Earlier this week I went to a New York Jets open practice in Florham Park, NJ. I brought with me a copy of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species with the plan being that I get Tim Tebow to sign it. It would have been a fun little bit of Gotcha! shmournalism, I suppose. Sadly, I was not successful.
It was not for lack of a good spot. I actually was in perfect position for autographs and passed up on multiple signatures from other Jets like Joe McKnight (super nice and affably making fun of his McDonald's rep), Sione Pouha (a large individual) and Aaron Maybin (also screaming "Tebow" along with fans) to name a few. But I didn't call out for them, or any other Jet but Tebow. I wanted to preserve a blank slate for Tim to sign. Fate would have other plans, however.
If you've never been to an open practice, you should really check it out if you can. More so than in a game or during pregame workouts, you really get to see how important timing is to just about everything football players do. It is also free. The flipside, though, is you are surrounded by kids yelling and screaming, weirdo superfans and a peanut gallery of comedians heckling players for drops, etc. On the whole, it's not a terrible way to kill an hour and a half, though.
I found myself right up against a fence watching the first and second team offenses run redzone drills. I was directly behind most of the beat writers and some guy who apparently created a power ranking of all the beat writers (I'm not sure if this is purely a Jets thing, or NY media in general, or something else) was trying to get the attention of some of them.
He got (Jets beat writer for The Daily News) Manish Mehta's attention and Manish came over to say what's up. He had heard about and read the power rankings (he was 3rd!) and the conversation flowed on to all manner of Jets related topics. "Sanchez and Tebow only talk on Wednesdays," "David Harris is a good dude—his wife's a genius" etc. It was a very pleasant conversation. Then up sauntered Daily News colleague and New York Jets whipping boy Gary Myers.
"Are you giving a dissertation, or are you watching practice?" Myers was wearing a shitty red polo shirt tucked into shittier stonewashed and frayed jeans. I think he was giving him a hard time, sort of a big timing the guy who is big-timing with the fans kind of vibe, but If you are familiar with Gary Myers, you can't be sure. Manish, to his credit responded that nothing was going on, it was special teams practice now but "...wait, is Tebow practicing with special teams now?" Nope. Mehta and Myers left the power rankings guy and went back to watching the very important June 14 practice.
As practice winds down the Jets, like most teams I assume, get ready for the swarming hordes. Staff members have boxes of Sharpies at the ready, camera crews discuss where to get the best shots of Tebow signing autographs, security guards are all of sudden conspicuous. Then the players break huddle and all Hell breaks loose.
Kids are pushing and screaming. Parents are pushing and screaming for their kids. Steakheads who should know better but clearly don't are pushing and screaming for themselves. The players just sort of disperse and walk to a spot in the crowd as some intern hands them a Sharpie. The quarterbacks, Sanchez and Tebow anyway, were directed to a special VIP section of sorts—a set of bleachers inside the fenced-in section us riff-raff were behind. Steakheads were having none of it.
I had a decision to make. Do I stay where I am, on the fence, but probably 40 yards away from Tebow and the QB's hoping that he would make his way down, or do I try to go to Tebow, lose my spot, and hope that I can push my way through what looked to be an enormous crowd of (mostly) children? I stayed where I was. As amusing as a Tim Tebow signed copy of the theory of evolution would be, I was not going to be pushing kids out of my way. I also began to get cold feet.
Tebow seems like a good enough guy. It's not entirely his fault that media has to wear kneepads when talking about him. Would he notice the book (I had it opened to the title page)? Would he get what I was trying to do and get pissed about it? Would he just sign it and then I'd feel like a jerk because he melted my heart with his dreamy eyes and hypnotic smile? I wondered all these things as he slowly made his way down to our section. But he was taking a different path; he was peeling away from the fence and heading for the various Jets employees also on the field, including GM Mike Tannenbaum and family. Just a few minutes before, Tannenbaum's kid actually sprinted back to his dad yelling "I got Tebow! I Got Tebow!"
Tim continued signing balls, helmets and random papers but was nowhere near the fence now and the moment was escaping me. Out of nowhere, I yelled. I drove from the Bronx to New Jersey to watch this practice by myself, so I had probably not uttered a word in, say, four hours. "Tim! Come on!" Is all I could muster. He didn't hear me and continued on inside, while signing things for small children.
The grand design ruined, I figured I might as well get someone's autograph and Aaron Maybin had just come back to my spot. So I shoved my book in his face and that's when some flack said the signing sessions were over. All the players headed inside and I was left with nothing. But not for long.
Having seen and scoffed at Captain Jet earlier in the day, there he was again in all his ridiculous splendor. Captain Jet, as far as I know, is the bootleg Jets superfan most of you don't know. He's no match for Fireman Ed's notoriety, but he is just as ridiculous. He was posing for some pictures with other fans who recognized him and I figured, what the hell.
"Hey, can you sign my book for me?" It's impossible for me to convey just how embarrassed I felt at the idea that someone within earshot thought I actually wanted this man's autograph. Captain Jet obliged and signed my copy of The Origin of Species. I felt safe in not caring if Captain Jet were judging me because I was not wearing a cape and a model 747 on my head. He wrote "Best wishes from the Captain."
I did not get Tebow. I did, however, get a reminder that evolution is, after all, just a theory.