As long-awaited debuts go, Tim Tebow's first game with the Denver Broncos could have gone much worse.
With more than a few of those hugely popular No. 15 jerseys dotting Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, Tebow trotted onto the field late in the third quarter Sunday night to the sound of many boos. And understandably so, given that the rookie quarterback had enjoyed some special moments in Florida's bowl victories against Ohio State (for a national title) and the University of Cincinnati (in his college finale last January).
Tebow responded with a short first-down completion, followed moments later by a perfect spiral far downfield — that was dropped by receiver Matthew Willis. If Willis makes that catch, the next day's headlines might look very different. But still, Tebow ended the game by leading a touchdown drive — scoring himself, of course, on a 7-yard run as time expired. His passing numbers: 8 of 13 for 105 yards and no interceptions, but with that notable drop plus another that would have made those totals much better.
He did that playing with mostly backups, against Cincinnati's defensive subs. In other words, you couldn't watch that game and project what the future might hold, this season or whenever.
But if you were around Colorado in 1983, you probably still remember what happened 27 years and 10 days before Tebow's debut. That was the drizzly Friday night of Aug. 5, 1983, when John Elway first took the field at Mile High Stadium. Just for some added perspective, the No. 1 song then was The Police's "Every Breath You Take," the now-neanderthal Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) had just been released — in Japan, with its U.S. arrival still two years away — and President Ronald Reagan was on the verge of announcing that the military soon would begin allowing civilian use of, no kidding, the Global Positioning System.
It was the third quarter, Seattle had a 7-3 lead, and the crowd of about 55,000 went bonkers as Elway ran out to the huddle, surrounded by first-teamers. His initial play was a handoff, and a holding penalty made it first and 20 at Denver's 25. But the next 10 plays were like watching a movie. A few short passes, then a picturesque 38-yard strike to star receiver Steve Watson, who didn't drop it. Elway's next pass was a preview of what would someday become legendary, a bullet through heavy coverage to Rick Upchurch for 16 yards to the Seattle 2. Sammy Winder ran for the touchdown, and that's when we columnists in attendance learned the true meaning of delirium.
There were no more points scored in that 10-7 Denver victory, but it didn't matter. Elway was 5 of 6 on that first drive, throwing a wet football in the rain, something that he had much trouble doing later (he was usually better in the snow). He finished that night completing 10 of 15 for 89 yards with one deflected interception.
The difference between 1983 and 2010? Simple. Elway was nurtured by his father Jack, literally from childhood, to become a pro quarterback, with plenty of NFL-oriented coaching and technique development. Tebow wasn't. Elway still had habits to break and much to learn about pro defenses, as does Tebow. But the level of scrutiny and expectation that Elway endured was unfathomable. Tebow faces far less pressure, at least for now.
Obviously, the Broncos have bigger concerns: injured running backs and offensive linemen, plus uncertainty at wide receiver and linebacker. Those issues overshadow the fact that quarterback Kyle Orton looks much better than he ever did last year. If Orton can maintain the same mental focus, sharpness and consistency into the season (camp reports have been glowing), that might relegate Tebow to no better than No. 2 and maybe a direct-snap weapon in certain situations.
Then again, depending on how fast those running backs heal, Tebow might inherit a different role.
You're reading it here first: At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he honestly could become the power runner in the goal-line offense. Not quarterback sneaks, but tailback blasts. Why not?
And that's one thing John Elway never did.
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