Smack dab in the middle of Sunday NFL Countdown in the middle of the first round of the NFL Playoffs was a story about ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer mentoring ESPN analyst Tim Tebow. Viewers had every right to be perplexed about the placement and timing of the piece. Tebow just signed a contract to be a college football analyst for ESPN and even though he says he's "not giving up his dream" of being an NFL quarterback, his career is likely over. That's why he's going into television after all.
So what was the point of airing a segment all about Dilfer checking in on Tebow's progress at the busiest time of the football season? Mind you this story didn't run during a weekday or even the offseason. It ran during ESPN's flagship NFL pregame show for the first Sunday of the NFL Playoffs, not a down time by any stretch of the imagination. An entire segment about a player who wasn't involved in any of the weekend's games and hasn't thrown a pass since the preseason. Like the wide majority of the most ridiculous moments of ESPN's TebowMania obsession, this segment had no relevance whatsoever to the actual stories of the day.
Here's the video and some thoughts that may shed light on what in the world this was all about. In reality, Tim Tebow may have just been a red herring..
Dilfer introduced the segment by saying that Tebow asked him to give a "brutally honest evaluation" of his quarterback training. That's not necessarily unusual. Analysts act as consultants all the time (see Tony Dungy), but rarely is that work used for their network. Dilfer said "his job" was to see whether or not Tebow had made progress on his mechanics. That's not what the video showed, though. The segment clearly showed clips of Dilfer coaching Tebow and instructing him on his mechanics. In fact, at several points ESPN took the camera away from Tebow (GASP!) and put it squarely on Dilfer's teaching.
In truth, the piece was as much about positioning Dilfer as a quarterbacking guru than it was about resurrecting Tebow's NFL career. Dilfer drives that point home saying at the end of the piece, "I spend 365 days of the year looking at quarterbacks."
ESPN has long been building Trent Dilfer as their next star analyst. (As I write this I just received a press release from ESPN promoting an NFL Playoffs conference call with, you guessed it, Trent Dilfer.) He was heavily promoted as one of the men behind ESPN's Total QBR stat that was supposed to revolutionize the industry and has appeared next to Chris Berman as an analyst on the second MNF broadcast during Week 1. He also has prime analyst roles on SportsCenter during NFL postgame hours. If/when Jon Gruden ever returns to coaching, Dilfer is primed to be the #1 analyst at the network and well, he just might be it already given his amount of airtime across all platforms. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind Dilfer as an analyst. He's above average compared to the rest of the field, it's just that sometimes he lays it on a little thick when talking about WHAT IT MEANS TO PLAY THE QUARTERBACK POSITION IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.TM
This segment was more or less an opportunity to see Dilfer in his Elite 11 coaching role than as a talking head to build up his prestige level as an analyst. And what better way to do that than to give a rub to another one of your employees in the process. There's a reason why you don't see any segments featuring Tim Hasselbeck working with Bruce Gradkowski. This was basically paid programming for Tebow and Dilfer. The toughest question Dilfer asked his co-worker started with "you must really love football."
The entire segment is a win-win for ESPN, but a loser for viewers. If Tebow ever makes it back to the league, they can credit their quarterbacking genius for helping to get the job done. But even if he doesn't, they still get to show two of their top faces at the network in a very positive light on a highly watched show. It just took forgetting about what was really happening in the NFL to do it.