Tim Tebow: Evidence of things unseen

Doug Pensinger GETTY IMAGES DENVER, CO – OCTOBER 30: Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos prepares to take … Continued

Doug Pensinger


DENVER, CO – OCTOBER 30: Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos prepares to take the field to face the Detroit Lions Sports Authority at Invesco Field at Mile High on October 30, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.

When a football game comes down to a final field goal attempt, television producers typically keep their cameras trained on the kicker-that stretching and pacing sapling of a man in a towering forest of football players. Placekicker shots have become iconic in football because when the cameras are focused on the kickers, everything is on the line.

But last Sunday, as the Denver Broncos prepared for a game-winning field goal in overtime against the San Diego Chargers, Broncos kicker Matt Prater had precious little screen time. The cameras couldn’t take their lenses off Tim Tebow, the most controversial athlete in America today. As Prater readied his kick, our views of him were intercut again and again (and again) with shots of the Broncos quarterback, who was kneeling in prayer. Eyes shut, head bowed, lips moving, the sideline his altar, the ball sailing through the uprights to secure yet another Broncos victory with Tebow at the helm.

Tebow is a second-year, much ballyhooed and berated first-round draft pick out of the University of Florida–ballyhooed because of his record-breaking college career, berated because that career revealed little potential as a traditional NFL quarterback. (To sum up the debate: Tebow can run over defenders, but he may not be able to throw the ball past them, or between them, into the tiny, shrinking windows often available to NFL gunslingers.) Most every expert opinion that counts, including those at the top of the Denver Broncos organization, have considered Tebow a work in progress at best, a predestined flop at worst. But in late October, after the Broncos lost 4 of their first 5 games and felt they had nothing left to lose, the Broncos brass gave Tebow a chance.

View Photo Gallery: The quarterback for the Denver Broncos has become a polarizing figure in football because of his outward displays of his Christian faith.

Ever since, Tebow has been showing them what he thinks of predestination. He’s a radical free-will believer in Jesus and in his own capacity for confounding the wisdom of the wise. So far, he’s been confounding in most every game he’s played. Tebow’s Broncos don’t score many points per game, and they rely on a newly stingy defense and impeccable special teams play to keep games close until “Tebow Time,” where 4th-quarter magic is bound to happen. And so it has.

Tebow’s young career is a fascinating case study of faith. From his college graduation until just a couple weeks ago, the only people who thought Tebow could be a great quarterback were people who were willing to take Tebow on faith. They believed without seeing, and they were ridiculed by skeptics with a rational edge (and a national media platform). Indeed, during football training camps in late summer, with assessments of Tebow’s ability at all-time lows, many media reports presumed that the only ones who supported him were those who shared his religious and political views. But since Tebow started playing and winning, he’s exploded objective analysis. He completes two passes and wins anyway. He can’t hit targets for three quarters, then throws multiple perfect passes to bring the Broncos back. Skeptics are dwindling in number and in noise. If the Broncos keep winning, the only skeptics left will be die-hard anti-Tebow fundamentalists.

As a lifelong Broncos fan and a Colorado boy to my very core, these have been the happiest, football-holiest few weeks I’ve had in ages. Football Sundays are sacred stuff again. Every time the orange-and-blue take the field, I’m filled with hope. And so far, hope does not disappoint. Tebow is the evidence of victories unseen in these parts since John Elway galloped away from Mile High Stadium lo those many years ago. (Twelve-which in football years is eternity.)

So we’re happy to watch Tebow pray, because when he’s praying, the game is on the line. Thankfully for us, the sight of Tebow praying has been the fall’s biggest Internet meme. Tebow’s first start of the year ended in a ridiculous, awe-inspiring come-from-behind victory against the Miami Dolphins, and as the cameras captured the Broncos celebrating on the sidelines, they also captured Tebow kneeling in prayer. At a bar in Manhattan, Jared Kleinstein, a 24-year-old marketer from Denver, embraced the moment Tebow-style. He had his friends take a picture of him “Tebowing,” which he defined as “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.” (Kleinstein is a Jew, and he meant the site as a tribute to Tebow, not to Jesus or to evangelical faith.) He launched Tebowing.com, and the site soon exploded with millions of page views and Tebowing photo submissions from people around the world. Though football players have long prayed along the sidelines, this fall, Tebowing has overshadowed praying and become a gesture with a meaning of its own.

But not for Tim Tebow. People may point and exclaim, “Look, he’s Tebowing!” when they see him kneeling on the field, as I heard people (including, ahem, myself) say when I attended the Broncos-Jets game in Denver in mid-November. But Jared Kleinstein is the original Tebow-er. Tebow is merely praying, just as many religiously devoted athletes have done long before him. The difference is that the cameras are watching, and we’re watching, and with every religious gesture after ever unlikely Broncos victory, the mystique of Tim Tebow grows and grows.

Patton Dodd is Managing Editor of Patheos and the author of

The Tim Tebow Mystique: The Faith and Fans of Football’s Most Polarizing Player.

On Leadership:Putting faith in Tim Tebow

Early Lead:
Kurt Warner says Tebow should tone down religious rhetoric

The League: John Fox, the man behind Tim Tebow

Tebow Train rolling along with fourth-quarter comebacks making Broncos relevant again

Why does Tebow grab so much attention? How far can he go?

Early Lead:
John Fox says Tebow would “be screwed” running regular offense

Patton Dodd
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  • northernharrier

    It seems to me inappropriately self-centered and bizarre for someone to be asking their god to intervene in a football game, when there are so many people in the world suffering from starvation, war, disease, natural disaster, and cruelty of all kinds. I will neither encourage Mr. Tebow to engage in this behavior nor admire him for it.

  • americaneaglecorp

    The experts were wrong about Tebow because in their rush to analyze the flood of players every year they have created a flawed player rating system. The experts ( what a joke) have created a set of pass/fail standards for each position. Unfortunately these standards are more often wrong than right. Many fantastic players never make it to the field because they don’t fit the mold the experts have created. Every game you see fantastic plays by players that were improperly rated, resulting in these players being selected in the late rounds or not at all. Jerry Rice, Shanon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Tom Brady are just a few names of players that were obviously rated wrong by the system. Each were drafted in later rounds, but are either current or future hall of famers. Josh mcdaniels proved he is smarter than the system and like Tebow will have the last laugh. I just wonder when the bosses of the so experts will wake up to the fact that the system is flawed, dump the idiot experts and start over

  • tidelandermdva

    I bet you enjoyed :Money Ball.

  • gilbert6

    Spare me. This flash in the pan will last as long as Judas Bye Timmy. see you around the rectory.

  • gilbert6

    Spare me. This flash in the pan will last as long as Judas Bye Timmy. see you around the rectory.

  • gilbert6

    As a non-believer, I find his behavior as inappropriate as I do most religous people who feel the need to display their religion on their sleeve. Why can’t you people just believe what you believe and shut up about it?

    If there is a God, I do hope he/she has better things to concern itself with than the outcome of a football game.

    What I guess I don’t get is the media obsession with this guy. Let’s leave out his religous cult leanings for the moment and just look at him as an athlete. And, let’s judge him just on that. I personally do not like his religous activities on the field, and I can choose to dislike him as a person on that basis, but as an athlete, the jury is still very much out on his future success in the NFL.

    He may turn out to be a superstar, but it won’t be because he’s some sort of religous fanatic, even if he chooses to give some mythical figure in the sky the credit for his success, it will be because he finally learns how to throw a pigskin on a Sunday, an activity expressly forbidden by the Bible. How ironic.

  • Roggero

    Wonderfully well said, with all the articles that are daily written on Tebow this is a fresh perspective. As a “Colorado boy” and long time Broncos fan I whole heartily agree that watching the broncos today is exciting and enjoyable… there is a sense of hope, a sense of wonder. I am always on edge down the last minute of the game. I can’t remember anything like this since we went 13-3 with Plummer to the AFC Championship we were a good Broncos team then, but mistakes were still often made. Now we are an entirely different team, not like the teams Elway led to teh Super Bowl, not like our minor success with Plummer, and not like the ups and downs of every other qb and coach since then. Maybe history will see this differently and maybe this season won’t end up anywhere significant… but for once in a long while, every Sunday is a new and exciting experience. Faith, and the determination to persevere despite the results or the criticism is leading these broncos in a new direction.

  • bazwest

    Good for Tim Tebow. His faith is working for him. If it bothers someone to see him kneel in silent prayer you might just want to pay attention to the source of discomfort. Don’t be surprised if someday you discover it is God giving you a ilttle nudge to reminding you that like Tim Tebow you should be a little more hopeful and faithful instead of faithless.

  • spunkydawg1

    I’m plenty hopeful. That needn’t have anything to do with religion.

    But no, I’m not worried about your imaginary friend nudging me.

  • socetera

    He’s a good guy and a talented athlete on and off the gridiron. He is also a very good ping pong player! Met Tebow and his younger brother in Vegas this year as they rolled into the Palms Casino on a business trip. He invited the world championship ping pong players up to his basketball themed fantasy suite and played an awesome game of “harbat” ping pong against the US pro Trevor Runyon. He let several people record the game on video. It’s posted online; Tebow’s good!

  • roubaix

    Tebow demonstrates extraordinary courage in proudly declaring his belief in Jesus Christ while living in a country like America that hates God. Every day, America persecutes people of faith, especially Christians. Christians are mocked, denied employment and housing, spit upon in the street, and burned at the stake. Tebow’s knows his career and even life could end at any moment, still he will not back down. Tim Tebow is the only person of faith left in America, and he will happily die a martyr, for God.


    Too bad God can’t do anything about those millions of children starving in Africa.

    Maybe he’s too busy with football and finding peoples’ lost car keys. Important stuff like that.


    You are insane and a liar. That’s Christianity!

    Yes, I am mocking you.

  • tony55398

    You don’t have to be a Priest, Minister or even a football star to help shape the people around you, you just have to have faith in God.

  • FreetoThink

    I assure you that I do not hate god. It is impossible to hate that which does not exist. I admit that I have disdain for Christians who write drivel like your post. For other Christians, I strongly oppose discrimination and immolation, although I don’t actually notice much of that.

  • gonnagle

    Sorry, anyone devoutly praying for a sporting victory should hang their head in shame. It is totally unchristian to ask for intervention so that you can win over others some of whom are probably real christians and pray to alleviate the suffering of others not to kick a goal. It is pathetic and beneath contempt.

  • Secular1

    This fellow Tebow seems to me to be a narcissist, or a totally frivolous person. To think that he should seek a non-existent deity’s intervention for something so trivial as to result of a dumb sports match is nothing short of frivolity and narcissism.

  • ibelieveintebow

    We didn’t believe in Tebow on faith alone. Tebow is a WINNER!!

    Some people know what that looks like and some people don’t. It’s that simple. Just ask Von Miller…

    Do you believe in Tebow?

  • ibelieveintebow

    What are you doing? Nothing? Figures….

  • ibelieveintebow

    That’s why they hate Tebow. This is the age of the atheists rising…. the secularists, the homosexuals, Obama is god, not God. Abortion is their sacrament, and homosexuality is their tool to destroy the family.

    And Tebow stands against all of that…and the hate breaks on him like a small wave. They are powerless to touch him, because he has faith in the real God.

    Trust me, Obama will not satisfy, Only God satisfies….

  • faithfulreader

    Tebow is neither a narcissist nor a frivolous person. He is the son of missionaries and has worked in missions in other countries.
    He was active in charity work when he was a student at UF. He walks the talk.

    I don’t like the public praying to win a football game either but he’s a person who wears his faith on his sleeve, part of who he is.

  • mdshumaker

    i think praying about a football game boarders on ridiculous.

  • greenmansf

    People who wear their faith on their sleeve are narcissists, all of them. It is the height of narcissism to think that some supreme being is picking you over all the rest of us.