I recognize that many sports fans have probably heard about enough about Tim Tebow these past few months. His name was resurrected again this past week, however, when another guy who generates significant media attention, Peyton Manning, signed as a free-agent with the NFL Denver Broncos.
This of course let to a chain of events that saw the much-publicized Tebow traded this week to the New York Jets, but only after some back and forth negotiations which kept the story alive even longer.
But while people may be tired of hearing about Tebow (and probably Manning, too!), I have to say something: The Leafs could use the hockey equivalent of Tim Tebow right now—and for the next few years.
Here’s what I’m talking about. I recognize that Tebow is not a pure NFL-style passer. To a lot of football purists he’s not even much of a quarterback. And for some, he is more about hype and being a larger-than-life media personality (and a guy who is arguably very charismatic) than actually being a quarterback. But I’d rather focus on the qualities I do see in a guy like Tebow, as it relates to what a lot of us have talked about in this space in recent weeks when it comes to the Maple Leafs.
What have we mentioned here? Well, we’ve stressed that the Leafs lack toughness, including mental toughness. We lack grit. We don’t seem to have enough (any?) players with true leadership skills. We work pretty hard but we don’t seem to compete quite hard enough every night. As a result of all of the above (and other issues, too), the Leafs don’t win enough.
So a lot of us feel that we need guys who have won and know what it takes to win.
Well, for those who have followed Tebow’s career, the positive attributes I listed above pretty much describe him. While not a veteran presence (which is also on our “needs” list and something we would dearly love to have here in Toronto), he has most of the other requisite qualities that we have been talking about. He’s a tremendous athletes. He works hard—Gary Roberts hard, I sense—in training. He is constantly looking to improve his skill set. He is tough, and takes on all comers. Perhaps most importantly, the guy is a winner. He was a tremendous leader at the University of Florida, and, playing one of the toughest positions in all of professional sports this past season—at the highest level there is—he overcome his flaws and somehow (with some luck, yes) managed to will his team to victory far more often than it deserved.
And, he took his team to a playoff spot. He didn’t do it alone, to be sure. But he was highly instrumental in the success the Broncos achieved, largely because he helped others believe in themselves—and believe that the Broncos could win.
I remember years ago, when I was maybe 20 years of age, I was still playing competitive baseball in the summertime at a reasonably (for Canada, in those days) good level. I’ll call it "semi-pro" to make myself feel better. We were playing in a major tournament, and to get to the finals, we had to upset one of the top teams in the event. In the semi-final game, we were getting crushed in the first couple of innings. We had no shot to win. But one of our team leaders, a positive guy, kept saying we’d come back and win the game and get to the championship contest. I remember looking at him and smiling and basically thinking, “Yeah, right”.
Lo and behold, we had a couple of huge innings, and we did, rather remarkably, come back to win the game against an elite pitcher. My point simply being, I guess, that good teams need to have somebody who just believes—someone that leads by actions, yes…but also by encouragement, by picking up others when they are hanging their head. And they lead by just believing their team can succeed—and infusing that belief in others.
So just like my old teammate, and much like Tim Tebow, next season, the Leafs could use a player who instills that kind of belief in his teammates—that they are never out of a game. An individual that makes teammates feel that, when they are ahead, they have the confidence to finish the other team off. And when they’re behind, that they can -and will- come back. A guy who makes even the non-believers start to believe that maybe, just maybe, the team can be better than they think they are and maybe even better than they really are.
I don’t know what precisely a “Tim Tebow” would look like in the hockey world. But someone like Tebow certainly could help the Maple Leafs, eh?