The Tebow phenomenon

Tim Tebow. The very mention of his name usually brings an instant reaction. People either love him or hate him, but few will merely shrug their shoulders when the topic of the Denver Broncos quarterback comes up.

I’ve been scratching my head to understand Tebow-mania since the Broncos took the former Florida QB with the 25th pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The hype surrounding the young man is quite simply amazing.

David Peck

Yes, he played for one of the top college football programs in the nation, but so have others. Yes, he won the Heisman Trophy, but so have others. Yes, his team won two national titles, but many others have done that, too.

Part of it is the incredible sports media saturation in the Denver and Rocky Mountain market. Nobody beats your brains out with a team like Denver media and the Broncos. But it’s more than that. Sales of Tebow jerseys are through the roof across the nation.

In his two-year pro career, he’s been a good quarterback, but not great. He’s a great runner, but he is not an accurate thrower, though he’s getting better. Many feel he simply does not have the mechanics to be a successful NFL quarterback over time.

Questions have dogged Tebow throughout his career as to whether he is an accurate enough passer to be a college, and now pro, quarterback. But all he does is win and prove the critics wrong.

Though I admit that I am a somewhat apathetic Broncos fan these days, I have been critical of Tebow and the hype. I couldn’t understand as the 2011 season began how someone who had achieved so little on the field could be seen as the savior for a program that has seen better days. Starter Kyle Orton was, by far, the more accomplished NFL quarterback. Some pundits considered Tebow as the fourth-best quarterback in this year’s training camp.

But fans clamored for Tebow, and eventually, with the team mired in a 1-4 slump, new coach John Fox turned to Tebow as the starter against the Miami Dolphins. Although he struggled for 3½ quarters, he led the Broncos from a 15-0 deficit to an 18-15 overtime victory. After then falling to the Detroit Lions, Tebow and the Broncos have won five straight, beating Oakland, Kansas City, the New York Jets, San Diego and Minnesota, with Tebow building a reputation for being tough in the clutch, engineering several late charges.

Some Tebow fans in Denver Broncos Nation are ecstatic and think Tebow is the second coming of John Elway; critics shake their heads in wonder and say his success simply cannot last. The young quarterback’s success has ignited a firestorm of debate on talk shows, the internet and among friends and fans. Is he the real deal – or not?

There is just as much Tebow discussion away from football because of his open religious beliefs. Born to Christian missionaries, Tebow wears his faith on his sleeve, which enrages some folks and pleases others. He never fails to thank the Lord Jesus Christ in every interview, and his prayerful “Tebowing” posture has been both mocked and praised.

I know people who hate the Broncos but love Tebow, and I know people who like the Broncos but hate Tebow – because of his faith. President George W. Bush faced the same thing with his open expression of faith.

What’s perplexing about all of the hype is that he is far from the first successful athlete to openly profess his faith in God and Jesus Christ. Former St. Louis and Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner comes to mind, as does former Bronco quarterback Craig Morton and athletes like former Laker A.C. Green, Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees, former Broncos fullback Reggie Rivers, former Bronco head coach Dan Reeves, Green Bay Packers great Reggie White, former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton and St. Louis Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols.

But some people loath Tim Tebow for declaring his faith. They despise his testimony and seem to hope that it’s all some sort of charade, feeling he has to be some kind of phony and waiting for some kind of scandal to bring his image crashing down.

Are we so cynical as a nation that we can’t wait for someone like Tebow to fail, believing him to be too good to be true? I’ve spoken to people certain that he is hiding some deep, dark, awful secret, and I can’t, for the life of me, understand that attitude other than what it is: anti-Christian bigotry.

But I guess when you’re placed on a pedestal, people will try to take a whack at you.

Even some Christians feel that Tebow’s profession of faith is too open, too hyped and somehow over the top, believing that all of the clamor actually hurts his witness. I’ll admit that I squirm a bit when some athletes thank God at the start of every interview. It seems kind of out of place in a way, like maybe God has more important things to worry about than a football game.

But you know what the interesting thing is? I don’t think any of this matters to Tim Tebow. He seems to be such a great and genuine young man that this stuff surely rolls off his back. He has things in proper perspective, and in the grand scheme of things, he has bigger fish to fry. He believes in giving credit where credit’s due, offering thanks and praising his creator for his gifts and talents.

Do I think Tebow is a great quarterback? No. At least not yet. Is he a great man and a great witness for God? Yes, I believe he is.

The actor Charlie Sheen coined the term “Winning!” during his drug and smut tour earlier this year, but the guy who represents that word far better than Sheen in his wildest dreams just may be Tim Tebow, the genuine article. He’s a winner on and off the field.