PHOENIX — As Australian pole vaulter Steve Hooker trained on the track at Paradise Valley Community College on Tuesday morning, a crowd began to grow beside him.
But the crowd, which grew at one point to as many as 50 people, wasn’t there to see Hooker, who won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, or his impressive vaults. Few, if any, even knew who the world-class athlete was. They were more interested in the guy throwing a medicine ball against a net over and over.
That guy? Tim Tebow.
Word got out Monday that the NFL’s most talked-about backup quarterback had made his way to Arizona, and it spread quickly. Overzealous fans began wondering if the New York Jets backup might somehow end up quarterbacking the offensively inept Arizona Cardinals. (Since the Cardinals are currently without a head coach, there’s virtually no chance that such speculation has any merit.) Others just wanted to get a glimpse of the former GQ coverboy, who spent about four hours training at the Phoenix-area college Tuesday.
“I just heard he was here and wanted to see if I could see him,” one waiting fan said.
You’d think that a unicorn had wandered onto campus. The crowd watching Tebow run, stretch and generally stand around featured mostly PVCC students — some admittedly skipping class — though others had made a special trip in hopes of catching a glimpse of Tebow.
“I can’t believe he’s at our school,” said one.
“I’ll stay as long as I have to,” said another, hoping an autograph.
“I seriously just ran all the way over here,” one breathless onlooker told her friends.
A few fans posed for photos with Tebow when he arrived, but the crowd that gathered over the course of his workout mostly left disappointed. As Tebow wrapped up his workout after more than three hours, a few young fans decided to simply charge onto the track toward the quarterback, which prompted roughly 40 others to do the same. The bold fans got their photo, while the rest of the crowd was turned around by a coach.
The scene was just the latest in the ongoing circus that has followed Tebow since he led the Broncos on an unlikely playoff run in 2011. His legend grew when he was traded to the Jets and major sports networks began devoting segment after segment to the league’s most popular backup.
Tuesday’s workout was a clear indicator the fascination with Tebow is alive and well. Never mind that he attempted just eight passes this season and carried the ball just 32 times; fans want to know what’s next for Tebow, who almost certainly won’t be back with the Jets after a tenuous end to the 2012 season.
Inquisitors learned nothing Tuesday. After snapping a few photos, Tebow slipped out a back exit, hopped into a silver Ford SUV and rode off, giving only a slight wave from the back seat.
Hey, when the circus comes to town, people are going to show up.