Russia beckons for Tebow

Tim Tebow, the former quarterback of the New England Patriots, may play several games in the Russian American Football Championships. Source: AP

Tim Tebow, the former quarterback of the New England Patriots, may play several games in the Russian American Football Championships. Source: AP

Moscow’s American football players would be happy to have the NFL quarterback join their league, even if he makes more than the entire team combined.

The life of Tim Tebow has always seemed perfect for a Hollywood blockbuster.

He has overcome every setback in his path - the homeschooled kid who became a high-school quarterback, won the Heisman Trophy and became a sensation in the NFL despite his curious, rather slow throwing motion.

Now Tebow is in the penultimate act of this movie script. Left stranded as a free agent, now is the moment either for a dramatic reversal of fortune, another challenge overcome in style as he storms back into the NFL, or for the movie to take on the dispiriting air of Mickey Rourke’s performance in “The Wrestler.”

Tebow’s insistence, made clear on Twitter, that he wants to be nothing but an “NFL quarterback” has reportedly led him to turn down offers to switch position, but he could now be off to new frontiers entirely.

“We have offered him $1 million for two games,” Moscow Black Storm owner Mikhail Zaltsman told RBTH. “I talked with him personally and he wanted to go.”

Zaltsman’s plan is for Tebow to fly into Moscow for the Black Storm’s semifinal against the Moscow Patriots in the American Football Championship of Russia on Sept. 28, sweep the team to victory and then win the final.

Just one obstacle stands in the way, Zaltsman says - Tebow’s agents. “They’re thinking of using him as a motivational speaker,” he said with a sigh. “They don’t want him to play football.”

Perhaps surprisingly for a team owner in a league even most American expats in Moscow have never heard of, Zaltsman is prepared to play hardball with Tebow. “He says that this is his top choice, but from what we know, it is his only choice,” Zaltsman says.

Just being linked with Tebow is good PR for the Russian league. Were he actually to come over, Tebow would be by far the highest-paid player in a largely amateur competition that has no website (it uses a social networking page aptly titled “Rookies” instead) and where the record crowd for a game is about 2,000.

One thing in its favor, though - no NFL-style rules stopping him from writing Bible verses on his eye black.

Black Storm already has several American players, but one of the Russians on the roster says making the team is often simply a matter of being available on game day - “The coaches say: ‘Oh, you’re here. Why don’t you play?’”

Many of the teams have identities lightly adapted from their NFL counterparts - the Black Storm’s logo resembles that of the Green Bay Packers, while the league also boasts the Nizhny Novgorod Broncos.

If Tebow comes, “I’d be right there to greet him,” said former University of North Carolina fullback Bobby Rome, who as starting quarterback for the Moscow Patriots would face Tebow in his first game.

“My advice to him would be to just have fun,” Rome told RBTH. “They’re great guys, great athletes, and they’re underestimated.” Tebow won’t have everything his own way though.

“The bigger question is why would [the Black Storm] need a Tim Tebow … to stop Bobby Rome,” he said.

However, Rome admitted it was highly unlikely Tebow would come to Russia because “that would make a lot of [NFL] teams more apprehensive about signing him.”

Rome declined to say how much he and the league’s few other pro players are paid, but said it was far off the sums offered to Tebow. “I wish I got offered that kind of money,” he said.

Tebow grew up as the son of Christian missionaries, and in multiconfessional Moscow he could preach his faith and football simultaneously.

It could only be a matter of time before kids all over Russia’s nine time zones are Tebowing in prayer.

James Ellingworth is a Moscow-based sports writer.

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