Here he was, perhaps the most popular player in the NFL, in New York as a member of the Jets and maybe the biggest thing to hit Broadway since Joe Namath himself.
There were billboards outside the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey welcoming Tebow, and sandwiches named after him at Manhattan delis. He also had a legion of fans who followed him because of his strong Christian beliefs, and in New York, he would be able to take advantage of countless media and marketing opportunities.
And then, it all went terribly wrong.
Or, more like it, the whole idea was completely flawed from the start. For Tebow. And for the Jets.
Tebow was waived Monday morning, the end of an embarrassingly unsuccessful one-season experiment in New York that produced more hype and headlines than production on the field. And it all ended quietly, with a three-paragraph news release.
"Unfortunately," coach Rex Ryan said in a statement, "things did not work out the way we all had hoped."
It also left Tebow's football future very much in doubt.
A year after he threw a TD pass to win a playoff game in overtime for Denver, the Heisman Trophy winner with two college national titles at Florida and a nationwide following may have suited up for the last time.
No NFL team has made a pitch to get him. The only nibble so far came from the Montreal Alouettes. They hold his rights in the Canadian Football League and said he come compete for a job — as a backup.
This is the same guy who led the Broncos to the postseason in 2011, but became expendable when Denver signed Peyton Manning as a free agent. The popular backup quarterback was acquired by the Jets in March 2012 for a fourth-round draft pick and $1.5 million in salary. He was introduced at the Jets' facility to plenty of fanfare at a lavish news conference, with Tebow repeatedly saying he was "excited" to be in New York.
It turned out to be one of the few high points in Tebow's stay with the Jets. Along with his shirtless jog from the practice field in the rain during training camp, of course.
The Jets never figured out a way to use Tebow effectively, and he never forced the issue by being a good enough player in practice to make Ryan and his coaches put him on the field more in games.
"If he were to happen to call me, I would say, 'Look, you're starting over,'" former NFL GM Ted Sundquist said. "Tim Tebow needs to redefine who Tim Tebow is, in my opinion. He's no longer a first-round quarterback. "
Even recently retired Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff labeled the way the team used Tebow an "absolute mess."
It all cost Tebow his job, along with former general manager Mike Tannenbaum and former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano — both fired in part because of their roles in what was one of the NFL's messiest quarterback situations in recent memory. It also seriously clouds Tebow's NFL future, which might be extended only, in some people's opinion, if he considers a position change.
"I don't see any team giving him a chance because teams don't want to deal with the following that comes with Tebow," ESPN analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Damien Woody said. "Maybe Canada."
Tebow was brought to New York to be a dynamic addition to the offense, a complement to Mark Sanchez and a merchandising touchdown for the Jets. Instead, he attempted just eight passes for 39 yards and rushed 32 times for 102 yards — and stunningly had no touchdowns.
Through it all, Tebow tried to hide his frustration, but acknowledged late in the season that things didn't turn out quite how he expected in New York.
"I think it's fair to say," Tebow said, "that I'm a little disappointed."
It's an amazing fall for a player whose No. 15 Broncos jersey ranked second in national sales to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers in 2011.
"He seems like a great kid," Sundquist said, "and it seems like he could bring some positives to a club if he can just bury this whole thing about him being in your quarterback mix and just let him be No. 39 on your roster, one of your back-end guys who can go somewhere and help you win."
The Jets and new general manager John Idzik drafted former West Virginia star Geno Smith in the second round of the NFL draft Friday, giving New York six quarterbacks on its roster — and creating uncertainty about Sanchez's future as well.
Tebow, who dropped about 15 pounds in the last few months, arrived at the team's facility in Florham Park, N.J., early Monday and was told he had been cut.
"Tim is an extremely hard worker, evident by the shape he came back in this offseason," Ryan said. "We wish him the best moving forward."
But, where to next for Tebow?
The Jacksonville Jaguars have already ruled themselves out of giving Tebow a happy homecoming. But maybe the Chicago Bears, whose new head coach Marc Trestman tutored Tebow before the NFL draft in 2010, could give him a look as their backup.
Perhaps the San Diego Chargers would take a chance on him, adding to the circus-like atmosphere they'll likely have because they drafted Manti Te'o. New coach Mike McCoy was Tebow's offensive coordinator in Denver during the 2011 season, when the quarterback took over the offense and led the Broncos to comeback after comeback.
What about Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots? They're no strangers to turning discarded players — Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, even Randy Moss — into big-time playmakers, and it would give Belichick another chance to tweak the Jets.
Then, there's always the Canadian Football League, where the Montreal Alouettes hold Tebow's exclusive negotiating rights. But whether Tebow would even be open to a move north of the U.S. border is uncertain.
"If you can find a club that's mature enough to handle it as an organization, then you're going to find the right spot for him," Sundquist said. "What I mean by that is all the media mania and that sort of thing. The club says, 'Look, this is the reason we're bringing him on. We feel he can bring X, Y, Z and A, B, C to the table.' Explain it to Tim, explain it to the media, explain it to your fan base and explain it to your organization."
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