Curran: The embraceable Tim Tebow


Curran: The embraceable Tim Tebow

FOXBORO -- While fans and cognoscenti seem split on the merits of Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos quarterback, there is less vacillating among people who actually play the game.

Asked earlier this week what "jumps off the page" about Tebow, Vince Wilfork launched.

"What doesnt jump off the page?" Wilfork demanded. "Hes a tough, tough guy to prepare for."

Wilfork's been in the league since 2004. He went to the University of Miami. He's seen the best players in the world, the most athletic incarnations of quarterbacks in the league's history. His comments on Tebow resonate.

"You can speak all day about how tough he is and how elusive he is but it really doesnt matter until you face him," said Wilfork. "When you face him you really figure out this dude is like a running back. Hes a big dude, hes a strong guy. I knew we talked about it, but man I didnt realize. Just the physical-ness, his stature, hes just a big guy. Ive seen some big guys over the years but hes probably one of the biggest and one of the toughest and probably one of the strongest that Ive faced. Not taking any credit from anyone else but hes a special guy. We know that and Im pretty sure they know that."

His physical stature for the position is unique. So too is his style and running ability. His leadership skills are once-in-a-generation. Yet relative to other NFL quarterbacks, his passing production is horrific.

Still, the respect for him seems universal.

The media makes a big deal out of who he is. His teammates don't seem to begrudge that at all because of how he is.

I asked Broncos coach John Fox this week about how his teammates have responded to the attention lavished on a player who hasn't -- to borrow an NFL phrase -- peed a drop in the league.

"Thats a dynamic that really happens outside our building," said Fox. "You know I think Tim definitely has all the respect in the world from his teammates. Like you mentioned earlier, he doesnt seek it, you really dont have any control over it. Weve good guys in that locker room and theyve got great respect for him and hes got great respect for his teammates and we havent had any issues."

Before the Patriots played at Denver on December 18, I watched Tebow throw at least 200 balls before the game. He wasn't warming up. He was working to improve even as game time loomed. That effort is what can short-circuit any eye-rolling about him not deserving attention. That and the fact he doesn't court the attention.

I asked if he ever feels awkward around teammates because of the 24-7 Tebow coverage.

"I dont think so," he answered. "I think because for the most part its not like its something that you ask for. ... They know you care about them and thats what matters. You care about going out there and trying to get better every day and trying to be a great teammate and then I think the rest doesnt I dont think they see the rest. Hopefully they see you as a friend and as a teammate and the rest of it is something that we laugh at and sometimes they make fun of you for."

Nobody gets ribbed more than Tebow these days. Lampooned. Mocked even. But the manner in which he deals with criticism and cynicism takes the air out of the attacks.

He may not be a transcendent player. But he's a transcendent person and the way teammates and opponents respond to him is proof of that.

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”