When he made Sports Illustrated’s cover, Tim Tebow’s face showed a player determined to win, and his eye black featured what is probably the most used Bible verse in all of American sports, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
If human achievement can’t exemplify the claim made in Scripture, then Tim Tebow’s football efforts come close. While in college, it seemed his “Superman” nickname was highlighted by the assumption in that verse — he could do all things. Even now, it’s tough to deny that Tim Tebow was one of college football’s all-time great quarterbacks. He holds records for passing efficiency and interception ratios as well as a Heisman win (as a sophomore) and a National Championship. His college career was dynamic and inspirational in a way that few players experience, and everything from his press conferences to his famous eye black brought a welcome attention to this successful athlete who loved Jesus enough to give Him credit for a win.
He took that dedication and drive to the NFL, where he pulled off wins in Denver that created a fervor around his play that remains strong in some Tebow-loving circles. Heck, the man’s name became a verb for a while: you probably saw pictures of people “Tebowing.” Even though Denver’s team is much better off with its current quarterback, there are Tebow enthusiasts who still pine for the days of the miraculous victories on the mile-high gridiron.
But all that hope has not developed into much of anything; Tebow’s not only not an NFL starter, he’s not even on a team. For a football league that regularly hires and keeps middling quarterbacks just for insurance purposes, the fact that Tim Tebow is unemployed is somewhat of a shock — I expected there to be way more interest in him as a player.
Yet that Sports Illustrated cover remains. Sure it’s nearly five years old, but it sports a scripture on Tim Tebow’s face that seems to stand in contrast to the assumption that, to this point, Tebow can’t do all things. He hasn’t made it.
To his credit, Tebow hasn’t sequestered himself in a cave somewhere. First, that commercial that aired during the Super Bowl highlighted the very situation I’m talking about. In classic Tebow fashion, he comes off looking like a serious man who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
But he hasn’t stopped trying to be an NFL quarterback even as he’s started a new job as an analyst on ESPN’s SEC network. Like most things Tebow, this move gained quite a bit of attention. Almost as an answer to those who might worry that his playing days are over, he made it clear that he’s still pursuing his #1 goal: the NFL. His announcement read, in part, “while I continue to pursue my dream of playing quarterback in the NFL, this is an amazing opportunity to be part of the unparalleled passion of college football and the SEC.”
That quote — “while I continue to pursue my dream” — stuck with me, mainly because I think he’s missing a golden opportunity that he may not have yet considered. I think now is the perfect opportunity to quit football.
The difficulty in surrendering his dream comes from one of his major strengths: Tim Tebow ain’t no quitter. He doesn’t do it well, if at all. In fact, he’s been accused of being hardheaded and unwilling to consider another position or even another football league.
So I’m not ignoring his past when I suggest he should quit. In fact, without that past, I wouldn’t have much to go on because Tebow’s ability to inspire a following always seemed to outweigh his ability to throw a spiral. His post-game interviews sounded louder than the concussive hits that he took — and delivered — near any goal line. He’s a leader without a doubt, and people paid attention.
I’m saying that he should use that platform to showcase the one thing we rarely see from Bible-quoting athletes: how to fail. That verse he wore under his eyes doesn’t guarantee success, even though we rarely see anyone but the first place guy quoting it.
No, that verse means quite a bit more than just “you get what you want.” At its most foundational, Philippians 4:13 is a descriptive pathway to a life of ups and downs, successes and defeats — the source of survival to all that is not due to effort, but due to the grace of Him who strengthens. That verse has never been about the athlete who quotes it, not even when Tim Tebow wears it. The great thing about Tebow is that he knows it.
So, if I may, I’d like to suggest that Tim Tebow quit football now, when people are still paying attention. Because he can do all things through Christ, with or without the eyeblack.