Last Sunday afternoon, amid the noise of NFL squads either launching a late-season push for the playoffs or resigning themselves to hopes of drafting Andrew Luck, the Denver Broncos chased down the Chicago Bears in overtime, 13-10. In and of itself, the Broncos’ win is hardly the stuff of gridiron greatness. Sure, they came from behind to pick up the victory in a hard-fought struggle. And they needed a little help in the form of a Marion Barber fumble to snare even a chance at the game-winning field goal. But win they did — for the sixth straight week. Given the fact that three of those six victories have required overtime, some have taken to using the word “miraculous” to define the Broncos’ recent winning ways.
I am not among those who add divine descriptions to gridiron grandeur. Luck (“Lady,” not “Andrew”) has blessed the Broncos, who began their season with limited hopes of a title. And an oft-maligned, questionably prepared quarterback has hoisted the team on his broad shoulders and carried it toward the proverbial end zone. Tim Tebow, who began the season clinging desperately to a spot on the Broncos’ bench, has emerged as The Mile High City’s man of the year.
Tebow carries a football resume stuffed with superlatives. He won the Heisman Trophy and a pair of national championships during his tenure under center at the University of Florida. And now, despite an odd throwing motion, a marked tendency to telegraph his passes and an aggravatingly persistent belief in his own right to victory, Tebow looks heroic.
For some people, however, Tebow has become a lightning rod for controversy — and not because they are die-hard Chiefs fans. Forget about Michael Vick, Adam “Pacman” Jones and Plaxico Burress. For what may be the first time, an NFL player has earned the distaste of detractors — from sanctimonious sportswriters who would likely hide behind Tebow if they faced a jailbreak blitz on third-and-long to smug liberals who watch soccer and call football “American football,” despite having never ventured farther east than Martha’s Vineyard — not for being a bad player, but for being a good guy.
Tebow displays more than merely a burning desire to win football games. He displays a surplus of something the aforementioned folks lack: character. As witnessed during his infamous Super Bowl ad a couple of years ago, Tebow — himself nearly a victim of abortion — is unabashedly pro-life. As witnessed every time he runs over some undersized safety at the goal line, Tebow is also unabashedly open about his faith. We should be thankful he is so devout. Imagine the horror if “Vicking” became a meme instead of “Tebowing.” (And imagine the PETA protests at NFL functions.)
Tebow is no paper-thin theologist who praises Jesus on his way to the strip club; his off-seasons are filled instead with mission work to places where the Son of Man himself is less than revered. If only Tebow spent his summers unwinding with a nice puppy-lynching or nightclub shooting, Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen might have earned a congratulatory phone call from President Obama — much like Eagles’ owner Jeff Lurie did following his decision to allow Vick a second chance. Instead, Tebow is vilified by people who normally wile away their Sundays reading The New York Times style section, looking for another photo of Barbra Streisand to add to their scrapbooks.
Tebow is no second coming — not even of Joe Montana. In fact, he might not even be the second coming of Trent Dilfer. If he were more circumspect about his life off the gridiron, he would garner less attention than — say — Joe Flacco. In the interest of full disclosure, I am no Broncos fan. I will root against them with the volume of a Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Square should they ever meet my Giants on the field. I’ll also be fair and note that some people despise Tebow either because he went to Florida and they’re Georgia fans, or because he quarterbacks the Broncos and they’re Raiders fans (who pretty much hate everyone).
Liberals hate Tebow for his full-throated acknowledgement that his talents, like all of our lives, are a gift from the Almighty. I respect him for actually working to be the sort of role model the NFL seldom features but ought to. But Broncos fans have a better idea about Tebow than either the liberals or me: They love him because he’s 7-1 as a Sunday starter.