Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of one of the most- talked-about moments of the Jets' 2012 season, something that told you all that was wrong about last year's dysfunctional mess.
It was just after practice had ended. A heavy rain was falling as Tim Tebow ran shirtless from the practice field, sending photographers into a tizzy to capture the moment.
Twitter blew up with images of Tebow's "Chariots of Fire" moment, and the blogosphere quickly followed suit. Talk-show debates ensued about whether Tebow did it on purpose to draw attention to himself. What should have been an ordinary practice suddenly turned into another circus-like moment in a season filled with them.
A year removed from that, things are far more tranquil at Jets training camp. Where throngs of fans once descended on this small upstate college town to watch every move Tebow made on the practice field, not very many people have checked in on the Jets this year. In fact, on the first day of practice, the number of fans in the stands overlooking the defensive drills could be counted on two hands. I'm serious.
Across the field, maybe a couple hundred people watched Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith go through their paces. Maybe.
Say what you will about the lack of talent on this year's team -- and all you need is one look at the hordes of unrecognizable faces on the roster to know there isn't much here -- but at least this is all about football.
Tebowmania has moved to New England, where Bill Belichick is getting a firsthand glimpse of the attention magnet that is Tebow. While fans and TV cameras descend on Foxborough to watch his every move -- the Patriots have drawn more than 27,000 fans for the first three days of camp -- the Jets toil in virtual obscurity.
All the better for the Jets, a team with few expectations this season, at least from outside the locker room.
The Jets foolishly thought they could weather the scrutiny that Tebow's presence created last year, mostly because they had had a generally positive experience with Brett Favre in 2008 before his right biceps snapped in two after the Jets were 8-3. But they grossly underestimated Tebow's impact on the team, particularly embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez, who played so miserably with the polarizing backup quarterback hovering nearby that he's now in danger of losing his starting job to rookie Geno Smith.
But with no Tebow distraction, and with the Darrelle Revis contract drama over after the injured All-Pro cornerback was traded to Tampa Bay, the Jets can concentrate on X's-and-O's without unnecessary outside distractions.
That's not to say others won't surface; already there are questions about whether coach Rex Ryan has final say over GM John Idzik when it comes to choosing a starting quarterback. But for now, this is all about football, and not team-crushing dysfunction and infighting.
Even Braylon Edwards, who spent less than a month with the Jets near the end of last season, could see how toxic it had become.
"It's a much different squad in that last year, it was about every other thing," Edwards said. "There was so much going on. Distraction. That's what that team was about. What's going on with this guy? What's going on with this situation? Who's in charge of the team? What is this player talking about that? Does this player not like this player? There was so much BS going on, it made you sick at the end of the day."
And this team?
"This year, everybody is about themselves," he said. "It's more everybody paying attention to what they need to do to get this organization rolling on all cylinders. I sense everybody wants this organization to be better. Are we going to the playoffs? We don't know. All we know is if we can control what we were brought here for, we'll be a better organization moving forward."
Chances are they're not going to the playoffs, not with a roster bereft of playmakers and unproven at quarterback. But you need to establish the right environment for eventual success, and at least there's a sense that the Jets understand the task at hand.
This year Idzik has set a proper tone with his straightforward, no-nonsense approach, and the players and coaches are responding the way they should.
"[Idzik] wants everybody to be focused on the field, in the classroom, in the weight room, and that's it," Sanchez said. "He doesn't say much. It's just, 'Hey, go put it on the film, we'll evaluate it, we'll play the best players we got, we'll go win as many games as possible.' It seems like a simple formula, but sometimes when you get back to basics, that's the most effective way to do things."
Hey, it's a start. It might not translate to a playoff run right away, but at least this team will be about football, not sideshows that destroy locker-room chemistry.