Thursday, January 19, 2012
WALLA WALLA - I promised myself I wasn't going to weigh in on the Tim Tebow debate simply because I don't believe the sports page is the proper forum in which to argue positions on religion.
If there are others in the media - and there certainly are - who believe it is their place to either commend, condone or condemn the Denver quarterback for his openness in giving thanks to God for his achievements on the gridiron, so be it.
I for one have no problem whatsoever when Tebow takes a knee on the sidelines and says a silent thank you after making a big play. And if he chooses to proclaim his religious beliefs in a postgame interview, well, isn't that what Christians are directed to do in the Bible?
That said, I'm not of the mind that God intervenes in football games and determines their outcome. I'm of the mind that there are very likely players on the opposing team who are just as deserving of God's grace as Tim Tebow.
And as for the idea that all of this attention is God's way of working through Tebow on some higher level, I simply don't know. As our president said about something or other during the last campaign, "That's above my pay grade."
But that's as far as I'm willing to go on the religious aspects of this discussion. I'll keep my promise to myself.
However, when the critics, whatever their motive, decry Tebow's legitimacy as an NFL quarterback, well, that's another matter altogether. The idea that Tebow isn't worthy because he doesn't fit the prototype QB mold is sports snobbery at its highest level.
It's true that he's not the classic drop-back quarterback who stands tall in the pocket and fires the ball deep down the field with deadly accuracy, a la Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. And he's not the evasive, quick-footed type like Michael Vick was or Cam Newton is.
No, Tebow's not pretty.
Some of his passes are so far off the mark that you think he's throwing the ball away when he's really not. And he fumbles way too often. You're not going to mistake him for Johnny Unitas, that's for sure.
But from Sammy Baugh to Bart Starr to Joe Montana to Brady, Tebow has what all of the greats have. A strong competitive drive and a nose for winning.
He led his Florida high school team to a state championship, and he was part of two collegiate national championships at Florida. And this past season he transformed the Denver Broncos into an NFL playoff team with an even brighter future.
I searched my memory trying to recall a quarterback who reminded me of Tebow. The first to come to mind was Trent Dilfer, the one-time Seahawks QB who led the Baltimore Ravens to a 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV following the 2000 season.
Dilfer was a big guy, 6-foot-4, 247 pounds, comparable to the 6-3, 245 Tebow. He wasn't a great passer, but he was efficient. And he kept defenses honest with his ability to run with the football, even in traffic.
But then an even better example emerged: Joe Kapp.
Unless you were around to follow the old Pac-8 Conference in the late 1950s, the Canadian Football League in the early 1960s or the Minnesota Vikings in 1968 and '69, you might not recognize the name. As a player, at any rate.
Kapp retired as a player in 1970, shortly after he had been dubbed "The Toughest Chicano" in a Sports Illustrated cover story. However, he remained visible as a television and motion picture actor during the 1970s and then returned to football in 1982 as the head coach at the University of California, his alma mater.
The BC Lions, for whom Kapp had starred during his CFL days, made him their general manager in 1990. And although he didn't last the season, his brief tenure was notable in that he was credited with signing Doug Flutie, who would become a Canadian football star for the next decade.
I remember Kapp best for his two seasons in Minnesota.
He was brought in to replace Fran Tarkenton, who had been traded to the Giants, and he led the Vikings to their first playoff appearance in 1968 and to their first Super Bowl the following season. He introduced the battle cry "40 for 60" - 40 players giving 100 percent for 60 minutes - and there wasn't a game when Kapp wasn't the most toughest-minded player on either side of the ball.
Like Tebow, his passes weren't always pretty. But also like Tebow, Kapp was a winner who usually found a way to get it done, often as not by taking off up the field and crashing into the first linebacker he could locate. At 6-2 and 225, Kapp was an oversized quarterback 40-plus years ago.
However, one of the best NFL trivia questions of all time asks: Who holds the record for the most touchdown passes in a single game? Nobody would think of Joe Kapp, but in a 1969 game against the Baltimore Colts he tossed seven of them to share the record with Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk, George Blanda and Y.A. Tittle.
In other ways, however, Kapp was the anti-Tebow.
When he retired from pro football in 1970, the feisty Kapp was engaged in a contract dispute with the NFL that resulted in an anti-trust lawsuit. Although Kapp was never awarded damages, the case was later revised and a new system was instituted that led to a multi-million dollar settlement between the league and its players association.
While coaching at Cal, Kapp promised his players he wouldn't touch his favorite beverage, tequila, until the Golden Bears reached the Rose Bowl. They still haven't, and word is that Kapp has resorted to drinking rum.
During his final year there, after a frustrating 50-18 loss to Washington, Kapp unzipped his pants in front of the Seattle media. He was told by school officials that the Big Game against Stanford the following weekend would be his last as head coach.
With the fans in Berkeley chanting "Win One for the Zipper," Cal stunned the 16th-ranked and Gator Bowl-bound Cardinal 17-11 and Kapp was carried off the field by his players.
And finally, just last November in Vancouver, B.C., Kapp and one of his old Canadian rivals, Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive lineman Angelo Mosca, were caught on camera swinging canes at each other during the CFL's annual alumni luncheon.
Seems the skirmish dated back to the 1963 Grey Cup Game, won by Hamilton in large part, according to Kapp, because of a "dirty play" by Mosca that knocked the Lions' star player out of the game.
Yes, Tim Tebow's quarterback skills might resemble Kapp's. But God knows he would never behave like that.