FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Don't get Tim Tebow wrong.
As one of the most competitive athletes you'll ever see at any level of any sport, he'd like nothing more than to play a more significant role in the Jets' offense as they continue down the stretch in a long shot bid for the playoffs. But even if he never takes a snap the rest of the season, there won't be the kind of profound sense of disappointment and frustration you might expect.
"I don't judge my success in life as a football player," Tebow told me Thursday in the Jets' locker room. "I don't judge my self-worth as a football player. Football is something I love. It's a fun career deal, but it's not what I want to do with my life, because I see football as a game."
Sure, Tebow wants to play more, and it bothers him that he hasn't been in a game since Nov. 18 because of a rib injury. The guy played for two national championship teams at Florida and led the Broncos in a stunning run to the playoffs last season. So yes, he wants to do more than stand on the sideline and cheer on his teammates.
But this is where Tebow differs from a lot of other players, especially those who put so much importance on what happens on game day.
"If you do base your life on how many touchdowns you score, how many championships you win, then when you have a setback, then when you have an injury, you're not playing, or something goes wrong, your self-worth goes down," he said. "But it shouldn't be based on what you do on a football field. It should be based on who you are as a person."
What Tebow is more interested in is affecting other people's lives in a meaningful way. He's grateful he's able to be a professional football player and have a wider platform to impact others.
"I'm so blessed to play it, and I love it and I don't take it lightly," he said. "But the greatest thing about football is the opportunity to interact with people's lives. For some reason in today's society, people look up to football players and you have a voice. And it's because of that voice you have the opportunity to impact people's lives.
"If I wasn't a football player, I couldn't go in the hospitals and put a smile on a kid's face," he said. "If I wasn't a football player, I couldn't go into prisons and have the inmates show me respect and let me preach to them. If I wasn't a football player, I couldn't do those things. As much as I dream about being a successful NFL quarterback and have fun and how much fun last year was, none of it's the same as impacting people's lives because my goal and vision as a person is about what I can do to affect people's lives through my faith and also hopefully character."
No one can be sure of Tebow's football future. The Jets don't see him as a viable starter and might not keep him after the season. And who knows how many other teams would give him a chance at quarterback; last year, only the Jets and Jaguars were suitors in trade talks with Denver.
But Tebow is sincere when he says that these matters are of secondary importance in his life. Would he love to play more? No doubt. But his bigger-picture view of life and his deeply held religious faith allow him to look past issues that might consume other players.
"I see life bigger than just how much I'm making, how much your face is being seen because people, so many times in today's society, they see success as how much money I'm gonna make, how popular I can be, what type of fame I can have," he said. "I've been blessed to have some of those things, but none of them give me satisfaction. The only thing that gives me satisfaction is my relationship with Christ and impacting people's lives.
"It could be just putting an arm around a sick kid and saying, 'God loves you and I just want to sit here and hang out and play with you.' That doesn't take away from my competitiveness or being as good a football player as I can be. I think you have to see the bigger picture, because for me, that puts everything in perspective."
Twenty snaps or no snaps, Tebow knows this much: Playing football is what he does, not who he is.