(USA TODAY) Tebowmania died on a frigid New England night in early 2012, just six days after it reached its apex.
Less than one week after throwing an 80-yard overtime touchdown pass to stun the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Tebow completed nine passes in a 45-10 divisional playoff loss to the New England Patriots. It would be the last game he'd ever start as an NFL quarterback.
Now, less than two years later, Tebow has signed a three-year deal with ESPN that will make him the face of the sports empire's new SEC Network. His statement makes it seem like it's a temporary stop before he resumes his football career, but no one, not even Tebow, can truly believe that. A normal 26-year-old could take a year off to find his career path. A 26-year-old professional athlete can't. Once you're out, you're out.
Tim Tebow's football career is over. But that's okay, because after two years of searching, he's found the place that will know how to use him best.
If Tebow's most heroic on-field exploits with Florida and the Broncos were broadcast on CBS, his legend was shaped by ESPN. The network hyped him, praised him and mythologized him. ESPN spent more time talking about a backup quarterback than they did in talking about future Hall of Famers. They nurtured his reputation and then, depending on your opinion, ruined it through overexposure.
They'll be better with handling his broadcast career. Tim Tebow will become a talking head and he'll be good at it. ESPN is underrated in their ability to mold television personalities. Tebow is personable, handsome, chipper and loves football. That's as good a base as any.
Tebow's ultimate goal shouldn't be getting back on the field, it should be in getting people to forget that he ever was on one. With his pedigree and ESPN's support, he could be a ubiquitous presence on sports telecasts. He'll be associated with the network's college football coverage, like a Kirk Herbstreit or Lee Corso. In 20 years, the newest generation of fans might not even know Tebow played. They'll just think of him as that guy with the flat top and cheery voice on ESPN. It's the same way youngsters of today are surprised to hear John Madden is a Hall of Fame football coach. "The video game guy?!"
On that magical night in Denver, when Demaryius Thomas was streaking to the end zone, Tim Tebow couldn't have imagined he'd find himself out of the NFL and working for ESPN just two years later. The turnaround from playoff winning quarterback to New York Jets cast-off to unwanted role player was dizzying. It can't be what he expected or wanted.
But, years from now, Tebow might appreciate how quickly his fortunes turned. Instead of morphing into an old has-been bouncing around the NFL, he's a young television personality with a limitless future. ESPN is the best spot for him.
Tim Tebow finally figured out what he's going to do after college.
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