Column: Broncos fans may regret calling for Tebow
They were Tebowing in Israel and Australia, from on top of horses and on the bottom of swimming pools. Protesters on Wall Street paused to make a pose, and so did someone underneath the billowing dress of Marilyn Monroe's statue in Chicago.
There were Tebowing babies, Tebowing dogs and even a Tebowing surfer.
And on Sunday there was Tim Tebow himself on one knee before the Denver Broncos played the Detroit Lions, striking the prayerful pose that has become an online sensation.
The craze was good for a few laughs. Watching Tebow play was enough to make Denver fans want to cry.
They chanted for weeks to give him the ball. They rode a wave of euphoria when he finally did get his chance and somehow pulled off a late comeback from 15 points down against Miami.
And, then, in his first start at home this season, all they could do was watch in silence as Tebow showed what most in the NFL suspected — that he isn't nearly ready for prime time.
Unfortunately for Tebowers everywhere, he may never be.
The hope was that Tebow would start to begin feeling comfortable in an offense the Broncos tweaked to show off his talents. The reality was he looked as lost as he did the first 55 minutes against the Dolphins, except this time there would be no chance of a comeback.
The Denver faithful were already filing out of the stadium by the time Tebow threw an interception that was returned 100 yards for Detroit's final touchdown in a 45-10 romp that was even more lopsided than the final score indicated. Good thing, because they might have been tempted to boo the offensive ineptitude of their men in orange, and they have way too much invested emotionally in Tebow to begin booing him now.
It wasn't just the ugliness of the day, though, that had to bother Denver fans most. It was the realization that Tebow is such a work in progress that it may be years, not games, before he ever begins to pay any dividends.
John Elway acknowledged almost as much before the game, telling ESPN that Tebow was raw yet had the kind of intangibles that makes winners in the NFL.
"The bottom line is we've got to look at his football ability and is that going to give us the ability next year, two years, three years, four years down the line to be competitive and compete for a world championship," said the former Broncos star who now runs the team's football operations.
Elway got a good look, assuming he didn't avert his eyes as a day that began somewhat promisingly for Tebow quickly turned ugly. It probably won't be the last look, because the way Denver's season is going there's no reason to trot Kyle Orton out there again.
But Elway couldn't have liked anything he saw.
Tebow's mechanics looked terrible, his passes even worse. He held onto the ball too long, and the Lions weren't about to let him make a mark with his feet. He was sacked seven times, and his two turnovers were both converted into touchdowns.
No need to bore you with any more stats because the numbers don't even come close to explaining just how bad things got in a game that was over well before halftime.
About the only positive was both Tebow and his teammates were still playing hard long after any chance to win the game had passed.
"It's very disappointing," Tebow said. "But this is going to test us and our integrity and character. We'll bounce back and have a great week of practice and get ready to go try and get a win next week."
That would be on the road against Oakland, a game in which the Broncos have little choice than start Tebow. They made the mistake of caving into fan pressure by making him the starter last week in Miami, and giving up this quickly would be a de facto admission of that mistake.
The question then becomes, are the Broncos willing to give up the entire season on the hope that Tebow will grow into a legitimate NFL quarterback? Do they need that long to figure out the future of a player who, though great in college, has shown no indication he will even rise to mediocrity as a pro?
Or are they content to trot him out there week after week because he's become a celebrity figure that a lot of people really like?
Indeed, while Tebow's NFL pedigree may be suspect, his celebrity pedigree isn't. So many people were paying homage to Tebow in the last week that the website Tebowing.com was overwhelmed with pictures from around the globe with creative takes on his moment of prayer.
None were any more creative, though, than Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who struck his own prayerful pose after knocking Tebow to the ground in the first quarter.
Proof enough that even a bad day for Tebow is still a good day for Tebowing.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg