Weighing In on Tebowmania

THREE MINUTES LEFT on the clock. Bears 10, Broncos 0. It’s been a rough three-and-a-half quarters for Denver, but Tebow has just completed his last five passes or something like that. Too little, too late? Fifty-two seconds later, the Broncos find the end-zone on a Tebow pass. No, this can’t be happening again…can it? The Broncos attempt a valiant on-side kick, but the Bears recovered. With no timeouts left, the Broncos are powerless to stop the Bears from simply running out the clock. Sigh, miracle averted…

Wait, did Barber just run out-of-bounds?!

Clock stopped. Another short run and the Bears punt it on fourth down. Broncos receive the ball with a minute left. Cue the bat signal–Tebow’s coming out with his cape. A few quick plays, a few long completions. First, he hits Decker, then it’s Thomas–like all of a sudden these gloves are dipped in super glue. Fourth down with about eight seconds remaining. Enter Matt Prater, the Broncos kicker, to attempt a 59-yarder to tie the game. (Um, that’s one yard short of sixty. That’s really, really long.) And the kick is…good (by about five yards)! You’ve got to be kidding me…are we really heading into overtime?

In extra time, the Bears win the coin-toss and elect to retrieve the ball. The Bears respond resiliently with several clutch plays including an amazing catch by Barber. Bears charge down the field and are in field-goal range. All they need is another down and the kicker has a very makeable three points. (Alas, I guess it’s too good to be true…) Hanie takes one last snap, hands off to Barber. He looks like he’s about to break away–wait, fumble! Scramble on the field, ball recovered by Broncos. UNBELIEVABLE. Now, Denver offense gets a chance to march down the field. And…

I don’t need to tell you the rest of the story. You know how it ends. Even Hollywood couldn’t come up with a script like this. Isn’t this stuff made of legends, things you might find in fairy tales or discover in movies? No, it’s real. I know it because I don’t own Madden 12 and I can’t mistake my TV images for a video game. I know it because I am staying up late on a work night to write an article about it. And I know it because, quite frankly, all of America is talking about it.

Indeed, I am just one of the latest and many to be swept away by Tebowmania.

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! What is going on here?”

For those of you who haven’t been following this, you might be sounding a bit like Mr. Belding. Even if you haven’t been participating in Tebowmania directly (watching his games), you have probably been involved indirectly (engaged in conversations, news articles, or blogs). Chances are, if you are living in America and have any sort of access to the Internet and media, you have heard something having to do with a guy whose name rhymes with Lim Lebow.

So, what’s the big deal? Here’s the skinny: he’s a second-year QB out of Florida–a program that he helped lead to two national championships–with supposedly bad mechanics and lack of skill who is leading his team to a 7-1 resurgence after a dismal 1-4 start. And he’s doing it in dramatic fashion, with three wins in overtime and another three victories by a touchdown or less.

Oh, and by the way, he sure loves his Jesus. You might have heard it here or seen it there. All of which has sparked several debates on sports radio and TV stations across the country about sports, society, religion, and well, the intermingling of all three.

Whoa, blow the whistle–beeeeeeep! Timeout. All that sounds pretty heavy. I think we’ll need to break down the X’s and O’s and tackle each topic one by one.

Tebow the PLAYER

For starters, let’s talk about what we know about Tebow as a football player. He is a consummate winner. He’s done it all throughout his life–before all the national fanfare, before his Heisman award and two college championships, before his current string of wins in Denver. He did it when he was younger and he is doing it now. And he’s always been doing it in spite of criticism, when players and coaches would consistently deride him for playing out of position or not having the required skill sets to excel at the next level. It can be argued that Tebow’s ability to win is extra impressive because he is doing so in the constant face of adversity.

Tebow is a naturally fiery competitor. You don’t have to tell him to work hard, to put his body on the line for every play, to make decisions that would best lead his team to a W. He holds himself accountable for every completion, every miss, every play. He is a leader, not just by words but by actions. When his Florida Gators team faced a shocking loss to Ole Miss in 2008, he said: “You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season.” Tebow would go on propel his team to another national championship later that year.

The talking heads all say that he hasn’t developed the tools to do the job right. By their accounts he shouldn’t be as successful as he has been. Tebow would be the first to tell you that he still has a lot to learn. I am by no means a football expert, but I do know enough basic math to differentiate between the winning and losing teams on a scoreboard. However you want to slice it, you can always count on Tebow to give nothing less than his one-hundred and figure out some sort of plan to eek out victories–even if they aren’t the prettiest.

Tebow the TEAMMATE

One of the things that could easily be lost in this whole “Mile High Messiah” talk is how much credit his entire team deserves. It would be easy to dismiss their contributions and efforts, if not for Tebow himself, who is always the first to deflect praise heaped on him and redirect it toward his fellow coaches and teammates. He’d say things like “My teammates and the coaching staff make me look better than I actually am.” It’s one thing to say it, but I think he truly believes that.

Let’s face it: when you are playing in a team sport, you cannot win a game single-handed. This is especially true in football, where every position is interconnected and affects the performance of the other. If receivers can’t catch, QBs don’t get the completion. If the O-line doesn’t block, the QB won’t have time to throw and the RBs won’t have holes to break through. Yet there exist many players who apparently didn’t get the memo. The NFL is filled with many prima donna stars who brag and boast of their contributions when they win and blame others when they lose.

You would never hear that from Tebow. By his leadership through words and action, he inspires his team to play harder and better–the Broncos love playing with Tebow. His athletic ability, along with his intangibles (personality and leadership), has changed the culture in the locker room. The Broncos might not field the most talent (see Packers, Patriots), but they believe they can and will win every game. And the entire team, from the head coach down to the waterboy, has bought into it. It is simply infectious.

Tebow the MAN and “Witness”

This is where the conversation really gets interesting. Religion has long been a divisive topic in America. Having a high-profile public figure who is very outward and expressive about his faith only propels the issue to the forefront. However, Tebow’s openness about his Christian faith and concurrent success have opened up the floodgates for dialogue between believers and non-believers alike.

For far too long, religion has been used as a tool by wayward politicians and crooked men to push their agendas. But with Tebow I never feel like he is trying to sell me anything or that he is anything other than what he’s expressing. He doesn’t come off as the super-perfect and “holier-than-thou” type. His humility and candor with which he addresses the public makes him rather likeable. He has been nothing short of gracious, even with his naysayers. If nothing else, I’d be willing to listen to his message simply because of his approach, even if I didn’t agree with it.

Look, I don’t know Tebow personally. I’ve never met him or spent a day with him. I do know that he does a lot of charity work, including overseeing his own foundation and building hospitals out in the Philippines. By many accounts, the man you see in the press conferences is the same man off the field and away from the spotlight. I don’t know what he is like behind closed doors, but I really hope this is true. (Read part of his amazing life story here.)

But you can’t tell me that Tebow doesn’t love God. And you cannot not respect him for his faith, even if you disagree with it. He is just someone who is sickly in love with Jesus. To watch someone love something that much…it’s inspiring. It’s like watching him reminds me how to love something or somebody the right way. Have I ever loved God in that way?

We always knock people for being hypocrites, for preaching moralism when their lips couldn’t be further from their lives. Why are we knocking the one guy who seems to be living what he preaches?

The Impact of Tebow on American Christianity

With all this being said, there are still many misconceptions that could arise. Here’s one that comes to the forefront of my mind.

Planking? That's so pre-Tebow 2011

In my 11 or so years of practicing the faith, I have only discovered how deep is the rabbit hole that leads to my own brokenness. The more I understand the Bible and fellowship with Jesus, the more I realize how I don’t think, talk, feel or act like Jesus. One would think that I’d have more answers by now, that my life would be more prosperous or successful or charming. If anything, it’s been more trials and difficulties. The more I read things like “he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” and “whoever wants to save his life will lose it” the more I come to see that the Bible has a lot of hard sayings. Jesus didn’t mince words. He cuts to the core and exposes my pride and inner rebellion against God. It is easy to believe that this “Tebow-inspired” brand of Christianity means that once you convert you will become a winner (or that you are only qualified to be a Christian if you are a winner). After all, Tebow sure looks like he’s invincible, doesn’t he? The opposite could not be more true.

The fact of the matter is, Christianity is for losers. Some people say it’s a crutch, and it’s true. But the difference between the atheist and the believer is that the believer understands the reality and his need for a crutch, whereas the atheist denies it. Jesus is for people who are willing to admit that they don’t have it all together. As Don Miller says, “A beggar’s kingdom is better than a proud man’s delusion.”

Consider this my warning (and sermon). Jesus came to heal and love the lame, the prostitutes, the tax-collectors and sinners. And he ultimately died to pay the consequence of our mistakes, rising again on the third day to prove that he has power over death and sin. But he is not a genie. And he is NOT who the media has made him out to be: white, middle-class, Republican Jesus. Jesus is who he claims to be, even if his followers aren’t.

If you decide to follow him, life might just get a bit tougher. But everyone who ever became a Christian eventually had to ask themselves, is Jesus worth it?

The Test of Tim(e)

“It is unbelievably believable.” These words delivered from Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III could be just as fitting for Tim Tebow at this moment. Are we witnessing a modern-day David vs. Goliath story? He’s not supposed to be doing this, he’s not supposed to be winning, and yet it somehow miraculously happens week after week.

But there will come a time when the Tim Tebow magic runs out. When he fails, when he stops winning games. Certainly, I only wish him the best, but in some ways I am curious as to when that day arrives. Why?

A true test of character is not in how someone deals with victory, but in how he handles defeat. Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I often like to extrapolate the principle underlying this quote. Everybody celebrates in a similar fashion when they are victorious, but how do they cope with the sting of loss? Do they handle it with dignity and grace? Or do they reveal themselves to be a fool? Each person reacts differently.

From what I’ve seen so far of Tim Tebow, I have a feeling that the score at the end of the game won’t change him. After all, the most amazing thing about this story is not how he keeps winning, but rather how he’s stayed so cool about it through it all.

Here’s to you, Tim Tebow. GB^2