Tebow buzz grows loud in Denver

The last time there was this kind of commotion, it was for rookie QB John Elway.


Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow leaves the practice field following NFL football training camp at Broncos headquarters in Englewood, Colo., Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. Rookies received new haircuts from veterans Saturday. (AP Photo/)

Published: Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 12:50 a.m.

DENVER - Eric Decker knows all about the buzz. He can see it, feel it.

Facts

Tebow held out of Broncos’ game

DENVER — The Denver Broncos are playing it safe with Tim Tebow’s bruised ribs, resting the rookie quarterback in their second preseason game against Detroit.

The University of Florida standout had plenty of company on the sideline as the Broncos were without 16 players, including Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, linebacker D.J. Williams and wide receiver Brandon Stokley.

Tebow missed two days of practice this week after bruising his ribs on the final play of an exhibition game against Cincinnati last weekend. Tebow was crushed on his left side as he scrambled into the end zone for a 7-yard TD.

Hours before kickoff Saturday night, Tebow sauntered onto the field and did some light stretching. He also threw passes before heading back into the locker room.

--The Associated Press

"It's hard to miss," said the rookie wide receiver from Minnesota. "You gotta see it."

He has even heard it.

Decker was Tebow's roommate during Denver's camp that broke up Thursday. Every night, he'd hear the former Florida quarterback turn on the hyperbaric chamber that Tebow sleeps in.

"That thing is buzzing at night," he said. "He sleeps in it every night. When he's gone, I'll slip in it for a couple of hours. It's not for the claustrophobic."

The buzz that Decker dealt with every night is nothing compared to the buzz that you can feel spending any amount of time in the Denver area. It starts when you pull off Interstate 25 onto Arapahoe Boulevard. On the way to the Broncos camp in Dove Valley, there is a huge banner proclaiming a local bar as the official home of the "Tim Tebow Fan Club."

In the official team store at training camp, there are racks of replica jerseys for the Denver starters. One rack each, about eight jerseys per player. Then you get to the Tebow section where there are dozens of racks of his jersey, the NFL's No. 1 seller.

Denver coach Josh McDaniels grins almost every time a Tebow question comes up because they often do, even though Tebow is the third-string quarterback. McDaniels liked Tebow enough to trade up to get him late in the first round of April's draft, but he also knows Tebow's NFL legacy has yet to be formed.

"I don't know if I've ever encountered someone like him," McDaniels said. "The attention and the accolades are for what he did. The things going forward will define how people feel about him, how the NFL looks at him and his teammates look at him.

"He's always going to be a Heisman winner and a national champion. But he's moved past that."

Because Tebow suffered a rib injury in his first NFL preseason game, he was not available to speak to The Sun about his days in Denver, per team policy. He is still in the extended-stay hotel the team used for training camp but is looking to find a place where he, his brother Robbie and friend and business manager Angel Gonzalez can live.

Tebow's Denver teammates speak glowingly about the rookie quarterback. They seem almost relieved that the fans attending Denver's practices are screaming for his autograph and leaving them alone.

"It's crazy," said Jarvis Moss, a Bronco who played with Tebow at Florida in 2006. "It's always been that way since I first met him. I wouldn't say it's a Florida thing because there are a lot of great Gators and we don't get nearly that kind of attention. He's just a mad celebrity.

"I don't really know anybody more popular than Tim. It's almost hard to believe."

Decker has seen it firsthand as a roomie. Although he said the security at the hotel kept any potential stalkers away, he has seen the scene after practices when Tebow signs autographs, and he has answered countless questions about the quarterback.

"He's a fun guy to be a roommate with," Decker said. "Everybody knew about him in college, that he was a great football player and even a better guy off the field. Now that I've been around him, I know it's true. He doesn't get overwhelmed. He doesn't get a big head about it."

The Broncos have seen the Tebow Factor at their camp this summer. On the hillside where fans are allowed to sit through two-a-day practices, what used to be a small crowd has grown as high as 3,000 for some. Before his first practice, fans were camping out in the parking lot at 6 a.m. Florida banners pop up on occasion, and there are as many shirts that sport Florida orange and blue as the Denver orange and blue.

"I went to Florida from 2002 to 2005 so I feel like he's followed me out here," said Lindsey Summers, who was wearing a Gator shirt at Wednesday's practice. "It's great to see him on the Broncos."

Denver officials point to the spike in TV ratings in the fourth quarter of the Broncos' first exhibition game.

"That doesn't happen in NFL preseason games," said team spokesman Patrick Smyth. "But that's when everyone knew Tim was going in."

Smyth is a UF graduate as well, migrating west after his time was up in 2004. He has seen the Tebow phenomenon close up and has marveled at the way the rookie has handled everything, including a request for autographs from media members in the locker room in Cincinnati.

"He even signed for them. He handles everything so well," Smyth said. "Not much fazes him."

Denver is used to a Gator connection. The team has drafted more players from Florida than any other school, and the city sports the 300-strong Rocky Mountain Gator Club.

But it's rarely seen anything like this. In a city where basketball player Carmelo Anthony is the big star and he's making noises about leaving town next year, a star was needed.

The last time there was this kind of commotion, John Elway was the rookie quarterback and the Denver Post carried stories about where he was getting his hair cut.

"I think there's a connection already with Tim Tebow and the way he's acted ... the type of person he is. He fits perfect into this community," Elway said. "I think that's why everyone is excited about him, because they kind of feel like you know he's the next son of Denver. That's how I felt when I came in."

Tebow has certainly stayed busy. In addition to training camp, he has signed deals with Nike, EA Sports, Gatorade and Jockey underwear. He has a deal with Palm Beach Autographs and has appeared at several signing shows.

Tebow made national news when his head was shaved by his teammates. But Tebow always seems to be making national news. At Florida, he was the face of college football. In the NFL, he was the big story of last weekend when he scored a meaningless touchdown on the game's last play.

Still, it's what Tebow does on the field for the Broncos that will define his NFL legacy. No matter how many jerseys are sold or how many autographs are signed, there are vultures waiting to label him a bust as soon as possible.

Tebow may end up as the primary backup this year because if the Broncos want to use him on any special plays he can't be the third quarterback. That player will be inactive and could be used only in an emergency.

"Tim's progress has been normal," McDaniels said. "We kind of knew where he was at before we drafted him. It's one thing to be mentally capable and another to be able to run the offense against NFL defenses. Every rookie goes through a learning curve."

Even if he's not like every other rookie.

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