Do you believe in Tebow?

I bleed Orange and Blue, which means that I’m having a great year. My Denver Broncos, who were completely out of the running just a few games in, somehow managed to tie for first place in the AFC West last week. And this week we — yes, I’m a key component of the team’s success — had another amazing win in overtime to get first place on our own. I had already psychologically prepared for this week’s loss. We were behind 10-0 with just minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. Unbelievable.

I was fine with the Broncos picking Kyle Orton over Tim Tebow as starting quarterback earlier this year, but I think everyone agrees that the decision to hand the reins over to Tebow has made for some fun football. Fun, heart attack-inducing football. Week after week, Tebow pulls off some improbable come-from-behind scenario to send the game into overtime or winning in the last minutes.

But the weirdest thing of all about Tebow is how so many of his lovers and loathers are basing their feelings about him on his religious persona. I just like him because he wins, but apparently I’m in the minority. This weekend we saw tons of coverage of Tebow and much of it was focused on religion. Here’s the Christian Science Monitor. Here’s Frank Bruni in the New York Times (with a good column ending in a lamer-than-lame kicker). Here’s Salon‘s “Hallelujah! The Liberal Case For Tim Tebow.” Last week Grantland had Chuck Klosterman’s analysis of Tebow haters. And since we’re linking things, here’s a nice non-religiony think piece from last month on what Tebow demonstrates about changes in the NFL. As I type this, Bob Costas is featuring Tebow-mania for his monologue.

I may be a tad biased, but Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s Tebow Christianity Today Q&A from the summer is still a great read.

But the piece I rather enjoyed from this weekend — and would recommend for anyone hoping to learn exactly why Tebow is loved and loathed both during play and after it — is an excerpt from Patton Dodd’s e-book “The Tebow Mystique: The Faith and Fans of Football’s Most Polarizing Player.”

That e-book has been getting a bunch of buzz recently and the Wall Street Journal featured a bit from it on the front page of the review section for its Saturday Essay. “Tim Tebow: God’s Quarterback” discusses how “he has led the Denver Broncos to one improbable victory after another—defying his critics and revealing the deep-seated anxieties in American society about the intertwining of religion and sports.” After describing one of the various improbable victories, we learn:

And when the shouting was over, Mr. Tebow did what he always does—he pointed skyward and took a knee in prayer. In postgame interviews, the young quarterback often starts by saying, “First, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and ends with “God bless.” He stresses that football is just a game and that God doesn’t care who wins or loses.

This combination of candid piety and improbable success on the field has made Mr. Tebow the most-discussed phenomenon of the National Football League season.

Since I’m an expat living on the East Coast, yesterday was the first game I’d gotten to see instead of listen to on a live stream of KOA-850 (remind me to tell you the fun and delightful story about how Comcast failed to fix my cable for day after day surrounding the Monday Night game featuring the Broncos last month). If you watched the post-game yesterday, you saw Tebow do exactly these things in his interview.

The article discusses how sports and religion mingle regularly and how various players acknowledge their faith during or after games. But Tebow, we’re told, “has never been content to leave his evangelical faith on the field.” We are reminded of that Focus on the Family pro-life ad that ran during the Superbowl last year:

The ad takes the softest possible approach to the subject and never uses the terms “abortion” or “pro-life,” but its intent was clear, and it generated controversy. Since then, feelings about Mr. Tebow have been a litmus test of political and social identity. If you think he’s destined to be a winner, you must be a naive evangelical. If you question his long-term chances as an NFL quarterback, you must hate people who love Jesus.

I only feel safe saying this as a diehard Broncos fan who loves Tebow but these stereotypes have a basis. Of course, they also don’t capture the entire range of thought, which we get to later in the piece.

Anyway, the piece gives some fascinating history about how basketball, volleyball and other sports were invented by Christians and a bit about the religious motivation that led them to do that.

One of the under-reported features of Tebow’s popularity is that it’s nice for parents to be able to point to an athlete who is not flaunting immorality in his day-to-day life. The piece gets into that, noting the career threats of defective character. To wit:

More recently, we have seen the disrupted careers of star athletes like Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Tiger Woods—men whose lives in professional sports have been undermined by character faults. Such stories are more common than we realize. For every Michael Oher (Mr. Lewis’s subject in “The Blind Side”) who overcomes harsh beginnings and makes it, there are many other promising athletes who are overcome by their own worst impulses. They lose, the game loses and fans lose.

And we get a look at the other side of the coin — folks like Josh Hamilton and Tony Dungy who have support in religious communities. Dodd argues that many critics are driven crazy by “the equanimity and generosity that his faith inspires in him.” We are reminded of his mercy and missionary work and given several anecdotes and data points.

Mr. Tebow’s acts of goodwill have often been more intimate. In December 2009, he attended a college-football awards ceremony in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The night before, at another gala at Walt Disney World Resort, he met a 20-year-old college-football fan named Kelly Faughnan, a brain-tumor victim who suffers from hearing loss and visible, continual tremors. She was wearing a button that said “I love Timmy.” Someone noticed and made sure that the young woman had a chance to meet the player.

Mr. Tebow spent a long while with Ms. Faughnan and her family, and asked her if she’d like to be his date for the award ceremony the following night. She agreed, and the scene of Mr. Tebow escorting the trembling young woman down the red carpet led much of the reporting about the event.

The piece looks at sites that highlight — if not kid about — Tebow piety. There’s the obligatory reference to Tebowing and I loved learning that the Internet meme was started by a Jewish Broncos fan and that support for the site has come from rabbis who are pleased that prayer in public is being treated favorably. I also loved the mention of a young boy who Tebowed with an IV attached to his arm “Tebowing while chemoing.” Also, if you haven’t checked out the web site lately, there are some great recent Tebowing pictures uploaded, from wedding guests in front of a wedding cake to an airline pilot in front of his plane.

The discussion of Tebow’s eyeblack actualy quotes various Scripture verses, including “Philippians 4:6-7, which reads, in part: ‘And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’” There’s actually a really interesting graphic where three of the many eyeblack verses are explained (left).

I liked that the graphic accurately used the word Gospel. I did read one complaint on Twitter from Andy Crouch:

I am nearly sure Tim Tebow does not read the KJV. Why do national media keep quoting from it rather than a neutral modern translation?

I’m not entirely sure we know what translations a given Christian might read in their home but I’m interested in the view that the King James Version is somehow less neutral than another translation. I frequently use King James or New King James when I’m quoting Scripture in my writing even though it’s not primarily what I use in my home or church. Not to mention that the particular verses quoted above are quite readable for having been translated centuries ago. Anyway, I wanted to mention this complaint because I’m very curious what other readers think about it.

The final part I wanted to highlight from the piece was a discussion of hypocrisy. I have this friend who is very upfront about his cynicism. He openly roots for both the New England Patriots and Tebow’s eventual moral downfall. The article addresses this phenomenon and how we are all better able to handle moral failure than trust in anyone’s goodness.

The essay does a nice job of hitting many elements and giving a solid overview of the Tebow phenomenon and the religious angles. (Go Broncos!)

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  • Bob Waters

    Sadly, I believed in Marion Barber.

  • michael

    I might’ve believed in Tebow, but I’m still angry at him for stealing the Heisman from Darren McFadden.

    I did believe in Elway though. I have fond memories from my younger days of camping out at Mile High for the AFC championship game against the Browns. That was before Terrell Davis and Mike Shannahan. Elway was a one man team back then. Those were good times, at least until the Super Bowl.

    I guess I need a journalism take. Does Larry Zimmer still call games for the Broncos?

  • Chris Bolinger

    As a die-hard Browns fan who had my heart broken by The Drive and then again by The Fumble, I could never bring myself to root for the Broncos…until now. Yesterday, I grinned as the NFL crew on ESPN — people who cover the NFL for a living — spent 15 minutes explaining how they could not explain what is happening in Denver.

    The best part of Klosterman’s very good column is the end:
    “…Tebow wrecks all that, because he makes blind faith a viable option. His faith in God, his followers’ faith in him — it all defies modernity. This is why people care so much. He is making people wonder if they should try to believe things they don’t actually believe.”

  • Roberto

    An equally good, if not better, piece is Grantland’s piece on Robert Griffin III of Baylor. It’s an informative piece about the “Baylor Bubble,” which shed light on not only the Heisman Trophy winner but also our own TMatt.

  • carl jacobs

    No, I don’t believe in Tim Tebow. I think he is a good smart football player who will either markedly improve his QB skills or will find himself not playing QB. I want him to succeed. I do not think he will succeed. And I don’t think he is going to change how the position of QB is played. Let’s face facts. How many good teams have the Broncos beaten in this winning streak. They caught the Jets on a short week. They caught the Bears without Cutler and Forte. And the Vikings are … well … the Vikings. The Broncos would get folded spindled and mutilated by the Packers or the Saints. All of Tebow’s faults as a quarterback would be exposed by a team that can score. I dread that moment because lots of people are waiting for it. They will be merciless.

    The hostility to Tebow isn’t driven by people who are wondering whether they should believe things they don’t believe. They don’t believe those things, and have nothing but contempt for those who do. What they want is for their expectations about the world to be confirmed. They expect Tebow to be a hypocrite and so they want him revealed as a hypocrite. They expect Tebow to be a loser and so they want him revealed as a loser. They want visible tangible evidence of the falsehood of Christianity to be revealed in Tebow’s life. They will become increasingly frustrated until their expectations are met.

    Tebow’s unforgivable sin is that he doesn’t play the role demanded of him. He is supposed to fail. He is supposed to reveal his feet of clay. Then the critics and mockers will scoff and say “We knew it all along. He is a fraud just like his religion and his god.” The ironic part of course is that Tebow does have feet of clay – as do we all. And defeat is often more central in the Providence of God than victory. Tebow would I suspect give thanks for defeat just as quickly as victory. It would just hurt alot more. But that is a central lesson of living the Christian life.


  • Grung_e_Gene

    “I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go. I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a *christian* quarterback do well. They’re interested in *christian* coaches and *christian* quarterbacks doing well. I think there’s a little hope invested in *Tebow*, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he really didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”

  • Julia

    I am nearly sure Tim Tebow does not read the KJV. Why do national media keep quoting from it rather than a neutral modern translation?

    I have no idea what a neutral modern translation is.

    However, I do know that the Catholic Church was and is often
    castigated for not wanting the Bible to be translated. The problem wasn’t translation itself – the issue was how it was translated. Maybe that’s what he meant?

    Gutenberg’s first major print job was a Catholic Vulgate Bible.

    Prior to printing:

    there are some fragmentary Old English Bible translations, notably a lost translation of the Gospel of John into Old English by the Venerable Bede, which he is said to have prepared shortly before his death around the year 735. An Old High German version of the gospel of Matthew dates to 748. Charlemagne in ca. 800 charged Alcuin with a revision of the Latin Vulgate. The translation into Old Church Slavonic was started in 863 by Cyril and Methodius.

    Alfred the Great had a number of passages of the Bible circulated in the vernacular in around 900. These included passages from the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch, which he prefixed to a code of laws he promulgated around this time. In approximately 990, a full and freestanding version of the four Gospels in idiomatic Old English appeared, in the West Saxon dialect; these are called the Wessex Gospels.

    Pope Innocent III in 1199 banned unauthorized versions of the Bible as a reaction to the Cathar and Waldensian heresies. The synods of Toulouse and Tarragona (1234) outlawed possession of such renderings. There is evidence of some vernacular translations being permitted while others were being scrutinized.

    The complete Bible was translated into Old French in the late 13th century. Parts of this translation were included in editions of the popular Bible historiale, and there is no evidence of this translation being suppressed by the Church.[9]. The entire Bible was translated into Czech around 1360.

    Or perhaps the writer means the dispute over word for word translation as opposed to paraphrasing?

  • Steve

    Unlike contemporary translations, the KJV is safely in the public domain, so no copyright notices need be posted. True, brief excerpts qualify under fair use, and many of the translations (the NIV, for example) give clear instructions on how they want you to make citations, but the whole thing can be avoided by using the familiar King James Version.

    It just makes things easier.

  • Jerry

    This uproar of him has reached the point where he’s apparently a second coming or something based on this:

    In Denver, where the Broncos are the closest thing to a universal religion, the faith for football is so fervent that it sometimes supersedes other beliefs — especially since the arrival of Tim Tebow.

    It’s perfectly wonderful to root for a football team and applaud a player. But when we start seeing purple prose like this, I have to think it says more about the writers and fans lack of true religious faith. They seem to be worshiping Tebow (and football) not God and drawing parallels between his feats on the field with raising the dead.

  • John M.

    I’m also puzzled by the use of KJV, but at a bit of a loss to suggest anything better. Even the flawed-but-mostly-innocuous NIV has descended into gender-neutral controversy of late.

    The RSV is too mainline, the NASB is too literal, Douay-Rheims is too Catholic, the ASV has the advantage of being public domain, but has all of the stiltedness of the KJV without the latter’s cozy familiarity. The ESV might not be a bad pick, but it might be too evangelical. I’m growing fond of the HCSB, but they take way too many departures from centuries-old traditions to be useful in this context. (“Yahweh” vs. “the LORD” and “Messiah” vs. “Christ” in 1611 would have saved us a lot of trouble, but that bridge was crossed and is certainly a bridge too far for a journalistic audience.)

    I vote NKJV. It’s not the best textually for a lot of reasons, but they did a good job of preserving the flow and word order of the KJV while dramatically improving readability for a 21st century audience. FWIW, it’s the Gideons’ pick for hotel Bibles.

    Those are my $.02.


  • tmatt


    Huh? Come again?

  • Ray Szarek

    Unlike your life-long Pats fan friend; THIS Pats fan will be rooting for Tebow this Sunday. No way I’m getting involved in a KJV vs. XYZ version!

  • Will

    Has it ever occurred to Klosterman that “blind faith” is two words?

  • Jay DiNitto

    What if we don’t care about sports or whomever this Tebow clown is?

  • Julia

    Talk about hostility to a religious athlete.
    St Louis is erupting over comments by Albert Pujols and more particularly by his wife saying the devil was deceiving St Louis fans who are spreading the hate around. Deidre was responding to a front page piece in the “the paper” (Post Dispatch) about a church gathering Pujols jerseys and shipping them to the poor in LA. She’s most upset about Christians giving her a hard time and abandoning their charitable foundation. And she chooses to spout off on the Christian radio station that she and her husband made possible by donating the funds to take over the local classical & arts station.

    Speaking on St. Louis Christian radio station JOY-FM, Deidre Pujols said, “the devil has overplayed his hand because I have Christian folk trying to throw the Word in my face.”

    Question: should a public medium give a half hour soap box to somebody who has investments in that medium? The interviewer, Sandi Brown, is the general manager of the station and says there are no reporters there.

    In Monday’s interview, Brown and co-host Greg Cassidy commiserated with Pujols about the rough treatment she said had come their way from “the newspaper” and reassured her that the JOY-FM studio was free of reporters and therefore “a safe place” for her. Asking her listeners for words of encouragement for Pujols, Brown said, she “felt it important that she receive the encouragement that their family may not be getting in some other public media.”

    Link to Tim Townsend’s piece that reports her words and gives some background on the radio station:

  • Deacon Michael D. Harmon

    If you go to the doctor and say you have a headache, a stabbing pain in your left foot and sores on your backside, the doctor will treat your symptoms, but will try to find if there is an underlying disease or combination of them that is causing the symptoms.

    The fuss over Tebow (Dungy, Pujols, etc.) is a symptom. The underlying condition (note I did not say disease) is what carl jacobs’ last graf lays out directly: Christianity is the offense. To some, Tebow et al. plead guilty to it every time a finger points skyward or a knee is bent. And why should the guilty be celebrated, hypocrites and fools that they are? Tebow’s QB skills appear marginal for the NFL, but so are those of most rookies, and even the best prospects often underperform for several seasons until they learn new skills — if they do. But Tebow has something more, and whether it comes from his faith (which isn’t necessarily “blind”) or not, it draws attention to what many think of as his backward beliefs. (And it also means he garners support where he might not have earned it yet, either.) I doubt God cares who wins on Sunday. I have no doubt He cares about all the people who play that day, though.

  • Julia

    Christianity is the offense.

    I doubt God cares who wins on Sunday. I have no doubt He cares about all the people who play that day, though.

    Albert and his wife say that God told them to go to the Angels, and it isn’t about the money. And they say the devil is at work if St Louis people aren’t happy with that.

    If Pujols & wife were Muslim or Baptist or Catholic and said such things, it would still feel like a slap in the face – it’s a slam on the team and town they are leaving. It has nothing to do with people disliking Christianity. It’s using God as an excuse, instead of acknowledging it’s the money. In fact, the Pujols are particularly upset about their Christian friends in St Louis throwing the Word of God in their face.

  • Eric

    Christianity the offense… or offense? Depends how you play the game. At least Timmy seems to know his defense is sure.