Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What the Colorado Rockies and Troy Tulowitzki can learn from the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow

The Colorado Rockies had their window. They had their chance to be in the Denver sports spotlight.

That chance came and went, thanks in large part to the new face of Denver sports, Tim Tebow.

The scene was set for the Rockies to take over. The Broncos were coming off a 4-12 season in which their head coach was fired and their team was in disarray. To top it off, the NFL was heading into a lockout that threatened to end the season before it ever started. The second worst team in football would never lose it's fan base, but there certainly fans out there looking for something different. 

The Rockies were poised to be in that position. They had just locked up their two youngest and brightest stars, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. They were moving into a new spring training home in Scottsdale and the experts were picking them to win the National League West for the first time in franchise history.

Those predictions looked like they were going to happen until an 11-2 start proved to be smoke in mirrors. The Rockies sank back to the team that caused many of their faithful fans to relegate Coors Field as a place to spend a beautiful summer night, rather than a place to get excited about the team playing on the field.

While the Rockies floundered and the Broncos shine, it is hard not to notice some distinct similarities. 

The leader of the Rockies is undoubtedly Tulowitzki. At shortstop, he directs the team. His fiery style of play, and propensity to make plays that no one else could dream of seems to draw attention to him. More than anything, his personality, which oozes his love for baseball in a nearly unhealthy way, is what makes him so special. 

Tim Tebow isn't that different. While his overall talent is not what Tulowitzki's is, he makes plays that have football fans who have been watching the game for years wondering how he did it. Like Tulo, Tebow's passion for the game is so evident in the way that he plays the game that it is undeniable that he will do whatever it takes to help his team win.

The quarterback and the shortstop also have something else in common. Neither one of them was supposed to play their respective positions. Everyone told Tebow that he should be a tight end, or a fullback. They told him that he was too big to play quarterback or that he couldn't throw well enough to be successful in the NFL. 

The same was said of Tulowitzki. The 6'4" 225 lbs. shortstop was passed over by six Major League teams in the draft because they insisted that he was too big to play shortstop. When they asked him to make the move to third base, he refused, and those teams decided against drafting him. 

Both players are excelling at their positions, despite what the critics have said about them.

One big difference, however, is that one of those teams--the Broncos--has found a way to play better than their talent would suggest, while the other team--the Rockies--found ways to play far below their talent level.

So what is the problem? 

Don't look at the stats. Throw out the numbers. Simply pay attention to what is said to the media following games.

Never once will you hear Tebow point to himself in a positive moment. He will never take credit for a win, he will never take credit for a big play. He always gives credit to his teammates. When he throws a touchdown pass, the receiver made a great catch and the offensive line blocked well. Never once will Tebow not give credit to his teammates for their play.

On the flip side, when Tebow struggles, and the team loses, the quarterback will never blame his teammates. He will always talk about getting better. He will point the finger straight into his own chest and take the blame, no matter what happened.

With the microphone on him, Tebow comforted wide receiver DeMaryius Thomas, after Thomas had dropped a long pass against the Bears that would have put his team ahead. Tebow told Thomas to not worry about it, to shake it off because he was going to catch the game winner later on.

In the Rockies clubhouse, Tulowitzki never has learned to lead in that way. After the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, Tulo told the media that when you don't play to the expectations, that you get traded. He said that he was excited for who the Rockies were getting in return, and seemed relieved that the ace had been traded.

A month later, with the Rockies still floundering and quickly getting closer to last place, Tulowitzki pointed the finger at Jason Hammel, who had given up six runs in two innings. After the game Tulo said "it makes it hard to win games when you are down by six runs before you have even had two at-bats."

It quickly becomes clear how a team with very little experience and talent can rally around a leader like Tim Tebow, and how a team with talent that is picked by almost every expert to win its division can play so poorly.

It is unfair to ask anyone to become the leader that Tebow is. The quarterback is exceptional in that category. Very few people in any walk of life can claim to lead in the way that Tebow does. 

Still, the lesson is one that should be heeded. Tebow's leadership makes a team come together. His humble spirit makes the players around him play better. Tulo's leadership style, one that too often points fingers, doesn't seem to make a team play better.

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