Tebow-mania falls on deaf ears

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Tim Tebow jogged off the practice field, shirtless, in a driving rainstorm Saturday. Within an hour, the picture was all over the Internet. He joined Michael Phelps as perhaps the day's most famous bare-chested athletes.

Before making his topless exit, Tebow was undressed by the New York Jets defense -- and a handful of boisterous fans.

Fans caught the opening act of Tebow-mania, and it wasn't love at first sight. The backup quarterback was heckled by a few spectators during the Jets' first public practice, which drew 2,588 on a rainy morning. The overall reception was lukewarm at best, as Tebow was anything but sharp.

"I thought it was some of the defensive guys," said Rex Ryan, referring to the wisecracks from the crowd. "Just kidding."

The conditions were sloppy, but that didn't stop the rain-soaked fans from reacting to Tebow's bad throws. The most compelling moments came early in practice, when Tebow and Mark Sanchez, side by side in a passing drill, threw long balls to uncovered wide receivers.

The crowd roared after each completion, but a few of Tebow's passes wobbled and hung up in the air, prompting groans and an isolated laugh or two from the bleacher section.

Welcome to New York, Tim -- albeit four hours from Manhattan.

"Nothing surprises me," offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said of the crowd reaction. "Look, it was practice. ... The most important thing is to see how the guys battle back and watch them in that process. Tim and all the other guys out there are playing with a lot of passion."

Ryan joked that it rained so hard that "animals were pairing up out there." But the coach, unsolicited, noted that Sanchez was unaffected by the elements.

"I've been around quarterbacks who, for whatever reason, struggle when the weather gets bad," he said. "But you see Sanchez, just zipping the ball. You see the confidence he has. It doesn't matter -- wet football, wind -- the way he can spin it, it doesn't matter."

Tebow, working exclusively with the second team, took 12 snaps in team drills. He completed only three of eight passes, taking a "sack" on a play in which he scrambled from one side of the field to the other. The play seemed to take forever. As it unfolded, some fans screamed, "Throw the ball!"

When the play finally ended, one fan screamed, "That's why you're No. 2."

Presumably, the fan meant Tebow's place on the depth chart.

Later, Tebow uncorked a wobbly, floating screen pass to tight end Josh Baker. By the time the ball reached Baker, he was surrounded by defenders.

Ryan changed the subject when asked about Tebow's rough day, noting that it's a new offense. Of course, it's a new offense for every player.

"In these kind of conditions," Ryan said, "the ball will sail on you."

Neither Tebow nor Sanchez was available to the media; it wasn't their scheduled day to talk.

Ryan has emphasized that Sanchez is the clear-cut starter, but competition was palpable when Sanchez and Tebow, taking turns, launched deep passes in front of the bleachers.

It was almost like a three-point shooting contest between two teammates. The two quarterbacks almost seemed like they were trying to outdo the other.

Then the rain started.

"In this type of weather, it's hard conditions to play your A game," tight end Dustin Keller said. "But (the rain) could happen on a Sunday, and you have to be ready for it."

Tebow's best moment occurred near the end of practice, when, in a one-on-one drill, he connected with rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill on a 40-yard pass.

The crowd cheered. So did Sanchez, who clapped loudly for his teammate.

In the end, Tebow made bigger news with his shirtless dash to the locker room. His helmet was in the possession of quarterback Matt Simms, who was instructed by Tebow to carry it in – a mild form of rookie hazing.

Told that the helmet would fetch big bucks, Simms smiled.

"All I know is, it's my job to put it in his locker," he said.