He acted cool, calm, collected. Not a trace of nerves, jitters, jumpiness. Surrounded by a throng of sports reporters representing every facet of print, radio and television from coast to coast, he stood directly in front of the podium, just waiting for the inevitable circus to begin.
And then, he asked Florida quarterback Tim Tebow for an autograph.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. An NFL-credentialed member of the media handed his notebook and pen to Jesus in Shoulder Pads from the ground down below to the stage up above and committed unquestionably the most sinister of sins imaginable in the journalism profession.
Somewhat taken aback, yet still smiling the whole time, Tebow obliged the oblivious schmuck before fielding his first question at the Scouting Combine.
"So, Tim, how much did you learn working a week with the Dolphins staff at the Senior Bowl?"
The scene? Surreal. The crowd? Flabbergasted. The quarterback? Unfazed.
Eventually, the Q&A returned to some semblance of normalcy, although rarely does "normalcy" include arguably the most heavily criticized prospect in the history of the NFL Draft commanding the room like Bill Clinton at a town hall. Arms crossed, both wrists bejeweled in rubber bracelets, lightly swaying from side to side, never once did Tebow give any indication there was any place in the free world he would rather be – not Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, not an FCA meeting, not a circumcision in the Philippines – than right where he was, answering questions from skeptical strangers about his throwing mechanics.
Criticized by scouts, sportswriters and secretaries everywhere for his time-consuming delivery, Tebow has vowed to shorten his stroke and make his motion more efficient.
"I'm working on it," he said. "I'm making some adjustments and just trying to improve my fundamentals as best I can, and that's something I felt will improve my game and help me as a quarterback and something that I'm working on a lot."
That being said, this is less a Six-Million-Dollar-Man situation – "We can rebuild him. We have the technology." – and more a trimming of the fat.
"It's more like a tweak," he said. "It's not necessarily changing my whole motion – just the way I'm holding the ball and kind of how I'm getting to where I'm throwing it. That's kind of the biggest problem we've seen, so that's what we're working on the most."
Tebow says he will do all the running and all the jumping and all the lifting he's asked to do in Indianapolis, but he's going to wait to unveil the new-and-improved throwing motion until his Pro Day on Mar. 17 – shocking that he didn't have big plans for St. Patrick's Day instead, right? – in Gainesville. He's also certain to do as many formal team interviews as any of the 330-plus hopefuls on hand for the event. If Friday's performance in front of the microphone is any indication, his stock will only rise ahead of April's draft.
Strong enough of a runner to be a line-pushing fullback, good enough of an athlete to be a pass-catching tight end, maybe even chiseled enough of a specimen to be a hard-hitting linebacker, Tebow doesn't know what uniform he'll be wearing, but he does know he still wants a headset in his helmet.
"I don't know where I'll go," he admitted. "I don't know what's going to happen. I know that wherever I go, whoever drafts me, they will have a kid who is going to give everything to that organization, that franchise, and someone that's going to leave everything on the field every day that I go to work. And that's what I'm going to focus on.
"My dream is to be a quarterback, and I'm going pursue that as much as I can."
Tebow said he would be quite willing to contribute in a non-QB role here and there as a rookie, but even early in his high school career, he was told he couldn't play quarterback – then he set all-time Florida state records for passing yards and passing touchdowns.
"Whenever I get with a team," he proclaimed, "I'm going to do whatever that coach asks me to do. If that's work on what I need to work on for two years, then that's what I'm going to do. But that's not going to be my goal. I want to be the best player I can, so you tell me what I have to do to do that, and then I'll start working on that."
But what if the haters are right? What if he can't make it in the NFL? What if he works harder in the weight room, studies harder in the film room, plays harder on Sunday than Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame and Colt McCoy of Texas, but all of them turn out to be legitimate professional signal callers, as expected, while he falls flat on his eye black?
"I'd do what I've been doing with the rest of my life," said Tebow, "and that's trying to invest in people's lives and run my non-profit organizations and try to get those bigger – to put a smile on kids' faces that most people don't care about and just try to give kids a brighter day. That's what my foundation is all about, is giving kids a brighter day, especially in their darkest hour of need. That's what I'm going to do for the rest of my life, and that's what I'm most passionate about. I'm more passionate about that than I've ever been about football."
And he's pretty passionate about football.
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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
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