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Do I Believe in Tim Tebow?

Ignore the overtly Christian QB at your intellectual (and spiritual?) peril

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Tim Tebow after the game Sunday.(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

This is a post about Tim Tebow. For those who can’t take it, then, as they say on your local television network, more at 11.

Tim Tebow is a second-year quarterback for the NFL’s Denver Broncos who entered the league as perhaps the biggest celebrity in the annals of rookiedom. At the University of Florida, he won two national championships (one as a starter) and the Heisman Trophy. He became a phenom due to his outspoken faith in Jesus Christ as his personal savior (his parents were Christian Baptist missionaries), which only gained resonance from his life story: his mother’s pregnancy went awry, and he was expected to be stillborn and she was advised to have an abortion; she refused, and he was the result. During the Super Bowl after his final college season, she and he starred in a pro-life ad sponsored by the socially conservative Focus on the Family. His throwing motion is unorthodox, to put it kindly; his throws take too long and leave him extremely exposed to strip sacks. The option offense he ran at Florida, in which the quarterback is as much a runner as a passer, was widely believed to be unfeasible in professional football. Last season, he started only three games. He did not begin this season as Denver’s starter, either. The clamoring from Denver’s fans and the stagnancy of their offense under Kyle Orton—a very serviceable, traditional drop-back-and-pass QB—led to Tebow’s being started in Week 7, when the Broncos were 1-4.

In Tebow’s eight starts, the Broncos have gone 7-1. Six of those wins have been by a score or less (the one loss was a blow-out). One keeps waiting for Tebow to do something different, but every game, it seems, it’s the same: mundane first half or even first three quarters, and then it’s Tebow Time (yes it has a name) and Tebow somehow finds—wills?—his team a way to win in the fourth quarter. At some point, this will get, or has gotten, so bizarre that the connection to Tebow’s faith will seem/seems absolutely unignorable for even the most cynical and/or stats-happy football fans as well as the most un-Christian of people. (The rabbis and imams of Denver love him.) For me, Tebow has become a genuinely disquieting as well as genuinely thrilling experience.

Before we get into the conviction of things unseen, a few facts:

• Tebow is aided by an underrated, strong defense. Ditto his kicker.

• It is possible that of the seven teams he’s defeated this season, none will make the playoffs.

• The Carolina Panthers have achieved success running a similar, college-style spread offense with another young athletic quarterback, Cam Newton.

• The very unorthodoxy of that offense gives Tebow and the Broncos the advantage of surprise and unfamiliarity.

But still. No honest football fan would deny surprise, even shock, at what Tebow has accomplished (especially given that his supporting cast on offense consists of a washed-up running back and maybe the worst pass-catchers in the league). On Sunday, playing at home against a depleted Chicago Bears team—a game, in other words, that the Broncos really should be considered at least even to win—Tebow did not complete a single pass in the second or third quarters. The Broncos entered the fourth quarter down 10-0. With ten minutes left, they were down 10-0. With five minutes left, they were down 10-0. Getting the ball back with less than five minutes on the game clock, somehow—after one touchdown, missed onside kick, lucky clock mismanagement by an opposing running back, and another drive down half the field culminating in a 59-yard field goal—it was overtime. They did not get the ball first in sudden-death overtime. They still won. Of course they won, as they had the week before and the week before and the week before, in strikingly similar fashion.

I am as surprised as you to get this sappy. I was long a Tebow-hater; when I find myself rooting for him in the fourth quarter, I have to stop and realize I am doing it. Describing Tebow is as difficult as describing, well, faith. And I’m aware that there are explanations. It could be, for example, that the Broncos’ grinding style of play simply tires the opposing defense out more than most offenses do, a trend that would only be accelerated by Denver’s mile-high altitude: this would explain hypercompetency late in the game and may be the equivalent of the hallucinogenic natural gas at Delphi that explains what the Greeks believed to be their Oracle. Most of all, we are still dealing with an incredibly small sample size. And the New England Patriots will likely destroy Tebow’s Broncos this weekend, as indeed the less-good Detroit Lions did earlier this season; or maybe it will be a close game, and Tebow won’t supply fourth quarter heroics; or maybe he will, but they won’t be enough. Or maybe he will do this thing yet again.

My friend Jason Diamond of Jewcy argued weeks ago, persuasively, that Tebow’s ostentatious displays of faith should turn off not only Jews but Christians who have listened to Jesus’ teachings about humility. (And that was before this weekend; Jason’s a Bears fan.) I agree. But I feel, right now, as though I am left with something that makes no sense at all unless it makes perfect sense. As a skeptic, I feel confident this will resolve itself into a rational order in the long run. As a secular humanist, Tebow’s public displays of religiosity discomfort me and his anti-choice politics—the message that his mother is just not just a fortunate, brave lady but actually a model for other women who might face a mortally dangerous pregnancy—appall me. As a Jew, I believe in an impersonal God who routinely cares not a whit for matters far more important than the AFC West, and who anyway did not send his only son to Earth as a sacrifice for Tim Tebow or anyone else. But as an American, I am happy that many people who would never even think about such things are confronted by them in the person of Tim Tebow. And, also as an American, I know that if God were to send Americans a sign that He exists and that the Christians are the ones who were right about Him all along, His messenger would undoubtedly be an NFL quarterback.

Related: Tim Tebow: Denver’s New Favorite Mensch [WSJ]
Why I’m Glad There Isn’t a Jewish Tim Tebow [Jewcy]
Tebow’s Success Has Commentators, Fans Discussing God’s Role in Football [CNN Belief Blog]

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Yep, God really cares about which team of miscreants wins at a stupid game. God is so busy helping this guy that He/She forgets to help feed the poor, ignores earthquakes, floods and fires, and is such a cheerleader for the Broncos that the rest of the planet can go to hell.
Marc, turn off your wide screen and read a book. Or stop smoking whatever it is that you are smoking.

“A New Read on Jewish Life” Yeah. Get real. For this nonsense, we already are afflicted wit Haaretz. Why are you so upsetif a Christian believes in his religion? You don’t seem upset about Muslims believing in Islam. Oh, you said it in the article. you’re a secular humanist. Great!!!

salemst says:

I don’t believe Sharon knows what Tebow’s praying about. He’s not praying God let’s him win a football game. It’s about giving thanks to God for the physical gifts and opportunity to compete doing the best he can and looking out for him.

We could sure use more Tim Tebow’s in this country–lot less moral decay.

JCarpenter says:

I coached h.s. football in the Chicago area for 20 seasons, half of which we used an option-style offense. My philosophy of coaching was to find the best athlete on the team, and convince him to be QB. In the option offense (and in the wing offense we moved to later), the QB not only runs often but is expected to be hit often; he is expected to block upfield as well on running plays. AirForce Academy, Oklahoma in particular developed option football, and when it worked (key) it was beautiful to see. Problem: it is complex enough to be dangerous; it also beats up the QB. Tebow is young, big, strong, fairly quick; he is a good athlete, he has charisma and brings a “spark” to a struggling program that has tanked since Coach Shannehan left. But I wince for his sake everytime he runs. There’s a reason why the NFL teams don’t run the option—the QB’s are specialists to pass and to run the offense, not run the ball. The complexity and intensity of the sport increases incredibly from h.s. to college, from college to the pros, like the difference in scale of intensity measuring tornados or hurricanes or earthquakes. The Option offense is too costly to quarterbacks, unless you have a benchful of cheaply-acquired ones. Tebow on the run is going to get his head handed to him by a defensive lineman or linebacker or strong safety, who for their careers have had to learn to hold back while the scrambling primadonna “slides” to avoid hits. I had thought our Bears would have done the job last weekend, but they are struggling as well, trying to play without an offense. The Patriots have nothing to lose—I expect them to put him out of the game in his inglorious first half. Notice I didn’t say “predict.”

Tebow is a leader and a winner. I’d take hm as my quarterback and as a team leader. He has high character and brings out the best in his teammates. He also does not turn the ball over. He is progressing and let’s not forget how bad his receiving core is. They traded away their best receiver the week they named him the starter and he’s still winning. The defense is playing well and they are playing as a TEAM. It was a better team on paper with Orton but they could not win with him. Tebow helps make the difference and his humility goes a long way. The Broncos are playing cohesive football.

I always thought that if God wanted to reveal himself to Americans, it would be in the form of a Ghostbusters-sized Colonel Sanders. Though in fairness, in my mind the Colonel was singing the Monday Night Football theme.

Shmuel says:

I think it is unfortunate that so many folks who write for the mainstream Jewish media are secular humanists. It would be nice to hear some other points of view at least once in a while.

And for my part, I think it is unfortunate that so many Tablet commenters are so relentlessly humorless and doltish. It would be nice to hear some other points of view at least once in awhile. Or perhaps permanently remove comments from the site.

Bill Pearlman says:

Happens to be a great story and an admirable man. Why the derision .

Hah. I was ready to convert if only da Bears could hold on for 56 seconds but nooooooooo.

Ergo I think a) Tebow is a miracle worker or b) Chicago is cursed.

Or both:)

Dave Boes says:

God has done enough signs to show HE exists. He is known through his Creation, his Cannon (Bible – Old & New Testament), Conscience (knowing right & wrong) & Christ (His Son). He does not need a QB to show he exists but the present Tebow is a light in this dark world of unbelief.
Jesus is the only way – He is the way the truth and the life. If you do not believe you are condemned already. Israel asked for a king in the prophet Samuel’s time. Samuel said not a good idea. They got their king anyway and wanted to be like the other nations and rejected God. When Jesus came they rejected Him as King and said they wanted no other king but Ceasar.
Israel is still in the dark and are blinded because they do not see the light that has already come and is present in the lives of believers such as Tebow. I pray that you & others will see and accept the light of Jesus and proclaim as your Lord and Saviour. God’s blessings to you.

Dave, The Messiah is supposed to bring with Him/Her a time of peace. I’m still waiting.

JCarpenter says:

Sophia: Some might believe Chicago is cursed, in the sports arena or in general; if not under a curse, Chicago sports teams often manage to be the shlemiel. Which makes me wonder—how many miracles happen at the expense of a poor shlemiel? Is Tebow so much a blessed hero, or just the fortunate (so far) recipient of results of bumbling fumblers?

Christopher Orev says:

@ Marc: Thanks, Marc, for this great musing on Tebow. I’m only sorry so many humorless people read Tablet.

@ Max: Your vision of the mashiach stirs the soul. Just remember, don’t cross the streams!

Dave Boes says:

Sharon, The Messiah has already come & peace with God is available to you now, by accepting Jesus as your Lord & Savior. When Jesus returns again he will come as a warrior to save Israel from the brink of destruction from their attacking enemies.


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Do I Believe in Tim Tebow?

Ignore the overtly Christian QB at your intellectual (and spiritual?) peril

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