FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Tim Tebow got his first New York close-up Monday.
And he handled it all with the same cool approach — smiling, polite, composed — that has won over so many football fans around the country.
Speaking at news conference in the Jets’ field house, because the media crush so great the session couldn’t be held in the team’s normal press room, the headline-grabbing New York backup QB went out of his way to play down any conflict between himself and starter Mark Sanchez.
“Me and Mark have a great relationship,” Tebow said. “We’ve been friends the past three years and have already texted back and forth. We are going to have a great working relationship and I think we’ll have a lot of fun together.”
Acquired last Wednesday from Denver, the exciting but flawed quarterback is coming off a season of incredible comebacks with the Broncos, taking them from a 1-4 record to the playoffs. The Jets are hoping he has more surprises left in him.
“Hopefully, by me being here, we can be a little bit better,” Tebow said, decked out in a gray suit and a light green tie. “I think I can add something, and that’s my hope and prayer.”
Tebow’s new club threw him a quick challenge on Monday, sending him out alone to take questions at what was probably the biggest news conference ever for a second-string NFL player. Not a problem. Tebow spoke in a measured, upbeat tone for more than half an hour.
“I have bosses, too, and they wanted me to stand up here and talk to you all,” Tebow explained, grinning, “so I can blame them.”
Coach Rex Ryan, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson were not in the building. They were down at the NFL meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., far away from the wild scene at the team’s headquarters with more than 200 members of the media. There were no teammates there, either, although Tebow said he has spoken with several of them already.
“Ultimately, I’m just going to be myself and just have fun with it,” he said.
While Ryan and Tannenbaum insist Sanchez is entrenched as the first-string quarterback, Tebow will also see plenty of time on the field and certainly much more of the spotlight.
Ryan suggested on Sunday that Tebow could be used at a position other than quarterback. He kept referring to Tebow as a “football player,” his ability not limited to QB.
“I don’t see Tim just holding a clipboard,” Ryan told a group of reporters while in Florida for a meeting of NFL team owners. “He’s going to be playing for us. There is no doubt.”
Ryan added: “There won’t be a better wildcat quarterback in the game. Is that his only role? I don’t believe that. We’ll see.”
Tebow said first and foremost he’s a quarterback, and that’s his hope and dream, but “however I can help the team, I am open to it.”
The newest Jet has already helped his team get some attention. While the club claims the trade for Tebow was a football-related move, it was also marketing gold as the polarizing QB has occupied the back — and, in some cases, the front — pages of the New York-area tabloids. And that’s just weeks after the Giants won their second Super Bowl in four years.
Legions of fans have been snatching up Tebow’s green and white No. 15 jersey. The famed Carnegie Deli in Manhattan already has a sandwich named after him, and Jockey has a digital billboard ad outside the Lincoln Tunnel — on the New Jersey side — with the underwear company saying it supports “Tebow & New York.”
He laughed when someone asked if the perception was correct that the Jets’ reasons for signing him were more about things that had nothing to do with football.
Tebow also briefly spoke about his strong Christian beliefs, something that has made him much more than just a football star. He said his faith is the most important thing to him, but he didn’t want that to be the focus on Monday. The quarterback did think it’s funny so much has been made of “Tebowing” in the last year.
“I’m pretty sure I’m not the first athlete who has gotten on a knee and prayed, but it’s known as ‘Tebowing,'” he said. “I’m not sure why.”
It’s been a whirlwind of a few weeks for Tebow, who just last month was declared Denver’s starting quarterback going into this summer by John Elway. Not long after that, Peyton Manning was suddenly in town and Tebow was told he could get traded.
So much for “Timsanity” in Denver. Well, it has hit Broadway in full force, making “Linsanity” and the New York Knicks’ sensational Jeremy Lin seem like a distant memory.
Manning was introduced as the Broncos’ newest quarterback last Tuesday, and just over 24 hours later, Tebow was on the move, surprisingly headed to New York.
And then, he wasn’t.
A snag in the deal held things up between the Jets and Broncos, the delay centered on a salary advance due Tebow. Jacksonville, once considered one of the favorites to land their hometown star, jumped back in the hunt. But eight hours later, the Jets finally completed the trade, agreeing to pay half of the $5 million Denver owed Tebow. There was yet one more delay before the trade became official, as a technicality required Tebow to sign a rewritten contract which kept him on the Broncos’ salary cap until Saturday afternoon.
But now Tebow is here, a member of the Jets.
“This is where I want to be,” he said, adding that he preferred the Jets over the Jaguars because he was already familiar with New York’s coaches. He and Ryan share the same agent, and they chatted at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis last month.
The Jets intend to make things work with him and Sanchez, who was given a contract extension that included $20.5 million guaranteed less than two weeks ago. He hasn’t commented publicly on the deal yet, but training camp up in quaint Cortland, N.Y., might be a pretty hot spot — especially if Sanchez struggles and restless fans push for more Tebow, creating a quarterback controversy that could last all season.
Jets fans have been decidedly mixed on the trade, with many wondering why the team would add a monster distraction to a locker room that had serious issues last season and was partly to blame for an 8-8 finish. Sanchez’s leadership and confidence were questioned by some players, speaking anonymously in newspapers reports, and the addition of Tebow could cut into the starting quarterback’s ability to regain the room.
“I don’t really pay too much attention to it,” Tebow said, joking that Sanchez warned him about handling the media.
The fact is, whether anyone likes it or not, Tebow is part the New York sports scene. Now the Jets must figure out how to make it a winning addition.
“There’s a lot of pros here,” Tebow said, “and not a lot of cons.”