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Broncos' move to start Tebow helps keep fanbase happy

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Disclaimer: We're actually legally obligated to talk Tim Tebow every 7.8 minutes here at NFL Network and NFL.com. I'm not kidding you, there's a guy with a stopwatch who reports you to management if he catches you missing the deadline, even if you're in the bathroom at the time.

I'm going to go in a different direction on "The Story That's Become Bigger than the 2012 Presidential Election" or "At Least Who Will Run for the Republican Party." I'm not going to talk about how well I think Tim Tebow will play for the Broncos, how many yards he'll throw for, how much he'll run for, how much he'll win, how big a star he'll be, or if he's even ready at all. Nope. Instead, I'm going to go inside the Tebow phenomenon with two lessons that we've been taught by going deeper than the "Tebow Time!" headlines. There's two things that stand out to me from the last 48 hours.

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1. Criticism can be more unjustified than you think, and ...

2. Fans are more powerful than you can possibly imagine. (Are you picturing a Tebow hologram in a Jedi outfit? Me too.)

Criticism is inherent in anything we do in sports. Players don't perform, they get criticized. They tank, they get criticized. Sometimes when they succeed, they still get criticized. But there's a handful of players who simply can't get a fair shake in the media and by analysts -- because their criticism is personal in nature. When it was time to talk NFL draft, every analyst had Tebow as a fourth-round pick or worse. No one liked his mechanics, they thought he'd be a bust. On top of all that, his religious beliefs are polarizing.

Then the great quarterback collector, Josh McDaniels, convinced Denver to take him in the first round and what happened? Every analyst was wrong. And they had to eat crow on it. And no one liked it. So they say things like, "I look at the film and I don't see it."

Who looked at Cam Newton's film and "saw it"? Tebow criticism is of a personal nature. What if analysts talked about Newton like they did about Tebow? Can you imagine the aftershocks? It would be termed as racial, and piling on, and guys with cushy network gigs would lose jobs. And it doesn't make sense.

Say I tell you about a first-round pick, Quarterback X (or Quarterback T, which is more apropos), who sat for the first 13 games of his rookie season, then saw action in the final three games of the year. In his first start, he throws for 138 yards and runs for 78. He accounts for two touchdowns and has a rating of 100.5. Then in his second start, he throws for 308, runs for 27 and again accounts for two touchdowns as his team goes on a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to win. Then in his third start, he hits for 205 through the air, 94 on the ground and totals three touchdowns. We're talking about this guy like he's the new Shaq of the NFL. Except it's Tim Tebow, so no one gives him the credit he deserves and instead he sits on the bench, because your new head coach doesn't want to be told what to do, and pundits don't like to be told they're wrong.

In his first action after months of inactivity, he nearly rallies his team to victory, and it's met with a shoulder shrug by everyone outside of the Broncos' fan base.

And Tebow's not the only quarterback this happens to. Mark Sanchez goes to two straight AFC Championships, is lights out in every playoff game he's ever played, and still no one thinks he can be a franchise quarterback. He enjoys a somewhat playboy lifestyle away from the field, and plays for the Jets, who have a huge share of detractors because they don't like Rex Ryan's mouth. So let's pile on the pretty face of the franchise.

Ditto Tony Romo in Dallas. I'm sorry if these players are enjoying success and notoriety you don't think they deserve, but they're doing well no matter how much you try to dissect their play.

"I know he went 20-23 for 350 but those three incompletions were really bad passes." Be fair. Admit when you're wrong, and move on. Because everyone's been wrong about Tebow so far.

And, oh, by the way, John Fox? Give me a break. At least seem like you're excited that Tebow could produce for you. Every time he talks about Tebow he gives you the impression that the last thing in the world he wants to do is play this guy.

It's like he'd rather be going with Craig Morton. I'm not lying to you. It's physically impossible for him to smile while talking about Tebow. After Sunday's near-miracle? He gave us this gem: "No doubt that it (Tebow) sparked our team. But as you looked around there was a lot of other guys making plays." Gee, I'm filled with warm fuzzies, aren't you?

I know Tebow has been foisted upon Fox, but you're 1-4 now, and Kyle Orton has a 12-21 record in Denver. If you throw out that 6-0 start he had with the Broncos in 2009, he's 6-21 over his last 27 games. You have to find out about Tebow before you go forward as a team. First-round draft picks have to play to show you they can or can't do it.

The coach has to at least pretend he likes the possibilities Tebow brings to the organization. Because if he's not excited, how can everyone else be? And it's not like Tebow's a guy out embarrassing the team by fumbling the ball or getting pulled over leaving an after supper club at 3 a.m. (I know, I just always liked the phrase "after supper club." Probably because no one says "supper" anymore.)

Listen to any Fox sound bite on Tebow. He should end every sentence with the phrase "because we have to" and then show his hands tied together with super-strong Tebow-created rope. He's a microcosm of the unfairness Tebow's had to deal with since he entered the league. Even his coach is under the spell of irrational negativity.

Ah, you thought I forgot about the fans' aspect I promised, didn't you? (You can insert your best "My _____ have forgotten about the fans for 30 years!" joke here.) If you ever think fans don't have power, just look at what happened in Denver this week. How Tebow ascended despite pushing up against everything I just outlined. But eventually, what the fans want has to occur.

I remember talking with a former Major League Baseball general manager a few years ago who got canned by his high-profile team. And he told me something that really shocked me. He said that when it's an overwhelming desire for the fans of a team to want something, that thing must happen, and you have to be O.K. with it.

 

Whether it's the firing of a GM, the manager, the head coach or the demotion of a quarterback -- it's immaterial. If the fans are in a frenzy for it, the team has to do it. That's because you have to keep your fan base. So the GM got fired. And he understood. And now Tebow gets promoted because the Broncos' fans are the only ones who wanted it. It's nice to see democracy in action. And yes, selfishly, I'm glad even Brady Quinn got some positive fan spillover publicity by flying to his fiancee's side as she rehabs from surgery. "Yeah, no worries Brady, this big Tuesday announcement won't affect you. Tell Alicia that I said 'Hi.'"

But this is not just about fans helping to pull the strings for your team. Do you want to go in a different direction? You can get LeBron James into the NFL too! He has more than 2.6 million Twitter followers and he's been having fun tweeting about possibly playing in the NFL with the NBA in a lockout. Now, do I take him seriously? Of course not. He's bored and having fun staying relevant while the NBA season fritters itself away. (Just as an aside, who would be better in the final two minutes of a game, LeBron or Romo? That's a hard one.)

But, and it's a big but, if suddenly LeBron was deluged with requests to go play by his followers and fans, how great that would be? He'd go do it. Yes, it would be a publicity stunt and wouldn't go very far, but athletes so desire to stay in the spotlight nowadays they'll do whatever fans want them to if that's a way to stay top of mind. It's such a cluttered landscape that if you disappear from public view for a month it's like you never existed. It's why it's easy to get stars of all walks of fame to do reality shows and commercials and -- gasp -- internet chat shows! In 2000, winning a championship was the No. 1 way to be current. Now, it's being featured on the front page of Yahoo! for getting in a social media spat with another player. Athletes will take any portion of the spotlight we want to give them.

So fans, remember, you have great power. But with great power comes great responsibility. Use it wisely whether you're blogging about Peter or Preston Parker.

See Jason Smith on NFL Fantasy Live, airing Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET on the Red Zone Channel, and Tuesday-Friday on NFL Network at 2 p.m. ET and 12 a.m. ET/9 p.m. PT. He writes Fantasy and other NFL pith on NFL.com daily. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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