Outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on Tuesday, it was not a typical June day. Local and network television trucks staked out a corner of the parking lot and aimed their satellite dishes to the sky. A deeply religious former Heisman Trophy winner trying to find an NFL home was about to take center stage again.
To monitor the situation, ESPN sent anchor Trey Wingo and NFL analyst Matt Hasselbeck to the scene and even they sounded surprised.
“I think a lot of people are wondering why are we here today in rainy Foxborough for what essentially could be, could be a third-string quarterback for the New England Patriots,” Wingo said at the start of an ESPN report.
“Yeah, it’s a great point,” Hasselbeck responded.
When a backup quarterback joining his third team in four seasons arrives for mini-camp, it usually causes more of a ripple than a tidal wave. But Tim Tebow might be the best-known backup quarterback in NFL history. After the Denver Broncos traded him to New York, Tebow spent a tumultuous season on the bench for the struggling Jets. New York cut him, but this week he signed with New England.
Inside the stadium, high above the empty field and vacant seats, the press box was full … really full. The second question of New England head coach Bill Belichick’s press conference summed up the situation.
“Coach, I cover politics for a TV station in New Hampshire, but I’m here today,” a man in the front row said. ”How much of a consideration was the attention that I’m sure you knew was going to come with signing Tim Tebow before making that decision?”
“None. [We] try to do what’s best for the team,” Belichick replied.
Radio, TV, and newspaper reporters from all over the Northeast were there. CNN was there. Even NPR was there. … Oh, wait. That was me. And before long, the famously short-winded Belichick was tired of Tebow talk.
“I think we’ve talked enough about him. We’ll see how he does and just go from there,” he said.
Two hours later, after practice was over, the real excitement began. Gathering at the corner of one of the practice fields, reporters and cameramen bumped and jostled like linemen in a goal-line stand. I wedged my arm between a video camera and a reporter’s head while my microphone cord draped over someone’s neck. The Patriots media relations director set a cone on the sideline and asked the throng to remain behind it. Everyone did … for approximately 2.6 seconds. The pack morphed into a massive horse shoe then became a 15-yard gauntlet.
When Tebow eventually approached, a few reporters violated an unwritten rule and tried to cut him off at the pass. They were quickly condemned with a loud chorus of shouts. After the rogue reporters rejoined the group, Tebow entered the pack. Then, completely surrounded, he spoke.
“First and foremost, I just want to thank the Patriots for giving me an opportunity. I’m very thankful,” the 25-year-old said.
Tebow praised Belichick and starting quarterback Tom Brady. Then after less than a minute … a lot less … he closed his first public remarks as a member of the New England Patriots.
“So it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to working hard every single day and getting a lot better and learning under some great people. So, that’s all I got, but thank y’all so much and God bless. I’m sure we’ll be talking more soon,” Tebow said, just before walking away without taking any questions.
And that was that.
As the pack gradually dispersed there was chuckling, grumbling and mumbling, but one reporter offered a touch of wit.
“That’s showbiz,” he said.