Deep divisions remain among Denver Broncos fans about whether or not Tim Tebow can take the reigns as the team's lead quarterback following a comeback against Miami Sunday night.
The evangelical athlete has split Denver's football population in half ever since he joined the team after the 2010 NFL draft. On one hand are supporters who admire his Christianity and past college successes. On the other side are detractors who have continued defending Kyle Orton, the team's quarterback since 2009.
"The quarterback controversy is the oldest argument in sports," said John Bena, founder and editor of MileHighReport.com, a Broncos fan site. "If you have a group with several different motivations within it going in different directions, you'll have strife. That's what's going on here."
The team's top quarterback slot is even less certain following Sunday's 18-15 upset. The Broncos currently sport a 2-4 record, the worst in their AFC West division. With both Tebow and Orton taking turns at changing the team's fortune, fans aren't sure who will shake things up with half the season over.
"I think Tebow has the potential to be a very good quarterback," said Jacquie Beckvermit, a Berthoud, Colo. native. "He is very good at scrambling and running the ball but he hasn't quite gotten the hang of his actual job, throwing."
"Orton tries too hard to make the unbelievable play which usually ends in a turnover," she continued. "He is good under pressure and can get rid of the ball quickly, but I don't think his place is in Denver."
Bena said a frequent criticism of Tebow is that the former University of Florida Gator can't play at the game's professional level. Though Tebow's certainly gifted, he said many football fans feel he lacks a star player's passing ability.
"A lot of people saw his success in college and thought it would just translate," Bena said. "But last week's game was 55 minutes of bad football and five minutes of magic. He looked lost at first. He proved his naysayers correct and his fans correct last Sunday."
Orton, meanwhile, has his own detractors. Kirk Davis, a Colorado Springs resident who also blogs for MileHighReport.com, said droves of Denver fans resent Orton for three seasons and counting of underperformance. This animosity is so deep, he added, that this season's training camp opened with fans booing Orton as he practiced.
"I believe that Kyle kind of caved in to the pressure that every Broncos quarterback faces," Davis said. "The fans expect each new quarterback to be John Elway and that is the standard they set. The city of Denver never wanted Kyle Orton and all he ever wanted was a chance."
Bena said though neither player had delivered divine performances, Tebow's true potential remains unknown. Citing Tebow's 2010 rookie year and this season's lockout, he said the young athlete had yet to play a regular season with professional experience behind him.
"The lockup hurt Tim Tebow more than any other NFL player as he had such a big learning curve in front of him," Bena said. "He needs to grab hold of this win and run with it. He's on a ten game audition right now."
Jack Kantelis, a 2011 graduate of Colorado Springs' Colorado College, said he believed Tebow still had adjusting to do transitioning from college football to the NFL. The fact Tebow remains devout in his faith despite the pressure on him, he added, is amazing.
"Tebow's playing style was for an aggressive Florida offense that could protect him in a way that is impossible in the NFL," Kantelis said. "I think Tebow should be given a few more chances to start before people write him off immediately. It is remarkable to see such devout belief and absolute piety in a professional athlete of the world today."
Describing himself as a football "realist," Bena said he too appreciated Tebow's strong character but also wanted a consistently victorious quarterback. He said having drafted Tebow as their No. 1 pick in 2010, the Broncos should go the distance with their star and see where it takes them.
"I'm not selecting Tim Tebow because he's a good guy off the field," Bena said. "He's undoubtedly a great man. I'm selecting him as I think he could do the best on the football field."