FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Greeted by a media crush worthy of a movie star, matinee idol, or world leader, Tim Tebow met the New York media on Monday for the first time since being signed as a backup quarterback by the New York Jets.
Fourteen TV satellite trucks outside the team’s training facility and over 100 reporters, photographers and TV crews gathered inside dictated the news conference be held on the Jets’ indoor practice field.
“It’s such an honour for me to be here and I‘m so excited about being a Jet,” Tebow said after strolling across the field to the podium. “I‘m looking forward to my time here in New York and my time as a Jet. I‘m so thankful that they wanted me.”
The constant clattering of camera shutters lent a background rhythm to the 32-minute session with Tebow, who led Denver to an improbable playoff berth last season but became expendable when the Broncos signed free agent Peyton Manning last week.
An inspirational leader on the field, despite being the National Football League’s lowest-rated passer, Tebow has won a huge following for his openly devout Christian beliefs as much as for his heroics on the gridiron.
“I‘m someone who’s very outspoken about my faith. I’ve never been ashamed of it,” said Tebow, who wore a conservative gray suit and Jet-green tie to the news conference.
”I don’t think all the attention is because of my faith, but sometimes it may add a little to it. I‘m pretty sure I‘m not the first athlete who’s gotten on his knee and prayed. But somehow it’s known as ‘Tebowing’ and I‘m not sure why.
“But it’s not all a bad thing. If people are somehow talking about prayer or talking about my faith, then I think that’s pretty cool.”
Tebow faced the cameras and questions without any major team officials present as the Jets owner and coaches were in Florida for this week’s NFL meetings.
The wildy-popular quarterback, who won a Heisman Trophy and two U.S. college championships at the University of Florida in his hometown of Jacksonville, comfortably navigated through the questions.
Asked if he felt pressure coming to play in New York, Tebow said: “None, actually. I don’t really feel too much pressure. I play better when I have more on the line. That’s always something I’ve tried to thrive on.”
Tebow said he looked forward to playing with the Jets partly because of good relationships he had already forged with coach Rex Ryan and starting quarterback Mark Sanchez.
He remained even-keeled even when asked about comments by Hall of Famer and former Jets quarterback Joe Namath, who called the trade for Tebow a publicity stunt by a team that shares its stadium with the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
“I really don’t take offense to that. I don’t think it’s true,” said Tebow.
“It just has more to do with some coaches believing in me and hopefully that I‘m an OK football player and I‘m just excited that I have an opportunity to be a Jet and that I can add something to this football team.”
Tebow said he was also looking forward to doing local charity work for his Tim Tebow Foundation after spending last week in Alabama helping to raise money for a cancer foundation.
“My foundation is something extremely important to me and something that I‘m very proud of,” said Tebow. “So proud of the 650 orphans that we support. Or the hospital in the Philippines that we are building because ultimately that is more important than anything I do on the football field.”
Asked about taking advantage of marketing opportunities such as the huge billboard of him for an underwear maker looming over the Lincoln Tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York under the Hudson River, Tebow laughed.
“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” he said, blaming the exposure, which did not include a full body view, on his agent.
As for trying to spread his faith in what became a divisive Jets clubhouse this past season, Tebow said: ”The greatest way to share the Gospel is by acting it. By them seeing who you are as a person.
“It’s not by what I say, it’s by how I act and who I am as a person, your integrity, your character and how you go about handling yourself.”
“I‘m just trying to be the same person and continue to work hard, continue to treat people like I want to be treated. Continue to do what’s right and do my best. Other than that, I really won’t worry about too much else.”
Editing by Frank Pingue