He’s one of those rare athletes – a lot of people like him and a lot of people don’t, but just about everybody is talking about him and not just because of what he does on the football field.
Tim Tebow has replaced Michael Vick as the most intriguing player in the NFL and maybe in all of sports. This time last year, Vick was the talk of the town as he had an amazing season and led the Eagles to the NFC East title and put himself in the Pro Bowl. The ratings went through the roof whenever the Eagles played in television and Vick was the star of the show.
Now it’s Tebow’s time and Tebow’s turn. He certainly isn’t the one-of-a-kind athlete that Vick is and his statistics this season pale next to the numbers Vick put up last season. But they do have one thing in common – whatever it is they do, people want to watch them do it. Denver’s playoff victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday was the highest-rated wild card game in 24 years and that’s because of the interest people have in Tim Tebow.
Tebow impressed friend and foe alike when led the Denver Broncos to a 29-23 overtime victory over the Steelers and he impressed them with, of all things, is passing arm. Tebow, perhaps the worst throwing quarterback in recent memory, or at least the most awkward looking, became the only NFL QB since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to complete three passes of 50 yards or more in a playoff game.
But it’s Tebow’s off-the-field persona that seems to influence the love-or-hate reaction from fervid football fans and even non-fans, the kind of people who go to games for the tailgating and watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Tebow is an unabashed Christian and he’s vocal about it and that rubs a lot of fans the wrong way.
Why? Good question. Tebow is happy to acknowledge his faith, but he doesn’t rub people’s faces in it. He’ll thank the Lord at the beginning of every press conference and his Tebow time – he gets down on one knee and says a quick and earnest prayer – is being copied by all sorts of athletes, professional and amateur. But he doesn’t preach at people, he doesn’t hit them over the head with his religious beliefs.
And, from all indications, he’s sincere about them and that makes all the difference. There are plenty of people who put on a public face for the media and wear a different one – and usually one that’s not as pleasant – when the cameras and notepads aren’t around. But everyone who knows Tebow says that what you see on camera is what you get in private – a nice, humble kid who has an earnest love for the Lord.
Those people include wide receiver Riley Cooper of the Eagles, who played with Tebow at the University of Florida and saw Tebow in action on the field and off of it.
“Tim is just a nice, ordinary guy who’s been put in this extraordinary position,’’ Cooper said. “He’s always treated everybody the same, whether it’s the president of the university or the guy who sweeps out the locker room after the game. He was that way when he first came [to Florida] and he was that way after he won the Heisman. Even with all the fame and attention he gets, there are no pretensions about him.’’
What’s interesting about the Tebow-haters is that fans who rip Tebow for his public displays of faith will shrug at the me-first antics of many of today’s athletes. They get offended at Tebow because he’s quick to acknowledge a power higher and greater than himself, but they aren’t bothered by somebody who pounds his chest and flexes his muscles and points to the name on the back of his jersey after he catches a 5-yard pass or makes a simple tackle.
And perhaps the most telling thing about Tebow is that he smiles just as nicely at the people who don’t like him as at the ones who do. If somebody criticizes him, he just breaks into that admittedly goofy grin and says, well, that’s OK, everybody’s entitled to their opinion. In fact, Tebow sounds flattered that those people even mention him.
Tebow will never be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees, a smooth passing machine that does everything the way it’s supposed to be done. There’s a good chance he’ll never have a game like he did on Sunday. He may never win another playoff game and he’ll probably never play in a Pro Bowl.
So, if you don’t like Tim Tebow because you don’t think he’s a good quarterback, that’s fine. But if you don’t like him because of his beliefs and the way he expresses them, well, then the problem is yours, not his.