FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Tim Tebow’s favorite part of his pregame routine happens shortly before kickoff.
That’s when the New York Jets’ backup quarterback finishes warming up and makes his way to a wide-eyed boy or girl waiting for him on the field. No matter how loud the crowd or the magnitude of the game, Tebow is focused only on his young guest.
It’s a moment that occurs every week, and in every city he plays.
They’re his “Wish 15” kids – children with life-threatening illnesses whose wish is to meet their idol. The quarterback’s Tim Tebow Foundation selects one child per game after they’re referred to the foundation’s wish-granting partner, Dreams Come True of Jacksonville, Fla. The foundation then sends them and their family to a game, all expenses paid, highlighted by a meet-and-greet with Tebow.
“Honestly, I somewhat do it selfishly because it takes all of the pressure off me,” Tebow said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “You realize what I just did, spending time with this kid, far outweighs whatever I go do on that field.”
Regular-season openers, such as his Jets debut Sunday against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Division rivalries. Playoff games.
For Tebow, they all pale in comparison.
“Last year, with all those games and at the end of the season, there was all that, `Are you going to be the hero or the goat? Are you going to have a comeback or fail, and blah, blah, blah,“’ Tebow said of his comeback-filled run with Denver. “It’s those 15 minutes right before a game when I’m spending time with one of these kids.”
Bailey Knaub of Loveland, Colo., became an instant celebrity in January when Tebow went on and on about what the 16-year-old girl has been through – a few minutes after leading the Broncos to a 29-23 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Knaub has had more than 70 operations for a rare disorder called Wegener’s granulomatosis, which is an inflammation of blood vessels that affects the nose, lungs, kidneys and other organs. And, there was Tebow – before and after the biggest game of his NFL career – spending time with Knaub and her family.
“That girl’s had to deal with so much more than I’ve ever dealt with, and I’m thinking: `Man, I have a tough life because I’ve got to go and make money playing a game?“’ Tebow said. “It puts things into perspective. For moments, hours and days, we can lose perspective on what really matters. For me, before the biggest moments of my professional career, I can invest in someone else.”
It might sound all warm and fuzzy to some, but it’s a passion that far surpasses football for Tebow.
The Tim Tebow Foundation’s goal this season is to host a child at all 20 Jets games – four preseason and 16 regular season – as well as five additional experiences in the offseason. Each of the “Wish 15” experiences cost the foundation about $5,000, and the goal is to raise $125,000 to fund 25 of them throughout the year.
“Do you get passionate and fired up and excited and frustrated with football? Absolutely,” Tebow said. “But you have to be able to have perspective to see beyond that, to see outside of that, to see what’s important and one of the things with having `Wish 15’ kids before every single game is it puts everything in perspective for me.”
That’s why all of the talk about the wildcat, his relationship with Sanchez, who he’s dating, where he lives – he brushes it all aside. Tebow simply laughs when he’s asked about all of the secrecy over how he’ll be used by the Jets this season, and whether he can be happy being a backup who is constantly scrutinized.
“I’d say it’s been a little bit of a whirlwind,” Tebow said Friday of his nearly six months in New York. “But it’s been fun. I’m very blessed to be here. I had a great time and a lot of great memories in Denver, but this is where I want to be. This is where I’m excited to be and hopefully I can help this football team win games.”
The Jets traded for him in March for that reason, expecting him to be a do-it-all backup, as well as a huge headache for defensive coordinators who won’t know when Tebow will come into games and run around – or throw.
Tebow said Friday that he still wasn’t sure how much he’ll be used against the Bills, but general manager Mike Tannenbaum said during a radio interview that Sanchez will see 80-90 percent of the plays over the course of the season. That leaves 10-20 percent for Tebow, who acknowledged that it’s tough not knowing when he’s going to play.
“But I feel I’ve had practice with that my first year of college, my rookie year and the beginning of last year,” he said. “So, I’ve had time to practice that, the being ready, the hurry-up-and-wait type of mentality.”
Wide receiver Santonio Holmes said Wednesday that Sanchez was “rattled” when the quarterback had heard the Jets traded for Tebow, an assertion Sanchez said was a bit overblown.
“I think he made it a little more dramatic,” Sanchez told ESPN 98.7 FM. “When you read it in the paper, it sounds like a Lifetime movie script or something, (like) he’s talking me off the ledge or something like that. Anybody in that situation would have a couple of questions about a trade like that.”
But Tebow and Sanchez spoke a few hours after the deal, and were quickly on the same page about the two trying to play – and win – together.
“We had a great talk,” Tebow said, adding that he didn’t think Sanchez was “rattled.” “I felt like our relationship has been great ever since, and before that, even.”
Now, they get a chance to prove it to everyone else on the field, starting Sunday. But after Tebow meets another wide-eyed kid, of course, who has no interest in the final score or the wildcat package.
“You’re making a difference with something,” Tebow said, smiling. “That’s ultimately my passion.”