A gaggle of media-types clamored around David Nelson’s locker, and the Buffalo Bills wide receiver knew exactly why he was being showered with attention.
“It’s Tebow time, huh?” Nelson said.
In the thick of a seven-game losing skid, the Bills have a Christmas Eve meeting with the Denver Broncos, and Nelson has an inside track on Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, the most hotly-discussed player in the NFL.
Nelson and he are close friends, and the former has witnessed Tebow mania up close when the two played together at the University of Florida.
“He thrives on people telling him what he can’t do,” said Nelson, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Tebow in the 2009 BCS U.S. college national championship victory over the Oklahoma Sooners. “He’s wired differently, he believes in himself differently than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
These days, any insight into Tebow’s recent success is lapped up eagerly. The second-year signal-caller has orchestrated repeated fourth-quarter comeback wins despite the fact he is completing just 48.6 per cent of his passes with highly-criticized throwing mechanics in an offence that relies as much on his legs (610 yards rushing) as his arm. The outwardly religious 24-year-old frequently drops to a knee in prayer and has attracted a cult following of those who also enjoy “Tebowing.”
Nelson recalls meeting Tebow for the first time, thinking the freshman was strangely overzealous, jumping around and screaming in the weight room with an over-the-top excitement during workouts.
“We were all like, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’ But as we got to know who he was and what he’s about, we realized it wasn’t fake,” Nelson said. “It was really genuine and that’s how he approaches everything in life.”
Tebow heads up the NFL’s second-worst passing offence, as well as the league’s No. 1 rushing offence. With a win over the 5-9 Bills (paired with an Oakland Raiders’ loss at Kansas City) on Saturday, the Broncos would secure the AFC West title and a playoff berth. Denver hasn’t done either since 2005.
The Bills – already eliminated from postseason contention – say Denver’s read-option strategy challenges a defence in the film room to start, and then adds new wrinkles every week. They run many option plays most players haven’t seen since college, mixed in with just enough traditional run plays to keep you honest.
“There’s more option than you ever see from any other team. There’s more quarterback run than you see from any other team, so you have to prepare for all of that,” Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. “It’s the ultimate wildcat package.”
The Bills say a unique challenge this week is the difficulty of simulating in practice the speed with which Tebow and the Broncos will run their offence.
“He’s a guy that can spin and shake out of tackles, lower his head or try to run over you,” linebacker Chris Kelsay said. “He’s a running back at the quarterback position.”
You can’t prepare for Tebow’s overwhelming intangible: his resolve. On a Tuesday teleconference, Tebow continually deflected from himself to talk about the blessings of Christmas and a young amputee he will fly to Buffalo as his guest at the game this weekend. He spoke in a tone so uniquely upbeat it made one believe he was smiling luminously through every minute of the call, likely every minute of his day.
“I really love playing the game and, hopefully, that I really care about my teammates, and ultimately care about being a good role model and setting a good example for the next generation,” Tebow said. “But also because I care about what I do out there. I give my heart and soul and try to be a great teammate.”