It’s not everybody’s favorite gospel, particularly in the world of professional sports, but it’s got a lot of people talking and thinking — including Frank Bruni in the New York Times:
He genuflects so publicly and frequently that to drop to one knee in the precise way he does has been given its own word, along with its own Web site, where you can see photographs of people Tebowing inside St. Peter’s, in front of the Taj Mahal, on sand, on ice and even underwater.
That zeal doesn’t go over so well with many football enthusiasts, me included. Tebow performs a sort of self-righteous bait-and-switch — you come for scrimmages and he subjects you to scriptures — and the displeasure with that is also writ colorfully on the Web, in Tebow-ridiculing Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, one devoted entirely to snapshots through time of Tebow in tears. An emotional man, he has traveled a weepy path to this point.
But the intensity of the derision strikes me as unwarranted, in that it outdoes anything directed at, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, accused repeatedly of sexual assault, or other players actually convicted of burglary, gun possession and other crimes. In a league full of blithe felons, Tebow and his oppressive piety don’t seem like such horrendous affronts at all.
Besides which, to get lost in the nature of his Christianity is to miss the ecumenical, secular epiphanies in his — and the Broncos’ — extraordinary season. Their sudden turnaround isn’t just thrilling. It illustrates the limits of logic and the shortcomings of the most quickly made measurements and widely cited metrics.
In sports as in politics, business and so much else, we like to think that we’ve broken down the components of achievement and that, looking at those components, we can predict who (and what) will prevail. But if any football analyst at the start of this season had said that a quarterback averaging under 140 yards of passing a game — that’s Tebow’s sorry statistic — would have a 6-1 record as a starter and be considered the linchpin of his team, few people would have bought it.
BUT Tebow tends to have his worst 45 minutes of play when it matters least and his best 15 when it matters most. And while he makes many mistakes, their cost is seldom exorbitant. These aren’t so much skills as tendencies — inclinations — that prove to be every bit as consequential as the stuff of rankings and record books. He reminds us that strength comes in many forms and some people have what can be described only as a gift for winning, which isn’t synonymous with any spreadsheet inventory of what it supposedly takes to win.
This gift usually involves hope, confidence and a special composure, all of which keep a person in the game long enough, with enough energy and stability, so that a fickle entity known as luck might break his or her way. For Tebow that state of mind comes from his particular relationship with his chosen God and is a matter of religion. For someone else it might be understood and experienced as the power of positive thinking, and is a matter of psychology. Either way it boils down to stubborn optimism and bequeaths a spark. A swagger. An edge.