Skip to main content
Original Issue


And it came to pass that the Broncos of Denver felt so hopeless that as the leaves did wither and fall they called a young man of evangelical conviction named Tim Tebow from the bench to lead them. This did cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth from many of football's wise men: the television pundits and the talent evaluators who did not believe in him. Verily, they said unto their audience as they examined his ponderous throwing motion and ungainly footwork, it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than for Tebow to hit a wide-open receiver on the numbers. But those who had faith dismissed the doubters and followed the righteous lefthander, even as his passes fluttered as though flung into a mighty wind.

And lo, the Broncos began to win. Tebow did not turn water into wine (although one might have thought he did from the tone of some observers), but he did use the power of his legs and the force of his spirit and the completion of the occasional pass to prevail. With each win more fans did forsake their own teams and decide not merely to root for him but also to believe in him—yea, even worship him. They took to the marketplace in great multitudes to buy his jersey. They called him the Mile High Messiah and they created a page on Facebook entitled Church of Tebow. A company called Poll Position inquired of fans far and wide and found that 43% of them believed that "divine intervention" had played a role in Tebow's triumphs.

All talk was of Tebow, so much so that those who didn't want to talk about Tebow could only talk about how tired they were of the talk about Tebow. At the Babel of these times, ESPN, broadcasters spoke of him continuously for an entire hour one morning, knowing that it would cause much babbling on laptops throughout the land. At the end of that hour, anchor Robert Flores said unto the viewers, "I think we may have broken Twitter."

But after many weeks there did come a time, last Saturday, when it was clear that Tebow was not a messiah, as some of the more fervent among his flock—the ones who bought his number 15 jerseys with jesus on the back—seemed to believe. Before the Broncos' 45--10 playoff loss to the Patriots of New England was even complete, there appeared across the breadth of the internet a doctored photo of Tebow kneeling in his familiar pose in front of a celestial figure in a flowing white robe—that bore the face of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Thus did a season that brought praise and mockery to Tebow in equal measure come to an end, and with that ending there did commence an effort to make sense of what Tebowmania had meant. Clearly there existed in the land a hunger for a young man of simple virtues like the Denver quarterback. In an age of antiheroes and philanderers and gluttons, a portion of the populace had latched on to an athlete they saw as old fashioned and clean living. Some of his loyalists shared Tebow's religious fervor, but others were drawn to what seemed to be his genuine goodness. The behavior of so many other sports figures seemed scandalous (the taking of performance-enhancing substances) or frivolous (the marrying of Kardashians), and Tebow provided refuge from the scoundrels and the lightweights.

But Tebow's journey did also reveal a second truth to those who studied it: that there is an unspoken belief in the separation of church and sport. For although the sports lexicon runneth over with spiritual references—rookie saviors and Hail Mary passes and basketball players tossing up prayers—there is a certain unease with displaying religious beliefs as outwardly as doth Tebow.

And why was more resentment delivered unto him than unto other openly religious sports figures, such as Tony Dungy, A.C. Green and Reggie White? It may have been because few others had so many dramatic opportunities to express their faith, and Tebow seemed to be possessed of miracle after miracle. But it may have also been that his lack of artifice made him a blank screen, upon which the people could project their interpretations of his behavior. Was Tebow humbly thanking God for allowing him to compete, or arrogantly thanking Him for favoring him over his opponent? It depended on what people wished to believe.

And so it was that Tebow became a centerpiece of a debate that had more to do with faith than football. The conversation over the meaning of Tebow came to overshadow the ways in which he had proven the nonbelievers wrong. For in the beginning many of them had said he could not succeed, and no matter what opinion the wise men might still hold, there is no doubt that he has succeeded. He showed that not all winning quarterbacks are cut from the same cloth. Only one question doth remain: To what extent will he make the naysayers look even more foolish? For it does seem likely that he will improve as a passer, given the coaching with which he is sure to be blessed.

And so a welcome calm began to settle as the Broncos' season ended, with a respite from the constant evaluation of Tebow the player and the person. Soon the news gatherers would move on to other stories and Tebowmania would fade from the land. And to that, the faithful and the skeptics alike said as one, Amen.

Follow @SI_PhilTaylor