Denver quarterback Tim Tebow sits on the bench during a loss to San Diego… (Barry Gutierrez / Associated…)
It disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived, the breathtaking autumn spectacle vanishing into mile-high air on a March afternoon.
The Denver Broncos gathered for a news conference regarding a ballyhooed quarterback Tuesday, yet nobody dropped to one knee or raised his hands to the sky. There were no miracles here, only old-fashioned football men, Peyton Manning joining John Elway on a national stage filled with Hall of Fame pedigree and stocked with championship promise.
And completely absent of You Know Who.
One of the most magical, mystical runs in NFL history is indeed, resoundingly, resolutely over.
Tebow Time is up.
Five months after he captured a nation's imagination by pulling out five last-gasp victories and throwing a bomb that gave the Broncos an overtime playoff win against the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Tebow has seemingly lost everything.
His job as a Broncos starting quarterback is gone, the NFL's least accurate passer benched for one of its greatest passers ever.
His job as a Broncos backup quarterback is gone, with team vice president Elway now jumping at the chance to rid the organization of its most polarizing presence.
His chances of becoming a starting quarterback on another team are slim, because most NFL personnel people don't believe that games can be won with the sort of higher powers that Tebow's presence seemed to summon. Frankly, most NFL personnel people think he stinks.
His chances of becoming a full-time backup quarterback aren't great, either, because who wants a season swirled by the quarterback controversy winds that will accompany his every sideline twitch? Remember, this is a guy so beloved that in Denver folks bought billboards urging the Broncos to play him. And if his team doesn't employ the sort of running attack that works for Tebow, how would he ever get on the field?
His best opportunity is to go to a place like New England where there will be no quarterback controversy with Tom Brady, and where he can be morphed into a tight end or fullback or short-yardage guy by an innovator like Bill Belichick.
I wish it weren't true, and maybe it won't be. But right now, the sad irony is that for Tim Tebow to continue to exist as a contributing member of an NFL team, he probably has to stop being Tim Tebow.
When Elway was asked about Tebow at Tuesday's news conference, he pulled another spinning helicopter move.
"You know, we're going through the process now . . . we're going to look at that obviously," Elway said of Tebow. "'Having been in this game for as long as I have, and seen as many friends as I've seen in this game that all of a sudden, they're here one day and gone another . . . this is a tough business."
When Manning was asked about Tebow, he began by being politically correct, then became one of the first quarterbacks in history to talk about an active teammate practically in the past tense.
"If Tim Tebow is here next year, I'm going to be the best teammate I can be to him," Manning said. "If other opportunities present themselves for him, I'm going to wish him the best, because he's going to be a great player wherever he is."
Think about that. This is a guy still under contract, a guy who led the Broncos to their first division title in six years, and both the team vice president and new quarterback aren't even pretending that he's still wanted there.
The only thing more crass would be to immediately strip the Broncos facility walls of the Tebow action photos that were hung last season. Wait . . . they've already done that.
According to Elway, Tebow took the news in his typically classy style, reportedly saying, "We're talking about Peyton Manning, and I understand exactly what you're doing."
Of course he said that. Of course Tebow would bid farewell with the same odd dignity that accompanied his every clomping move.
He might understand, but I don't. I don't want to understand.
I don't want to face the truth that a quarterback can engineer four consecutive game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime and still get canned because he wasn't pretty enough. I don't want to believe that if this same quarterback makes religious gestures and references afterward, everyone forgets his victories and focuses on his beliefs.
Do you know that in the last five years, Peyton Manning has exactly one more playoff win than Tim Tebow? Just saying.
I want to believe that this country's premier sport is big enough for both the Peyton Mannings and Tim Tebows. I want to believe that there is room not only for skill born of ability, but skill born of inspiration, and strength born of faith.
I want to believe that, in a sport littered with all the second chances given former convicts and miscreants and Hall of Fame quarterbacks with troublesome necks, Tim Tebow will get more than just one.