunday, two quarterbacks inextricably linked by their unorthodox styles of play, parallel journeys and how a deeply divided public perceives them were an odd couple taking the NFL's centre stage.
In Giants Stadium, across the river from New York City, Michael Vick, the Philadelphia quarterback, was trying to engineer a comeback for the ages.
Three time zones away, by the San Francisco Bay in Oakland, Tim Tebow was starting a game with Denver that few conceived would ever happen, much less in his rookie season.
The Eagles were desperate, trailing the New York Giants 31-10 with eight minutes remaining in a game with huge implications, the teams being tied atop the NFC East. Vick, though equipped with a strong and accurate arm, is feared more for his fleet feet. The fear extends beyond defences to coaches and talent evaluators, who have long wondered if Vick's penchant for running makes him a round peg for the square quarterback hole.
As for Tebow, his tattered team began the day in desperation, with little to lose against the Raiders. The Broncos wanted to get some return on their investment, having risked a first-round draft pick on a rookie who might have otherwise slid into the third round.
The call to draft Tebow was made by Josh McDaniels, the young head coach. The call to start him was not. McDaniels, Tebow's fiercest supporter, had been fired a week ago.
Few coaches have attained more job stability than the Eagles' Andy Reid. But when he declared Vick the starter over the anointed one, Kevin Kolb, earlier this season, the kindest of his critics compared him to two film characters, Dumb and Dumber.
Vick had validated Reid's choice by injecting dynamism and leadership into the Eagles' offence. While enamoured of Vick's obvious but challenging talents, he also was motivated by the opportunity to help a convicted felon back on his feet.
No US athlete triggers more contrasting visceral reactions from sports fans than Vick. As a reformed animal torturer under the guise of dog fighting, he is regarded by some as in the same company with murderers and child molesters. Others, while disgusted by his old hobby, point to him as a case study in forgiveness and second chances.
Tebow's staunchest allies admire how he promotes his Christian beliefs with no concern about the inevitable backlash triggered by so-called holier-than-thou celebrities who wear their spirituality on their sleeve. Or, for Tebow, on his face. In college, he referenced a Biblical verse during games with eyeblack.
His football backers contend that, just because Tebow is a run-first guy who passes erratically, he should not be carrying a clipboard or flashing signs to the starter. The argument that teams should think out of the box and shape the offence to fit Tebow rings familiar. The same has been said about Vick.
Last week, the Broncos refrained from announcing Tebow as the starter, even though he took snaps with the first unit in practice. With the coaching controversy dying down in Denver, the team had no desire to inflame another one.
At the same time, Vick was creating a fuss on his own by saying he would like to soon own a dog. The comment outraged the pet community - the Humane Society, which has praised him for his endless stream of apologies, opined that it was too early to consider -and reignited the fervent pro- and anti-Vick camps.
For both quarterbacks, Sunday was all about football. There were no pet-loving protesters at Vick's game, or separation-of-football-and-religion advocates at Tebow's.
With his team barely exhibiting a pulse, with time of the essence, Vick steered the Eagles to three touchdowns rat-a-tat, leveling the score with just over a minute left. With rushes that no quarterback in NFL annals could even conceive of, he scrambled for gains of 35, 33 and 32 yards, and also dashed four yards for a score. His choicest receiver, DeSean Jackson, consummated the rally with a punt return for a TD on the final play. Eagles 38, Giants 31.
Tebow, under the partial direction of quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels, bolted 40 yards for a first-quarter touchdown that was so unlike Vick's dashes to the naked eye - except that it, too, was improvisational, the play having not even been practised.
He scored again on the ground, rushed for 78 yards in all and connected on half of his passes.
Alas, there was no West Coast version of Vick's rescue back east. The Broncos lost to Oakland 39-23.
The performances do not equally impact the standings or add to pro football lore, but they might ultimately speak the same volume about the power of sports to alter attitudes about certain types of people.
Our malice toward accomplished athletes - and folks represented by their images - tends to diminish when they do great things on the field. In their own distinct but similar ways, accomplishments by Vick and Tebow on a Sunday in late December might change how some of us feel toward former criminals trying to do right and the overtly religious trying to follow their conscience.
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Published: December 21, 2010 04:00 AM