The Tim Tebow show is under way at Jets camp
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Two memorable images from the first public practice of Jets camp:
Dozens of fans surrounding the field wearing crisp, new Tim Tebow shirts, then Tebow himself running off the field after practice in a rainstorm, shirtless and photographer-ready.
Second thing first, naturally: Tebow was not scheduled to speak to reporters Saturday, but coach Rex Ryan did, and he was uncharacteristically flummoxed when asked about the inevitable tide of Tebow pictures and video to come.
Initially he joked, "I'm not quite there yet,'' referring to his own 100-pound weight loss, adding that he did not want to scare away fans fearful that he might doff his shirt.
Then he said, "Hey, you can't stop that,'' meaning the cameras' focus on the backup quarterback. Finally, sounding a bit exasperated, he added, "Follow anything you want.''
That was evident in the large crowd that turned out before being thinned by the rain. There was a wide assortment of replica jerseys on fans' backs, but those wearing No. 15 were out in force, and they appeared to skew younger and more female than others.
As the checkout line grew in the packed merchandise tent during the storm, a woman asked a worker where she might find Tebow shirts cut in women's styles.
This was at 9:18 a.m.
All was not entirely rosy for Tebow among the Jets faithful. There were some misfired passes, perhaps attributable to wet footballs, and hecklers got on him at times.
As he scrambled on one play, looking for a receiver, someone yelled, "Throw it, Tebow! Throw it!'' Then, "Wow, you completed one!'' Another mocked one of Tebow's long non-spirals.
Asked if he heard the Tebow hecklers, Ryan said, "I thought it was some of the defensive guys. No, I'm just kidding.''
One fan made a silent statement with a T-shirt that read, "Mark 6:15. Thou Shalt Have Only One Quarterback.''
Mostly, though, fans were supportive, both pre-existing Jets fans who came because they always do and those who came specifically to see Tebow. For some, both motivations applied.
"When they got him, I said, 'Wow, twofold, I can watch my Jets and watch Tebow all the time,' '' Gordon said after shooting video of Tebow while wearing a No. 15 Jets jersey and a Florida hat. "I was thrilled. I was excited.''
Matthew Frank, who grew up in Hewlett and now lives in Manhattan, seemed typical of many long-time fans in attendance, saying that although he disapproves of the disproportionate attention paid to Tebow, he thinks he can help in football terms.
"Sanchez needed someone in there to put some pressure on him,'' Frank said. "[Mark] Brunell was not the guy. [Kellen] Clemens was not the guy. We'll see a new Mark Sanchez, I hope.''
For many others, the pilgrimage to Cortland had little to do with the Jets and everything to do with Tebow.
"I think he gives people a reason to believe,'' said Joannie Bedient of Delhi, N.Y., who wore a Tebow shirt and was with her son, Justin, an avid Cowboys fan.
"My son, who's 14, used to have a Michael Vick shirt. Once Vick got in trouble, I said, 'No more.' I do believe these athletes are role models. I think Tebow, besides his religion, sets a wonderful example for kids.''
Rebecca Traver of Binghamton wore a replica Tebow jersey from his Florida days. She is a Cowboys fan who now is rooting for Tebow. "He was a good college quarterback,'' she said, "and I like his beliefs and I like that he's not afraid to show his beliefs.''
Ed Venturini was in the tent with his 7-year-old son, Kevin. Both were wearing Tebow Jets shirts even though both are Broncos fans. Said Venturini, "He's a winner.''
John Dolny of Albany said he was a Jets fan even before he put on his new Tebow shirt, but he was all for the new addition.
"I'm rooting for the guy,'' he said. "He's just a good guy.'' How so? "Overall, as a person. He's very determined, a very hard worker, good morals. Just a great guy overall.''