Tim Tebow isn’t the first Heisman Trophy winner to try his hand at another sport, though the coverage of his (sorta) attempt to play Major League Baseball might understandably lead one to believe otherwise.
In fact, he’s not even the first Heisman recipient from the World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party to do so — Herschel Walker made the transition to MMA long after his football career ended — nor the only quarterback from the state of Florida.
That distinction belongs to Charlie Ward, the 1993 Heisman winner out of Florida State, who transitioned from football to basketball as smoothly as he evaded tacklers.
Tim Tebow and Charlie Ward took much different paths to secondary sports options. In Ward’s case, nothing about basketball was secondary. The spring before leading the Seminoles to a national championship, Ward was part of one of college basketball’s premier backcourts, playing alongside future NBA’ers Sam Cassell and Bob Sura on a Florida State team that reached the Elite Eight.
Ward’s outstanding passing for Bobby Bowden’s team translated to Pat Kennedy’s roster, where he averaged 5.5 assists per game in ’92-’93. Ward was also one of the Seminoles’ leading scorers in 1994, posting 10.5 points per game in the weeks after winning the Heisman.
When the NFL would not even give Ward a look — more on that in a moment — his contributions to the Florida State basketball team made him an intriguing prospect for the NBA. So intriguing, in fact, the defending Eastern Conference champion New York Knicks selected him in the first round.
There’s at least one similarity between Ward and Tebow; both embark on second sports careers in New York, the American media epicenter. Ward hung around the Big Apple, too, spending most of his decade-long career with the Knicks.
And that’s where the similarities likely end.
Tebow’s foray with the Mets is in no way comparable to the Knicks drafting Ward in the first round. Ward had an accomplished career at Florida State; Tebow hasn’t played baseball in a decade. His high school coach raved about Tebow’s potential on the diamond, projecting him as a 7th-to-12th round caliber player at the end of his prep career.
For the record, that’s 21-to-16 rounds better than fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, and 33-to-28 better than former Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens, both drafted by the San Diego Padres.
San Diego expelling late-round selections on quarterbacks either years removed from the game, in Manziel’s case, or who never played in the case of Owens, speaks to the odd nature of minor league baseball. Tebow’s a perfect fit in that vein.
Baseball’s minors do anything to drum up interest: Mike Tyson Ear Night, TV show-themed promotions, bobblehead giveaways for “celebrities” whose 15 minutes long since past. The minor leagues are oftentimes more carny than an independent pro wrestling organization.
Speaking of which, the supremely jacked Tebow might make for an interesting Wrestlemania attraction…
Sorry, I’m getting side-tracked.
Tebow’s a magnet for attention, and has been since his time at Florida. He earned it there, winning a Heisman in 2007 as college football’s first 20-20 player (20+ passing and 20+ rushing touchdowns in the same season). He made a case for back-to-back Heismans while leading the Gators to a national championship in 2008.
I can’t even begrudge him the first-round pick Denver exhausted on him in 2010, given his sterling reputation in the locker room and track record for success. However, Tebow’s abbreviated NFL career does underscore another difference between his career change and Ward’s.
If you think NFL offenses are stodgy and one-dimensional now, buddy, let me introduce you to the mid-1990s.
NFL executives docked Ward for continuing to play basketball — let’s ignore fellow Florida State product Deion Sanders going No. 5 overall just five years earlier, despite playing baseball — but his size and penchant for breaking out of the pocket did not fit the strict, NFL model.
It’s difficult imagining teams turning the reins to Alex Smith Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor or Dak Prescott in Ward’s era. Even with his NBA prospects, a front office would take a chance on Ward by the seventh round today as the league becomes ever-so-slightly more open-minded offensively.
Not that it necessarily would have changed history. Ward enjoyed the kind of NBA career roughly 99 percent of all Div. I college basketball players dream of. Tim Tebow’s baseball career? He’s probably best served not giving up his day job with SEC Network.