It was Satchel Paige, the Negro leagues all-star and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, who once said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
It was hard not to recall Paige’s advice as I watched Tim Tebow, the newest member of the New York Jets, stride to the podium to face the New York media for the first time at the team’s practice facility earlier today. While everyone employed in the team’s front office continues to insist that Mark Sanchez remains the team’s starting quarterback, it was impossible to shake the impression that Tebow clearly had the top job in his sights as he answered questions for the better part of an hour.
If the massive billboard featuring Tebow overlooking the Lincoln Tunnel or the ridiculous new sandwich at the Carnegie Deli wasn’t enough to convince Sanchez that he’s in for the fight of his life if he wants to keep the starting job, Tebow’s performance for the press today should have finished the job. This kid won’t be wilting in the New York spotlight. From the start of the press conference, Tebow was clearly in command, and in command in a way that Sanchez has only displayed in flashes on the field in his three seasons with the Jets.
It wasn’t just the fact that Tebow said all the right things about being a good teammate and accepting whatever role the team had in mind for him, it was the way he carefully sidestepped any one of a number of questions that were clearly designed to trip him up and set off a larger media firestorm. That was the case whether Tebow was asked for his opinion on “hot button social issues” or if he had anything specific to say about the Rev. Pat Robertson and his contention that if Peyton Manning were to get hurt next season, the Broncos would have deserved it.
For professional flacks, Tebow is just about the perfect client. Whether that means he has what it takes to be a successful NFL quarterback in New York is another question entirely. But one thing ought to be clear after today: the New York media is going to be in Tebow’s corner as he sets his sights on Sanchez’s job — something that will clearly play in Tebow’s favor once Sanchez makes an inevitable misstep.
The next time Sanchez checks his rearview mirror, he ought to remember a kind warning from our friends in the auto industry: “Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.”
Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.