Sponsorship is vital in many sports.
In golf, unless a young player is sponsored -- i.e. has someone covering his expenses while he trains to become a pro -- he has little chance of making it to the PGA Tour on his own. Same in boxing. Someone has to sponsor the potential fighter, paying his way while he trains for the real money fight.
In the world of the NFL, sponsorship is just as critical.
Take the curious case of Tim Tebow in Denver. I believe he has a place in the NFL, but that can only happen when he has the sponsorship of an entire organization. Right now, Tebow does not have that. Why? Let's take a step back in time to remind ourselves how we got here.
This time last year, Tebow was the bright shining star representing the future of the Broncos. Leading up to the 2010 NFL Draft, Tebow was a lightning rod. Every team analyzed him and whether you believed he would be a first-round pick or not, everyone had a passionate opinion. As an organization, Denver seemed unified in its love for Tebow, trading up to take him 25th overall, higher than most people expected. At Tebow's introductory press conference, current general manager Brian Xanders was full of smiles, praising the work of Tebow and explaining why he would be a perfect fit for the Broncos. Then-head coach Josh McDaniels also was in full support of Tebow, sharing his vision of what offense would maximize his skill set.
Teaching Tebow the system in Year 1 was critical, as well as working on his mechanics and his ability to make accurate throws. No one claimed it would be easy, and no one thought Tebow could be an instant starter. But with his highly acclaimed work habits and competitive spirit, Broncos brass believed it would be just a matter of time before Tebow emerged as Denver's football future.
The critical mistake the Broncos made was not understanding the total commitment they were making as an organization to Tebow. Drafting Tebow was not like drafting any other quarterback. Everyone, from the owner on down, should have been aware of the totality of the pick.
That wasn't the case, though. Seven months after picking Tebow, the Broncos fired the man who drafted him, McDaniels, and then others in the organization came forward to say they never liked the pick. Firing McDaniels is clearly the owner's right, but constant changes in the coaching staff means constant changes with the players. When McDaniels walked out of the building, so did Tebow's sponsorship. Any chance Tebow would become the next star quarterback in Denver was gone.
The Broncos wanted to make their fan base happy, and former Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway wanted to become part of the organization. Turning the football operation over to Elway accomplished both. Elway is now making all the decisions needed to guide the fortunes of the franchise. With Xanders remaining in his same job, the Broncos tried to pick up the pieces from a horrible season.
Elway was not even on the job one day when the Tebow bailout started. When asked about whether he viewed Tebow as the future of the Broncos, he honestly answered that he was not his kind of quarterback. But later he retracted that statement, expressing warm support for Tebow. Elway has every right to build this team in his vision, his style and his understanding of what it will take to win a Super Bowl. His lack of commitment to Tebow is not a criticism, but rather a reflection of how little understanding the Broncos had when they allowed McDaniels to make the pick.
Instead of finding a potential young offensive head coach who could see a vision for Tebow, Elway chose an established NFL head coach, John Fox, to bring stability and leadership to the organization. Don't blame Fox for not jumping on the Tebow train, either, because it was not his pick. Fox retained Mike McCoy as the offensive coordinator, which, in theory, would be good for Tebow but in reality does not appear that way. McCoy was not a part of the process that led to drafting Tebow and has no vested interest in the pick.
Without total team sponsorship, the Tebow pick won't work in Denver. It won't work because no one has a vested interest in making it work. It won't work because Fox wants to win now and worry about the future later. No one remains who will lay claim to agreeing with the pick. The only guy who did was fired in December.
Now, Tebow is fighting for his back-up job with Brady Quinn. He's clearly not in competition with starter Kyle Orton, who the front office put on the trade block before camp started. However, Orton now is firmly in place and has since been told he won't be traded. Does anyone in Denver know what they really want to do?
Back in 1987, when working for the 49ers, coach Bill Walsh traded for Steve Young, a journeyman quarterback with the Buccaneers. Sending a mid-round pick and some of Eddie DeBartolo's cash, Walsh saw something in Young that warranted his sponsorship. Most of the league laughed, including some in his own organization. But Walsh had a vision, a plan, and the owner's full support to make the trade, as well as the time to determine if his vision was correct.
What happened to Young is what has to happen to Tebow. He will need to get traded to a coach willing to sponsor him and an owner willing to give the coach time. It won't happen in Denver, because there is no one who wants to be burdened with the pick -- including the ones in the room when the pick was made.