What Tebowmania Tells Us About America

I loved Tim Tebow the first moment I saw him play football.  His skills were enormous, his passion for life was contagious, and it was easy to see why Denver Bronco fans embraced him and gave birth to “Tebowmania.”

However, the most impressive thing about him, (there are many quarterbacks who are more skilled than Tim Tebow) was his bold faith in Jesus Christ.

That faith created Tebomania, “Tebowing,” (kneeling in prayer), and some of the biggest football ratings in the history of the NFL. 

It also spawned utter hatred and contempt. Why?

I believe Tebomania tells us something about 21st century America…

First, for those of you who aren’t American football fans, let me tell you about Tim Tebow. He was born on August 14, 1987 in Makati City, The Philippines to Christian missionary parents. He was the youngest of five–his mother deciding against her doctor’s recommendation to have an abortion because of an infection that had put her in a coma.

His mother chose life.

At age five, Tim chose to invite Christ to be his Savior.

The family eventually moved to Jacksonville, Florida where the kids were home-schooled on a 44-acre farm. When local laws were changed to allow home schoolers to participate in sports, Tebow attached himself to Allen D. Nease High School.  He led the Nease Panthers football team to the Class 4A State Championship in 2005.

As one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation, Tebow was recruited to Florida and led the Gators to two national championships in 2007 and 2009. At the end of the 2008 season, he won the prestigious Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in America.

And everywhere he played football, he shared his vibrant faith in Christ. On some game days, he even put a Bible message on the eye black grease on his cheeks that was used to prevent glare.

His favorite verse: John 3:16.

Even though Tim Tebow was an unorthodox college quarterback–more of a runner than a pure passer–his college career is considered one of the best of all time.

In 2010 Tebow was drafted by the Denver Broncos and sat on the bench during his first year in the pros. In 2011, the Broncos started 1-4 and traded their first string quarterback. At that time, Tim Tebow was the third string QB on a lousy team.

But he beat out the competition, and to the delight of the fans, became the Broncos starting quarterback for game six.

The rest, as they say, is history.

For the next eight games, Tim Tebow built a legend that became known as Tebomania. Though he was not a good NFL passer, and was built like a linebacker who masqueraded as a quarterback (6’3″ and 245 pounds), Tebow led the Broncos to seven amazing victories–usually in the last quarter or even seconds of each game.

The NFL had never seen a “comeback kid” like this one. The phenomenon became known as “Tebow Time.”

After the first come-from-behind victory, everyone said it was a fluke. Then the victories continued. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven!

Suddenly the lowly Broncos were leading their division, an entire nation was beginning to tune in to “Tebow Time,” and  “Tebowing” was the talk of the nation.

Many liked his bold confession of faith. Others began to rail against it, saying that it had no place in sports. The unorthodox quarterback who loved Jesus had suddenly become the most admired athlete in the world.

Admired by many. Hated by others.

Then the Broncos lost three straight games. Was Tim Tebow’s lack of skill finally catching up with him? Many started to criticize the young quarterback for “wearing his faith on his sleeve” and not keeping the separation of “faith and game.” (Is that an offshoot of the separation of church and state?)

However, the Broncos backed into the playoffs and were set to tee it up with the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. Though Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was noticably hobbled by an ankle injury and other Steelers were hurt, this match-up looked like David versus Goliath–with Goliath smacking down the Broncos as a human being would a pesky fly.

Then the unthinkable happened. In the 4th quarter, “Tebow Time” ramped up when the young “David” completed some long passes and brought the Broncos into a tie as regulation expired. The Broncos won the coin toss for the overtime session, and after receiving the kick-off, Tim Tebow walked onto the field with his slingshot and three rocks.

Goliath was ready. Time to quash this bug! But, on the first play from scrimmage, Tebow threw an eighty yard touchdown pass to Damaryius Thomas that won the game for Denver. The fans and nation went nuts!

Final score: David 29 – Goliath 23.

As usual, Tim Tebow knelt after the game, thanked God for his blessings, then did a victory lap around the stadium that was watched by the world.

The next week, 43% of Americans said they believed the Broncos had won because of God’s “favor” upon Tim Tebow. Not that God was interested in winning football games. Just that he seemed to honor someone who gave him the glory.

What was the evidence? Back to John 3:16. During the victory over the Steelers, the following 3:16 stats were compiled:

  • Tebow had passed the ball for 316 yards–a career high.
  • That translated into an NFL record of 31.6 yards per catch.
  • And Tebomania was so great in the Bronco-Steeler game attracted 31.6% of the evening television audience.

I don’t know if God was involved in the 3:16 stuff, but it’s interesting. There are some things in life that you just can’t explain.

The following week more people tuned into the Denver Bronco–New England Patriot divisional game that any other divisional match-up in history. There was no final miracle. A clearly superior Patriot team thoroughly beat the Broncos 45-10. Tim Tebow’s dream season was over.

It was a season that many of us will not soon forget.

Yet, we must pause and wonder why Tebomania was viewed by some people as negative. Wasn’t it a good thing to have a young quarterback talk about his faith in God and not his latest sexual exploit with a supermodel? Wasn’t Tim Tebow a good role model of hard work, passion, character, and all the qualities that every parent wants to see in their child?

Tim Tebow–the most admired athlete in the world–had even confessed he was a virgin–that he would save his sexual life for marriage. How refreshing is this!–that a world-renown athlete would forsake the pleasures of the day for the enduring institution of a godly and faithful marriage?

Yet some put him down–told him to keep his “faith” out of the public square.

Why would anyone say that in 2012?

Because we are fighting a worldview battle in this nation. Forty years ago we were a different nation. I remember. I was an athlete four decades ago.

I was never a great one like Tim Tebow–just an above-average basketball player with some smarts and commitment. During my season year in high school we went 20-3, won fourteen straight games, and won South Kitsap’s first league championship in twenty years.

Before every game, even though many of our players were not Christians, our coach led us in prayer in the locker room. We didn’t pray to win. We prayed for no one to get hurt, for strength, for good sportsmanship, and to be good examples.

I’m sure “Tebowing” prays the same way. We also used to believe “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

In 1970 I played on a national team that took the good character and sportmanship to an even higher level. We prayed before the game, we prayed during the game, and when an opposing player got knocked down or hurt, we even picked them back up and said “God bless you!”

That summer our Young Life basketball team went 29-1.

In the 1970s nobody criticized prayer, faith, and good character in sports. Our culture was still a Christian based culture that believed that faith in God and the fruits of faith were good things–in church, in society, and even on the playing field.

But things changed a couple decades later. In 1991 I was asked by South Kitsap High School to do a benefit basketball game to raise money for the sports program. Our old championship team would play some all stars that included NBA legend Bobby Jones. I said I would do it under one condition. After the game was over and we raised the money for the school, I wanted Bobby to speak to the crowd about faith in Christ.

Initially the school said no. Things had changed in twenty years. Faith and prayer were being removed from the public square. I stood my ground: No faith message at the end–no game.

The school blinked–we filled the gymnasium to capacity, raised a lot of money, and Bobby Jones talked about Jesus to the people gathered. I was grateful–but very aware that faith in God was no longer viewed as a positive virtue.

Now fast forward another twenty years. This season, Tim Tebow stepped onto a national stage and shared his faith in Christ. He prayed openly. In 1971 no one would have said a word. In 1991, maybe a few would have complained.

However, in 2011, Tebow’s faith was openly ridiculed. He was told by some to keep his beliefs out of the public square–really, that some would rather have him be a party-boy fornicator who took drugs and lived a depraved life rather than talk to us about prayer, faith, Jesus or God.

What Tebowmania tells us is that there is now a portion of America that hates God, laughs at faith and wants us to keep our mouths shut.

Let’s not oblige them. The Bible says, “Whatever you do…do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s what Tim Tebow is doing in the arena of sports. You do can do the same.

America needs a revival of faith. Let’s love people enough to keep Tebowing–for the glory of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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