The Tebow Effect

Tim Tebow is saving the hearts of millions of sports fans
Commentary by Matt Nunez ‘12 | Editor-In-Chief

Last Sunday evening, I sat in a place high above Maryland and watched a spectacle put on by a man who many regard as divinely-touched. Yep, I was in Denver, Colorado at a Denver Broncos football game watching Tim Tebow put on another praise-worthy performance that included, as usual, a unique mix of passing and running skills, late-game heroics, and praise to his “Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Call it the Mile High Miracle, but the simple fact is that Tebow has come, and he has saved the hearts of sports fans around the world.

It was Good vs. Bad in more ways than one during the AFC Wild Card game, in which Tebow and his Broncos faced “Big Ben” Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The two quarterbacks didn’t resemble each other at all on paper. Tebow was the poster child of Christian athletes everywhere.  But while Tebow’s faith-based humility captured the hearts of millions, he wasn’t a very good quarterback.

Roethlisberger, on the other hand, was a seasoned veteran who had been to three Super Bowls in his eight NFL seasons, won two, and brought Pittsburgh memories of the golden days of Bradshaw and Lambert.  However, Roethlisberger wasn’t exactly a fan-favorite, having been accused of sexual assault twice. In Vegas, though, it’s the stats that matter, and Roethlisberger was a clear favorite. The Steelers were 8½ point favorites, but it was Tebow who shone, and ultimately won, under an immaculate Denver sunset in a 29-23 overtime victory for the Broncos.

The sophomore quarterback, who had gone from college superstar at Florida to NFL wannabe in Denver, rejoiced after tossing the game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass by jumping into the crowd, and then only seconds later “Tebowing” into a focused prayer of thanks to God. The pose – “Tebowing” – has swept the nation as a new fad, and has put a subtle hint of God into a now-everyday gesture.

Yes, Tebow’s faith drives a lot of people away, but it has sent more writers than not into an endless debate on what role God actually plays in Tebow’s success – out of twelve games, Tebow has achieved six fourth-quarter or overtime comeback victories – and furthermore, in sports itself.

The one thing that I know, though, is that we’ll never know. There are so many instances where one may be convinced that God is working around them. Some may be true, and some are the results of over-analysation. For example, on Sunday, Tebow threw for 316 yards with an average of 31.6 yards per pass. One of Tebow’s favorite Bible verses also happens to be John 3:16. Coincidence? Or is this just God’s sense of humor? Who knows, but the point is, Tebow’s success has opened the hearts of sports fans everywhere to actually consider that this God figure might actually have an influence on our everyday lives.

So what makes Tebow so special? Faith has always been present in football culture – amongst the players, not always the fans – but Tebow has taken it to a new level. Each game, players will, if they desire, say individual prayers beforehand in the endzone, then as a group at midfield following the final whistle.

Well, besides surviving the call for his abortion while in his mother’s womb, doing mission work in the Philippines, and pledging himself to purity, Tebow brings his faith to the public eye, if not shoving it down their throats. That is a common misconception that many people have: that Tebow is on a constant mission of evangelization. I think Tebow is merely expressing his faith in the most familiar, polite way possible. It is the fans who blow it up into something bigger, because, for another Tebow effect, he brings (mostly) desirable, good-hearted news to a media (and sports) world that focuses so much on negatives, like accusations of criminal behavior leveled against Roethlisberger and Michael Vick.

The positivity that Tebow brings is endless. A rubber bracelet I received at the game reads, “WWTTD? (What Would Tim Tebow Do?).” Of course, many don’t give him credibility because of his shaky play, but Tebow also portrays a quiet, confident determination that shuts down all criticism. The one they said would never make it big in the NFL just picked up a quarter-million dollar contract bonus, despite claiming that it was only the outstanding play of his teammates that “makes [him] look better.”

Now Tebow has the opportunity to advance to the AFC Championship and pick up another quarter-million if he is able to win on Saturday at New England (8pm). For now, though, Tebow is just happy to be in the position he’s in.

Every fan in Denver is happy to be there, too. Following the final whistle, Sports Authority Field at Mile High erupted into a celebration that seemed as if it would collapse the stadium. While Tebow took a victory lap around the field, the cartoon character Cartman from “South Park” came on the stadium screens, directing a “Let’s go, Tebow” chant. Half an hour later, it was the same story, with fans chanting his name all the way back to the parking lots. My cell phone exploded with text messages and Facebook notifications from friends who couldn’t believe what they had seen, or that I had just witnessed it.

One Facebook comment read, “you breathed his air,” while another said, “You saw Jesus.” Well, I don’t know what I saw out there, but it did seem magical. Many will say that there was “something else” present, and frankly, I can’t argue against that. Whatever it is, though, it’s got everyone watching one young athlete, and many taking his word that it is, in fact, God’s will. How about that for a football story?

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