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Literature / The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles

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"There aren't any thoughts or words at this point. Indignation is a second or two away. It's like thinking, 'huh?' only you don't know what the word for 'huh?' is."

Tebow: Where's the end zone?
Means: You're standing on it.
Tebow: No, but, like, where do we score?
Means: We don't.
Tebow: Then what do we do?
Means: We whoop their asses, is what we do.

The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles is a surreal web novel, written and illustrated by Jon Bois, and presented by the sports blog SB Nation in 2014.

In an Alternate Universe, Tim Tebow's once-promising career in the NFL gets cut short when the whole league decides he just isn't good enough. Determined to continue playing the game he loves, Tebow accepts an offer from the Canadian Football League, signing with the Toronto Argonauts as their quarterback for the 2014 season.

Culture shock sets in, hard, and Tebow struggles to adjust. Canadian football is mostly the same as its American counterpart, but has enough quirks to make it a distinct game. For example, did you know, that under Canadian rules, any unreturned kick that lands in the end zone is worth a single point (called a "rouge")? Did you know that the football itself has a long, retractable tail with fins, and can weigh anywhere from two to thirteen pounds? Have you ever heard whispers of the pure, unbridled insanity of "bound-for-street" play?

On the other hand, being an outsider has its advantages, too. Tim Tebow, unfamiliar with the conventional wisdom of Canadian football, takes an unorthodox approach to the game and soon finds himself breaking records. And then, breaking the game itself. And pressing even further, until he finds the rest of the world has broken around him.

Has a Creator-Driven Successor in Jon Bois's 2017 multimedia miniseries, 17776.

Due to the impossibility of describing the story in-depth without spoiling at least part of it, all spoilers below are unmarked. It's best if you read the story before reading the trope list so as not to spoil the experience.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Displacement: In-Universe — Raghib Ismail points out that the Canadians were the original pioneers in adapting rugby into gridiron. American football, despite being much better-known, was adapted from Canadian football, not the other way around.
  • All of Them: The kid's warning that the Schooners' defense — nearly the entire population of Nova Scotia — is incoming:
    Kid: They're sailing right toward us. They're coming to force a fumble. Mr. Tebow, I feel terrible.
    Tebow: How many are coming?
    Kid: A lot.
    Tebow: How many is a lot? A hundred?
    Kid: Everybody.
  • The Bechdel Test: Referenced and lampshaded in Chapter 6, when Volquez and St-Hilaire talk about God. They ask if he is really a man, and if they just passed the Bechdel Test by talking about him. The novel had actually passed the test in the previous chapter when Volquez and St-Hilaire had two brief conversations; one about light switches, and the other about the massive shit Volquez had just taken.
  • Benevolent Architecture: Lampshaded. There are Bound-For-Street stations sprinkled all over the Toronto area where players can rest and resupply, despite the astronomical odds against them ever being used. There have only been two games in the last 50 years that went bound-for-street in the entire CFL, and no game has ever gone far enough to require the stations.
  • Bold Inflation: The Ottawa REDBLACKS' official branding guidelines insist that the team name must always be written in ALL-CAPS, and in 1000 point font. In Tebow's memoir, he doesn't use the larger font size, but he makes sure to properly capitalize REDBLACKS — because he thinks that's hilarious.
  • Born Unlucky: Henry Burris, one of the defenders for the Ottawa REDBLACKS, previously had a brief career as arguably "the worst NFL quarterback ever." Then his first season as a safety for the REDBLACKS ends with the team getting utterly curbstomped by Tebow's Argonauts.
    Burris: I think all this together makes me the losingest football player in the history of the planet Earth.
  • Canada, Eh?: The bulk of the story's set in Canada, but the story leans more on absurdism than the usual Canadian stereotypes. There are some jokes about bagged milk and Canadian politeness — but this is intermingled utterly bizarre details, like the Canadians using shout-tubes instead of telephones, and the fact that the majority of consumer goods are tie-ins for really forgettable American movies.
  • Calvinball: Canadian football is portrayed as a sport from some bizarro world, mainly because the viewpoint character is thrown into his first game with zero prep time. Scoring a touchdown triggers bound-for-street play, where everything is inbounds and there's no end zone, and the only goal is to drive forward as far as possible (or for the defense to get the ball back into the stadium). Other teams can intervene in bound-for-street games. The football itself has a telescoping tail, and in "jav-out" configuration it can be used as a weapon, even during normal stadium play.
  • The Cavalry: Just as the Schooners are about to overwhelm them, the Argos get a message from some eligible receivers just over the horizon, urging them to throw the ball.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The fact that Canadians don't get locks is mentioned in the first chapter. This proves crucial to surviving the Atlantic Schooners' defensive onslaught, several chapters later.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • While playing bound-for-street in Toronto, Tebow pauses to sign an autograph for a young fan. Chapters later, that same kid (now a young teen) shows up again, this time as a player for the Schooners.
    • In the wilderness of Quebec, the Argos start getting supply drops from bizarre, futuristic aircraft. This is their first contact with their fans from Greenland City, who they don't meet properly until the final chapter.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Canadians fundamentally don't understand the purpose of locks. They have locks in Canada, but any key can open any lock, which completely defeats the purpose.
  • Courtroom Episode: Chapter 4, where the ball falls into possession of the city of Ottawa, and then the Canadian Parliament. The Argonauts and the REDBLACKS both appear before Parliament to argue why they should get possession of the ball.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Natrone Means, possibly the only player in the CFL who did real prep work for bound-for-street play. Games only go bound-for-street once every 25 years or so, and those games usually only go a few dozen yards, so the Argos' cross-country drive is completely unprecedented, but Means still has plans for it: "binders upon binders full of maps, star charts, and field guides identifying safe-to-eat berries and roots." His maps of Quebec allow the Argos to exploit the land in ways the REDBLACKS can't — eventually giving them the slip at Manicouagan Crater.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Argonauts advance millions of yards, while the REDBLACKS fail to get possession of the ball even once.
    I try to remain a humble man. I take no special joy in humiliating these REDBLACKS. I'm bragging as much as I would be bragging if I told you that I held a glass of wine in front of me and dropped it and it shattered on the floor. We whooped them all up and down French Canada. This is a statement of fact.
  • Deer in the Headlights: When a REDBLACK leaps from a sixth-story window, attempting a tackle, Tebow just stares at him, stunned and unable to process the thought of a football player leaping out a window like that.
  • Downer Ending: At the end of the story, football is dying. Tebow himself accidentally killed Canadian football, and American football never recovered from having all its professional and college stadiums converted into power plants. After that fateful Argonauts game finally came to an end, Tebow falls into depression and can't let the past go — trying to teach football courses that barely anyone attends, and writing a memoir that no publisher is interested in.
  • Easily Elected: The city of Toronto is a "popularchy" where, "Anyone who really wants to be in charge can be in charge." In practice, this means they have multiple mayors simultaneously, and anyone can become a mayor just by walking into City Hall and asking.
  • E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi: A non-ET variant. All technology was actually invented by the scientists of Greenland City, and they've been slowly sharing their knowledge with the outside world, bit by bit.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": If Tim Tebow doesn't know the name of an opponent, then his narrative just refers to them by the name of their team: "REDBLACK" or "Other REDBLACK" or "Schooner".
  • Everyone Has Standards: Leland Melvin offers to reward the Maritimers for their assistance by pulling some strings to finally get them a football franchise of their own. He offers to move the Browns to Halifax. The Maritimers refuse — they may be desperate enough for their own team to mount a massive naval offensive, but even they don't want the Browns.
  • Exact Words:
    • You can't ground the ball to end the play if you aren't on the ground. Which means there's no way to end a play (and conversely, nothing to stop opponents from trying to "force a fumble") if the carrier is in the third story of a house, or in water, or on a ship.
    • In Greenland, Tebow uses a catapult to "throw" the ball over the horizon, based on a vague promise that there's an Argonaut over there to catch it.
    Schooner: Are you allowed to throw it if there isn't an intended receiver?
    Tebow: Sure there is. I intend for there to be a receiver.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: Tim Tebow gets dumped into his first Argonauts game with only a few minutes to spare. He's forced to learn the game as he's playing it.
  • First-Episode Twist: In the first chapter, Tebow's touchdown sends the game into bound-for-street play, in which the teams leave the stadium, everything is inbounds, and the Argos just continue the drive as far as they can. That cross-country drive takes up the rest of the story.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The first chapter has passing mention of recent measures to cut down Canada's electricity usage.
    • In the present-day sections, the other Argos keep telling Tebow that various NFL teams are trying to get in touch with him.
    • In Chapter 4, Troy Smith warns Tim Tebow that times are changing.
    Troy: Cherish this, Tim. I have been in the dark, chasing you for years. But even before I left, things were changing. When we get back home, I fear that American football will have become something neither of us will recognize.
  • Friendly Enemy: The teams are genuinely polite when they aren't actively trying to cream each other. The Argonauts and REDBLACKS even declare an unofficial truce during their first Christmas together.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: While not equal per se, the Toronto Argonauts have at least two women on the team: Nereida Volquez and Maryse St-Hilaire. There is no commentary on the presence of women on the team, implying that female players are common in the CFL.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Greenland City, the technological utopia in the middle of Greenland, is an inversion. They hide their existence from (almost) everyone, but they secretly intervene to help the rest of the world, by sharing their technology and helping various governments prepare for the coming energy crisis.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: When the Argos give the REDBLACKS the slip in Quebec, gaining a multi-day lead, the REDBLACKS finally decide enough is enough, and call it quits.
  • Long List: The ingredients in poutine. They start out with the real-world ingredients, then continue to the likes of chocolate and Crown Royal, and eventually including $5 as an ingredient.
  • Loophole Abuse: Once the football game leaves the stadium, the teams start introducing interesting interpretations of existing rules.
    • When Hall is pressing forward alone, he hangs the ball from the ceiling every night while he sleeps, to keep it in play.
    • The CFL has rules limiting how many Americans can play on any given team, but no limit on the number of Canadians. The Montreal Alouettes and Atlantic Schooners exploit this by fielding teams with thousands of Canadian players.
    • The Nova Scotians form their own impromptu team — calling themselves the Atlantic Schooners, after the franchise which would have been located in their province, but got dissolved before playing a single game. They try to intercept the Argonauts, reasoning that if they get possession of the ball, then the CFL has to recognize the Schooners as a real team.
    • Under bound-for-street rules, a team's former players (or in the case of Leland Melvin, someone who just trained with a team for a few months) also count as eligible receivers.
  • The Merch: In-Universe. The Argos get supplies via airdrop, and they're all branded with mediocre-to-terrible movies.
    Tebow: I remember one time, Freddie hiked out into the woods to get one of the crates they dropped. And he comes back, and like, he's wearing a Monkeybone shirt and Kangaroo Jack pants.
    Volquez: You two laughed so damn hard. Pants are pants. Who cares?
    Tebow: I'm just saying, you would have thrown away that Gigli dishware if you'd ever seen the movie.
  • Mondegreen Gag: Tebow mishears CN Tower as "Seein' Tower". When a waiter tries to make that very pun, Tebow unwittingly spoils the joke.
  • Nobody Poops: Lampshaded and averted. Tebow reads a Bible story to his teammates, and they're surprised when taking a dump turns out to be a major plot point.
    Tebow: A little later, the king's servants try to come back in and find that the door's locked. They're like, "He's probably in the bathroom."
    Mitchell: So people took shits in the Bible?
    Tebow: Sure. Everybody poops.
    Someone told me that a while back, and rarely do you hear so much helpful perspective stuffed into two words. No matter how legendary or important, "everybody poops."
  • Only Smart People May Pass: The Argonauts find an empty aircraft carrier waiting for them, with several cryptic references to the November 13, 2011 game between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Tim Tebow (who was the Broncos' QB for that game) realizes this is a clue to use several stats from the game to determine how to start the ship's engine and set the bearings.
  • Product Placement: The shoe store only offers movie tie-in shoes. Tebow gets a pair of Hitch sneakers — they don't cost him anything, but in return he has to tell anyone who asks that Hitch is available on DVD.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Tebow dreams about Troy Smith, leading a massive army of Montreal Alouettes to hunt him, several months before Troy appears in person. He also dreams about Greenland City before eventually seeing it.
  • Readings Are Off the Scale: Tebow notes that his performance in the Broncos vs. Chiefs game on November 13th, 2011 was so bizarre that his passer rating afterwards was 102.6 — a wildly unintuitive result from a game where he only attempted eight passes and only completed two of them.
    In a life of goofy left-handed football accomplishments, I consider that game to be stranger than anything I'd ever done to that point. I necessitated the sort of lopsided pass-run imbalance that the NFL hadn't seen in over 30 years. I completed only two passes. I somehow won, and I somehow finished with a great passer rating. I played so strangely that numbers lost their meanings.
  • Religious Bruiser: Parodied when Tebow gets stuck on the top floor of a house owned by former missionaries, with thousands of copies of The Bible. He fends off the REDBLACKS by literally throwing Bibles at them.
    REDBLACK: Ow! Guh! Quit it!
    Tebow: I'll do this all day. I've got plenty up here.
    REDBLACK: I'm so sick of you hitting me over the head with the Bible.
    Tebow: Well, I'm closer to God.
    REDBLACK: Yeah, by like 12 feet.
  • Ridiculous Future Sequelisation: Towards the end of the story, the team starts getting care packages that, like most other items in the work, are branded; but they come from far-off, distant sequels to movies that had abhorrent critical reception.
  • Running Gag:
    • In Canada, all foods and drinks are served in bags. No exceptions.
    • No one in Canada has ever seen a left-hander before.
  • Savage Wolves: Dante Hall's initial drive out of Toronto ends when he gets cornered by two wolves in the woods. He escapes without injury, but the incident convinces him to wait for the rest of the Argos rather than pressing forward alone.
  • Scrapbook Story: The story is presented as a still in-progress memoir written by Tebow himself. His perspective is augmented with emails from other players and transcripts of phone conversations.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Troy Smith, quarterback of the Montreal Alouettes, assembles a massive army of football players, all of them Montreal natives. Troy is from the US, so when he tells his army to march north, he means the magnetic north. His army instead marches "Montreal-north"... which is roughly to the magnetic west.
  • Serial Escalation: The Argonauts break through every boundary, constantly driving even further than anyone thought possible. First they leave the stadium, then they leave Toronto, then all of Ontario — then after driving across all of Quebec, they find a ship and leave Canada for Greenland. In the end, they try to "pass" the ball into space, so the game can last forever. Unfortunately, Tebow's throw is off, so the ball gets destroyed, and the game abruptly ends.
  • Skewed Priorities: The Ottawa REDBLACKS follow their own official brand guidelines (which insist on absurd overuse of Bold Inflation), even when they're presenting legal documents to the Canadian Parliament — and even though that makes their argument thousands of pages long and practically unreadable.
    REDBLACK: We anticipate that as their American players grow more acclimated to these lands and develop their Northern pith, halting their offensive drive will be impossible. We believe that this may indeed be our last chance to stop them.
    But you know, this is the age of social media. Gotta protect your brand. Gotta engage.
  • Solemn Ending Theme: The final You Tube segment uses "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" by The Walker Brothers, a song that's somehow even more tear-jerking than the title of the song implies.
  • Super-Toughness: All Canadians have this, owing to the harsh winters, and it allows them to shrug off injuries that would incapacitate someone from a more temperate climate. They call it "pith", and Americans develop one if they live in Canada for a few years.
  • Take That!:
    • At one point, they're forced to take refuge in an opera house occupied by "the drake", Canada's poet laureate, a rambling fool with constantly-shifting team loyalties. The Argonauts agree that was one of the worst parts of the drive.
    • Then-current Toronto mayor Rob Ford briefly appears. He's described as sad and insecure; his letter to Tim Tebow is filled with dumb typos and childish jokes. In addition, he's referred to as "a mayor", not "the mayor".
    • The people of Nova Scotia are desperate for a football team of their own — but not desperate enough to accept the Browns. Leland Melvin instead offers the Nova Scotians "a completely forgettable, nondescript team that is just sort of there": the Titans.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman:
    • Tim Tebow's skillset was basically useless in the NFL. His throwing motion was too awkward and slow, but is perfectly suited for Canadian Football, whose ball is heavier and has a deployable javelin.
    • When the Argonauts reach the aircraft carrier, Tim knows the exact speed and angle that they should chart their course for, due to the numbers deliberately corresponding to statistics from his game in Denver against Kansas City.
    • Todd Peterson, the team's placekicker, spends twelve years being completely useless, since bound-for-street rules don't have field goals. However, since he spent time at the Naval Academy, he is able to figure out how to pilot the aircraft carrier.
  • Truth in Television:
    • That bit about Montreal-North being roughly magnetic West? That's a real thing, due to the way the island of Montreal is angled in the St-Laurence River.
    • While they (obviously) don't write in in 1000 point font, the Ottawa REDBLACKS really do always write their name in all-caps for branding purposes. Their French name looks even weirder, since they only write the words for "red" and "black" in all-caps, despite there being an "et"note  in between them, making their official French name "ROUGE et NOIR d'Ottawa".
    • The part about Canadian Football actually predating American Football is also true. The first documented Canadian Football game was played in 1861, and the first written account of a game was made in 1862. The first American Football game was played in late 1869.
    • The "single" or "rouge" is an actual part of Canadian football rules. As alluded to above, it is awarded when a kick enters the end zone and is not returned (or kicked) out of it into play. However, singles are not awarded on convert attempts after touchdowns (whether successful or not), made field goals (obviously), kickoffs that go out of bounds in the end zone untouched, or on kicks that hit the goalposts.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Tim Tebow unintentionally destroys Canadian football. Unknown to him, the rest of the league can't start the 2014 playoffs until they get the results from his game against the REDBLACKS, so every other team just has to stop playing and wait. But with Tebow leading the Argos' offense, the game lasts decades.
  • Victory Is Boring: In the utopia of Greenland City, human advancement has reached its end state. There's nothing left for their scientists to discover or invent, and they've even plumbed all possibilities of human culture (for example, they have Season 65 of The Wire already). Knowing everything is boring, so they've all become sports fans — because athletic competitions are the only remaining unknowns.
  • Worthy Opponent: Tebow outright calls the Atlantic Schooners "worthy opponents" since they came closer than any other team to stopping the Argonauts' drive.
  • Zerg Rush: Both the Alouettes and Schooners attempt this against the Argonauts, creating armies that have never played football professionally, but can simply overwhelm the Argos through sheer numbers.