Crazy talk about Tebow wars

As I write this, Tim Tebow is three for five in the passing department for a total of 24 yards early in his start for the Denver Broncos against the Miami Dolphins. He has not, to my knowledge, parted the waters off South Beach or performed any miraculous act (unless there was a healing in the pre-game ceremonies).

I do not plan to offer any additional in-game updates.

Why the sarcasm? It sorta rubbed off on me reading this week’s ESPN feature that tried to combine every single religious cliche linked to the life and times of Tebow into one long, ever so snarky piece. Here’s the top of Tim Keown’s work:

What shall we say about the kingdom of Timothy Richard Tebow? And what parable should we choose to describe it?

Consider the day this past summer when Tebow attended the Junior Denver Broncos Cheerleaders brunch. It began with an adult requesting a photograph with the Broncos quarterback. Security stepped in and forbade it, for photographs with Tebow were deemed an opportunity for children only, so the adults were waved off.

But Tebow calmly said to the men in the yellow windbreakers, “It’s okay. As long as everyone stays cool, I will take photographs.” And so Tebow posed for photos with all who wanted them. And the picture-taking lasted for quite some time.

When all seekers had been satisfied, Tebow picked up a football and began tossing it around with a few of the junior cheerleaders. Soon an adult wanted Tebow to throw the ball to him, and the security men stepped in a second time, shaking their heads and declaring the receiving and throwing of passes off-limits to adults.

Again Tebow addressed the men, raising his hand and firmly — but without anger — telling them that this too was all right. As long as everyone continued to be cool, he would toss the football to all who wanted to catch it, regardless of age. And so it went that Tebow engaged in much throwing and catching, and it lasted quite some time, with men and women and members of the JDBC alike frolicking across Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium as in a scene from Roger Goodell’s vision of eternal life.

Believe it or not, the content of this piece is actually pretty good. It quickly becomes obvious that Tebow is not, in the end, the cause of the controversy that surrounds him. He comes off as a polite young man and a polite, team-oriented young professional. He is not grandstanding.

In a way, he cannot help it people seem to admire him, or loathe him, for reasons that transcend his current — repeat, current — skills on a football field.

Keown’s somewhat sarcastic, neo-biblical tone is the weakest part of this long piece, which is one of the best I have read on this whole phenomenon. It notes that back-up quarterbacks are, on losing teams, often seen as unrealistic signs of hope. If only the bum starter was replaced with the guy who represents change and hope, then all would be well.

Add to that Tebow’s charisma, fame and leadership qualities and you have a potential messiah scenario, even if the young man in the center of this scene is not attempting to fan the flames.

Which is why it came to pass that earlier this fall a Broncos official and an assistant coach found themselves having a discussion about the Tebow phenomenon. They covered the usual topics — the cultlike following, the astounding amount of media attention and the wild backlash to any criticism — before the assistant just shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “That’s because there’s never been anything like it,” the official replied.

Remember the pro-Tebow billboard that got so much attention? Had to be the work of a fundamentalist culture warrior, right?

It appears not. In what has to be the most interesting twist in an article full of them, the reader learns:

This is about a guy who garners so much excitement that fans in Green Bay joined visiting Broncos fans in chanting his name in the second half of the Packers’ Week 4 blowout win.

It’s about turning a 26-year-old devout Muslim named Mohammad Suleiman into a devout fan of an evangelical QB. Suleiman’s company, Multiline International Imports, normally uses a billboard near downtown Denver to advertise weekly specials, but after the Broncos’ 17-14 Week 3 loss to the Titans, he felt so strongly about Tebow that he changed it to: “Broncos Fans to John Fox: Play Tebow!” Explains Suleiman, “We didn’t have any specials that week, so we figured why not. We want to see what he’s got. I like Tebow. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like he has.”

Yes, this piece includes an unnecessary use of the “fundamentalist” label. Yes, it pokes fun a Tebow fans more than it does those who live to mock him (but that crowd is poked a little bit).

What’s the point of all of this? Religion causes controversy. It ticks some people off and inspires many more. Combine that with professional football in a city as Bronco crazed as Denver and you get — something as crazy as this article.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jeffrey

    Sports and religion journalsts (and their critics) should do us all a favor and not write about Tebow for at least a year. There’s nothing new in either the stories or the analysis.

  • Mike O.

    To give an idea of the type of adulation Tebow gets, before the game Miami announced it was going to be celebrating Tebow and the Florida Gators during halftime of the Denver-Miami game. The last time I can remember a team giving a planned celebration for a visiting active player was back when Kareem Abdul-Jabar was doing his last season farewell tour.

  • Daniel

    So is it the man or his message?

  • Mollie

    I really really really want to talk about how Tim Tebow pulled off an amazing come-from-behind effort at the end of game — complete with multiple drives and an extra point conversion to send the game into overtime, followed by doing what it took to score again.

    But I know Terry gets mad at me when I talk about my Denver Broncos, so I won’t.

  • tmatt

    Hey, I’m hardcore Broncos too from the years BEFORE the Super Bowl wins.

    But, hey, what did you think of this story/essay? I thought the INFO was great and the attitude was … forced.

  • tmatt

    Oh, I am spiking the crazy Tebow hate or Tebow luv posts. Read the ESPN story. Comment on IT, folks.

  • Mike O.

    Despite some recent great journalism by ESPN, whether it be their magazine or the amazing 30-for-30 film series, they are what they are today for throwing a little humor in their sports reporting.

    So I didn’t find it odd to see some asides that referenced Tebow’s faith. But saying that, there were a lot of such asides. It was to the point where I wanted to shake Tim Keown and say, “OK! We get it!”

    As far as the heart of the article itself I can’t really disagree with it. Some people follow him because of his likeability, some for what he did in Miami, and some for his faith. I don’t fault Keown for writing the article or what he wrote in the article (besides the aforementioned attempts at humor).

  • lucemichael

    Thanks for tackling this article which I actually caught on the ESPN website and thought while reading it, “wonder what the Get Religion folks would make of this piece?”

    Personally, I agree that it was a pretty good article, once I got past the snarky and somewhat irreverent use of religious imagery.

  • Roberto

    I enjoyed the article — I even like the mock-biblical tone. It captured the essence of the Tebow phenomenon: he embodies the two sources of hope and controversy for many Americans, religion and the backup QB.

    BTW, he pulled off quite the comeback yesterday. Let the mania increase!

  • Ryan K.

    The piece was interesting and one of the better one’s I have seen by ESPN who frequently tries to avoid anything religious. I agree that the portion telling of his interaction with fans was well placed as it further humanizes Tebow and shows that he does not seem to have bought in to the hype that everyone else has.

    In many ways Tebow is no longer a person so much as a symbol or icon of sorts. We are a cynical culture that seems skeptical of religion and people that are as nice and kind as Tebow is. It is almost as if he has become the rope in a cultural tug-o-war between a bygone era and the sensationalism world of our current cultural icons.

  • Lou Baumer

    Not only did Tebow lead his team back from 3 quarters of self-inflicted chaos—but he knelt down in the end zone in a thankful prayer after his two-point run to tie the game. When interviewed immediately after the game, Tim thankrd his Lord first and then his team for the victory. What many of the critics miss is that there is no “I” in either Tebow or Team.

  • Ray in buffalo

    Josh Hamilton, Albert Pulhos, and TEBOW —gentlemen rolemodels of the old school —may their tribe increase