He kneels in prayer at times when many players would be pounding their chest, and is winning with a style the experts insist cannot work for long.
Tim Tebow’s formula for success and fame is not typical for the NFL. So, is it a football miracle? Or the perfect blend of luck, timing and big plays? That’s the debate that makes the tale of the Denver Broncos quarterback one of the most compelling stories in America these days.
Hardly anyone stands on neutral ground when it comes to the purveyor of this unorthodox mix of throwing mechanics, big-time sports and devout religion, a 24-year-old Christian who is the subject of comedy skits on Saturday nights and serious sermons on Sunday mornings.
But what most people will agree on is that it’s hard to take your eyes off Tebow these days — a man who unapologetically uses football to take his message beyond the field.
“I’m just very thankful for the platform that God has given me, and the opportunity to be a quarterback for the Denver Broncos — what a great organization,” Tebow said after his latest shocker — an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime Sunday to beat Pittsburgh 29-23 in the wild-card playoffs.
Not that referencing the Bible or thanking God is anything new in sports. After NFL games for years, a small group of athletes gather around midfield, kneel, hold hands and pray. That devotion has been largely ignored or even criticized by media and fans.
“The thing with Tebow is that he seems more genuinely religious than most athletes, who seem to be religious to win games,” said Clifford Putney, author of the book “Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920.”
But the Tebow angst still exists, in large part because there is seemingly no way to analyze what he does on a football field without religion seeping into at least some part of that analysis.
Opine about his unorthodox throwing motion — widely derided by scouts and coaches and seemingly more suited for tossing a boomerang than a football — and the quick assumption becomes that you might not like him because of his religious beliefs.
Defend him as a winner who cares less about conventionality and depends more on moxie than mechanics — well, then you must be drinking the Kool-Aid, a Tebow fan because you’re in line with his Christian beliefs.
“I still have doubts about him as a long-term answer, as I think most reasonable people do,” said radio host Sandy Clough, who has been manning Denver’s sports talk shows for more than 30 years. “Does one game, if he plays well, not only invalidate his play from the other [bad] games but anything anyone’s ever said about it? Well, no it doesn’t. It’s all part of the mix. It’s a fascinating mix.”