On Sunday, Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos pulled off yet another improbable victory, this time beating the Chicago Bears 13-10 in overtime after end-of-game theatrics that included an impossibly long 59-yard field goal. But it was just one of many "miraculous comeback victories" for the Broncos with Tebow at the helm. Denver was 1-4 earlier this year when coaches decided to bench the first-string quarterback and give Tebow a shot. Tebow, a college star at Florida whose unorthodox throwing motion is as reviled as his running skills are heralded, is now 7-1 as a starter, and the Broncos are a good bet to make the playoffs. But it's Tebow's character as much as his late-game heroics and unconventional style that has made him an unlikely star. The 24-year-old is a vocal evangelical Christian, known for praying on the field and promising to remain a virgin until marriage. Naturally, commentators are having a field day analyzing Tebow's success. Leaving his athletic prowess (or lack thereof) aside, here are four ways of looking at the NFL's newest star:
The pious optimist: "You needn't be an evangelical Christian (as he is), a seriously religious person, or even a football fan to be transfixed and enlightened by his example," says Frank Bruni in The New York Times. Sure, not everyone can relate to Tebow's fervent faith, but he maintains broad appeal. "He reminds us that strength comes in many forms and some people have what can be described only as a gift for winning." That gift isn't about sheer athletic prowess, "it's about hope, confidence, and a special confidence" that leads a person to persevere. "It boils down to stubborn optimism and bequeaths a spark. A swagger. An edge."
"Tim Tebow's gospel of optimism"
The athlete unlike other athletes: Tebow "is a breath of fresh air after the NFL lockout and amid the misdeeds of athletes that often dominate the headlines," says Mark Maske in The Washington Post. He's the "anti-Kardashian, and "he nevertheless sits at the pinnacle of pop culture, sports, and religion right now." He's not a great athlete. No one will mistake him for undefeated Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, or baseball slugger Albert Pujols, who just signed a $254-million, 10-year contract. Tebow doesn't appeal to Americans because of his talent or pomp — it's because he's a hard-working underdog and a genuinely nice person. "There may never have been anything quite like him before."
"Tim Tebow stands at crossroads of sports, religion and popular culture"
The humanitarian role model: "The intertwining of religion and sports is nothing new in American culture," says Patton Dodd in The Wall Street Journal, but Tebow's religious beliefs are unique because of "the equanimity and generosity that his faith inspires in him." As a college star, he used his fame to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, and made volunteering fashionable on campus. He took a fan suffering from a brain tumor as his date to a 2009 awards ceremony. It's these "acts of goodwill" that have turned "Tebow fandom" into "Tebow piety."
"Tim Tebow: God's quarterback"
The divider: "Tebow is many things to many people, with fans and critics making meaning from his young career faster than concessionaires can cook Bronco Brats," says G. Jeffrey MacDonald in The Christian Science Monitor. A "hero? Role model? Overbearing evangelist?" Clearly, Tebow is "all of the above." He has ignited a conversation about the place of Christianity in public life, with some decrying Tebow's showy displays of faith as alienating and not sufficiently humble. Others absolutely adore him. "Call it the Tim Tebow culture wars."
"Tim Tebow: Hero? Role model? Overbearing evangelist? All of the above."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
- 10 things you need to know today: July 29, 2014
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
Subscribe to the Week