JACKSONVILLE Tim Tebow's NFL career began in his hometown Sunday, the much vaunted quarterback returning to Florida in the colours of the Denver Broncos and while he played little, he was the center of attention.
Named the backup to Kyle Orton, Tebow took part in just two plays as quarterback against the Jacksonville Jaguars, running the ball a yard on each occasion, the first coming on just the third play of the game.
The former University of Florida standout and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, who also lined up once as a wide receiver but was unused on the play, said his debut was a learning process.
"I had the opportunity to listen to the coaches, and watch Kyle out there and to be on the field and see it first hand and just try to take everything in," he told a group of reporters who surrounded him as he left the locker room and largely ignored his more experienced team mates.
"Obviously I'm competitive and I love playing games, I love being out there but for me right now, it is about learning, I am just trying to improve every day."
In a tight game, won by the Jaguars with a fourth-quarter touchdown, it was not surprising that Bronco's head coach Josh McDaniels chose not to risk his rookie more.
McDaniels said using Tebow to run the ball was a strategy he might have used more if it had delivered results.
"It is part of the game plan. If it gives you an advantage, then great, if it doesn't then you don't use it too much more and we didn't," he said.
Tebow's contribution on the field may have been limited but there was no doubt the debut of one of the most talked about rookies in years helped spike attendance by 14,000 over last season's average in Jacksonville.
It was clear that a large number of the 63,000 fans had arrived to see Tebow, the son of two evangelical Christian missionaries, take his first steps in the professional game after winning two national titles while playing in university about 70 miles away from Jacksonville.
Broncos jerseys with Tebow's name were worn by spectators, including some who confirmed they were not supporters of the Broncos but were just admirers of the rookie quarterback.
"I'm a Tebow fan. I like the way he lives. I like his testimony, I like the way he takes care of his business and that he is a humble person," said Jerry Crews from nearby Macclenny.
The clean-cut Tebow may have dominated in college football but there have been no shortage of pundits predicting failure for him in the more physically and tactically demanding NFL.
"He has tried to change that passing motion, if he changes that well enough to release the ball quicker, he can do pretty good I think, it will take time to adjust but he can do it," said University of Florida fan, Matthew Cameron. "He is great for football, he is a good person and a role model."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)