Making comparisons is how we attempt to draw connections, or just make sense of two loosely-related items. We know that apples are much different than oranges, but two peas existing simultaneously in the same pod are very much the same.
Tim Tebow is not an apple, orange, or a pea, and we’re not even sure if he’s a quarterback either. But we can say one thing confidently, and we’ll say it over and over again: he’s a lot like Bobby Douglass.
The Tebow/Douglass comparison isn’t a new one, and it’s existed since Tebow was drafted. But now that he’s made seven career starts the sample size we can use to gauge Tebow and actually quantify this grand cross-generational inference is growing. Like Tebow, the Chicago Bears starter in the early 70s was left-handed, and he played in an era that Tebow’s currently trying to imitate, a time in football history when having a quarterback in name only was a far more common practice.
And like Tebow, Douglass was a college star whose transition to pro football was difficult. Douglass lasted 11 years, and he started every game in a season just once.
The connection between Tebow and Douglass seems almost too easy, and even easier than the Vick/Tebow connection, although that connection doesn’t seem nearly as accurate now. While Vick is still highly mobile, athletic, and is overall a unique quarterback because of his ability to run, his late-career renaissance has led to a more balanced quarterback.
Yes, Vick broke Douglass’ single-season record for quarterback rushing yards during his final season in Atlanta (Douglass had 968 with the Bears in 1972, while Vick had 1,039 in 2006). But between 2004 and 2006, Vick’s completion percentage was a mediocre 54.8, and last year that number rose to 62.6. During his 2010 comeback year in Philly Vick also had his lowest rushing attempts (100) during a season in which he started at least 12 games.
Tebow is currently existing somewhere between the early-career Vick–the Vick who only had 61 more completions than pass attempts in 2002–and Douglass, and he’s far closer to the latter than the former. The difference between Tebow and Douglass is that with the exception of last week’s eight attempts, Tebow’s actually been allowed to release a football from his hands occasionally.
Over his four starts this year Tebow’s averaged 23.8 pass attempts per game, which is significantly more than Douglass’ 14.2 during his 1972 season when he set the quarterback rushing record. Still, Tebow’s attempts per game are easily last among any quarterback who’s started a game this season, and what matters more is if the ball reaches its intended target.
In that category, Tebow is ahead of Douglass, but they’re both well below the level of any reliable arm. Tebow’s at 47.6 percent in his seven career starts, while Douglass completed just 43 percent of his passes throughout his career. However, Douglass’ accuracy was worse in 1972 and 1973, the two seasons in Chicago when he received his most career starts (14 in ’72, and 12 in ’73 when seasons were 14 games long). That’s when he completed just 42.3 percent of his passes, and 37.9 in ’72.
So we’ve established that they’re both putrid passers, with Tebow’s version of putrid being a notch or two above Douglass’. But where the two quarterbacks are strikingly similar is their willingness and desire to run. As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this week, 308 quarterbacks have had at least 40 rushing attempts in a season since the merger, but only one quarterback has had more rushing attempts in a season than completions.
That was Douglass, and rather unsurprisingly the season was again ’72, when he had just 75 completions while carrying the ball 141 times. That was his extreme, though, and in the following season he had 81 completions and 94 rushing attempts. In four-and-a-half games as the Broncos’ quarterback this year, Tebow’s completions and rushing attempts are dead even at 47 apiece.
What Tebow can or will become remains very much undetermined, but this little history lesson shows that even during a time when the ball was moved far more frequently on the ground, there was a rigid boundary for the success of the running quarterback. Tebow is foolishly hailed as a winner, and an athletic specimen who’s more football player than quarterback, more runner than passer.
The last guy to fit that description went 16-36-1 in his career, and his name was Bobby Douglass.