It’s hard to imagine today’s players being old. I look at Tim Tebow and don’t much think about how he’ll handle the rest of his life, what demons he’ll face, where his journey will take him. We see these guys now, burning like a star, then they’re gone. Some show up on Sundays. Some have their names on car dealerships and insurance companies in college towns. But many just disappear. I don’t mean they’re forgotten. The legend never burns out. I mean the men themselves. They live in their own shadow. There is no way they could possibly better, or even live up to, that legend. Yet we are surprised when they don’t. Walking out of the Ole Miss game last weekend, I found myself next to a former star Rebel. Once, I’d owned a t-shirt with him on it. Now he was drunk and wobbly and I found myself wishing I’d never seen him again. But that’s not fair. There is life after they walk off the field for the final time. That’s why, while reporting the ESPN.com story of Billy Cannon, I found myself thinking of Tim Tebow.
It first hit me last year at the College Football Hall of Fame ceremony in New York. I stood in a suite in the Waldorf-Astoria and watched two young women ogle a picture of him as a young man. They stared at him and one of them said, “What a stud.”
Cannon was the Tim Tebow of the 1950s.
Intense locker room speeches; Cannon wasn’t scared to grab a teammate by the jersey. Ridiculous plays. Rock star looks. Besieged in public. Unavailable therefore desired by women (Tebow because of his V Card; Cannon because he was married.) A commenter on the Cannon story just posted this: In his younger days he kind of looks like Tim Tebow.
There’s your thought as the 50th anniversary of Cannon’s Halloween Punt Return approaches. The way your grandparents feel about Cannon, one day you’ll feel about Tebow. I wonder where he’ll go between today and 2059. Maybe he’ll grow old gracefully. Maybe he’ll fall and never come back. Maybe he’ll fall and one day, as an old man, find peace and redemption.
Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at [wrightespn]-[at]-[gmail]-[dot]-[com].