The shrieks of fans screaming for Tim Tebow at Jets training camp the past three weeks was only drowned out by the sound of cash registers in downtown Cortland, N.Y.
He may be a backup on the Jets’ roster, but Tebow is undoubtedly first place in the hearts and wallets of local business owners.
The Jets didn’t travel to Cortland last year, instead holding training camp at their team facility in northern New Jersey just days after a new labor deal between the league and the union was reached. This year, the Jets returned to tiny Cortland with an instant money maker in Tebow, whose unabashed Christian faith and unique playing style have won him fans the world over.
No place more so than Bernard's Custom Logo & Trophy Source, a downtown business that is decked out in Jets colors with Tebow shirts hanging in the storefront display.
“We’ve been busy ever since the Jets came to town. The first two years they came here, we got some traffic but not like this year. When camp opened, that first day, this place was packed immediately after practice ended,” said Steve Wineburg, owner of Bernard's Custom Logo & Trophy Source. “It was wall-to-wall people in here, all buying stuff.”
Cortland has been hit hard by the recent economic recession, but the middle-class town still retains its charm. The downtown is reminiscent of a scene from “Leave it to Beaver” with brick buildings and a church with a bell tower that still belts out hymns on the hour. There is even an eatery known simply as “Community Restaurant” that is a popular midday stop.
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Beyond Tebow, the Jets are a winner for the town.
“The economics department at SUNY-Cortland does a detailed study of the economic impact of camp for the local economy. Two years ago there were 41,000 visitors to camp and it had a $5.8 million impact to the local economy. It will be a while before we know the final numbers from the 2012 camp,” said Bob Haight, Executive Director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce. “Every story you hear from player and coach interactions with our local community is a positive one. We love having them and it’s obvious to us that they love being here.”
Step away from the picturesque downtown and things are no different.
Off Route 81 is Canada’s second best export after Pamela Anderson, the coffee and donut shop Tim Horton’s. They began offering a specialty “Gameday Donut” a few days before the Jets descended on western New York in late July. Initial sales were lackluster with just a handful of the green donuts with white sprinkles moving — “maybe four or five a day” said the girl behind the register.
“But now we’re selling probably 35 to 40 a day, mainly from people coming into the area from out of town to see the Jets,” she said.
Total attendance numbers are down this year compared to 2010, with the new collective bargaining agreement barring two-a-day practices, essentially cutting the number of sessions open to the public in half. But average attendance has gone up with 36,000 fans attending this year, buoyed by Tebow. Fans wearing his Florida Gators jersey dotted the practice field everyday and even one in a Tebow shirt with the Broncos logo on the front made an appearance early in camp. And of course, green and white Jets jerseys with his No. 15 were in abundance.
“He definitely brought extra fans to town. Many who are not necessarily football fans but are Tebow fans. You could see it at the practices as they chanted his name,” Haight said.“That’s very unusual for a backup at any position. We took calls from church groups who were planning trips here just to see him.”
For Cortland, it is like Tebow was heaven-sent.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.