On Thursday night, Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, did his best not to throw the ball, running an SEC-style offense against the New York Jets, one of the better defensive teams in the NFL and coming off an emotional thrashing at the hands of the New England Patriots.
But the Jets struggled offensively, keeping the Broncos in the game. And in the fourth quarter, with time ticking down under a minute, Tebow slashed his way through the defense and into the end zone, giving the Broncos a 17-13 win, his fourth win in five starts, and just the latest entry into his late-game exploits.
It doesn’t make sense. Despite his good intentions and obvious ability to inspire and lead, Tebow should not be beating anyone in the NFL. He has an arm made of butter, and his best ability, to scramble and run, is usually stopped cold by even the most pedestrian defenses in the league.
But he keeps winning. It doesn’t stand up to reason.
And neither did Sam Horn.
I came to baseball as a six-year-old, and the legend of Sam Horn was already fully established. As a no-field, all-hit slugger for the Pawtucket Red Sox, Horn was called up to Boston in 1987 and provided hope to a slumping team.
It must have been thrilling and, at once, improbable. He was a big, happy lug of a guy, a 6’5” brute who had already been relegated to the designated hitter’s role at 23. The Red Sox were struggling through a pennant hangover, saddled in fifth place and 12½ games back of first, when they called Horn up on July 25.
He struck out in his first at-bat, but two trips later, he homered to break a 5-5 tie against Seattle. The Sox won 11-5.
He homered 13 more times, or once every 11.14 at-bats, that season, and each one seemed to give the Sox a lift. He was a dead fastball hitter, putting all his might into every swing. He was not trying to make contact and move runners along. He wanted to wallop. And that year, he did.
Of course, the magic ran out. The next season, Horn got into just 24 games, homering twice. 1989 saw 33 more games, and no balls hit out of the park. He was released by the end of the season. In the long run, reason and probability caught up with Horn.
History is not on Tim Tebow’s side. Of all the greats, near-greats and consistently good, few began in the face of adversity and carried through with such gusto compared to their poor early game importance. Tebow has. He has forged his legacy as a leader and has brought the Broncos back to respectability. But like every other aspect of his game, how long he continues to is up for debate.
Despite the intentions of every team in the AFC West to miss the playoffs, one of them has to. It might be the Broncos, it might not. Tebow might not be more than a one-season wonder. In these cases, reason and probability rarely lose in the long run.
But he should be appreciated nonetheless. Like Horn and others before him, he’s providing hope and excitement to a team on the skids. He’s doing the impossible, struggling through three quarters before turning defenses into hapless units, darting through lost safeties to find the end zone.
Like Horn, he keeps defying the odds. Like Horn, he may not be able to keep it up. The House typically wins these bets. So we should enjoy the show while we can, and Tebow should let it ride for as long as he’s here.