“A lot of ups and downs,” Tebow said about his second NFL season after the loss in Foxborough, Mass. “Overall, it’s been a very special opportunity for me, something I’m really thankful for. There’s a lot of things we’re proud of. Obviously, it’s hard to see them all right now,” Tebow was quoted as saying.
Still, Tebow’s performance over the course of the season earned him the right to be the starting quarterback entering the 2012 season, Denver vice president of football operations John Elway said Monday (Jan. 16).
The popular quarterback, whose habit of kneeling in prayer on the football field started a nationwide trend of copycats engaged in “Tebowing,” inspired millions of fans with his positive attitude, charitable work with the seriously ill and overt references to his faith in Jesus Christ. He also earned the derision and mockery of others who didn’t share his religious beliefs.
Denver Broncos photo by Eric Lars Bakke
Tebow’s penchant for pulling out seemingly impossible wins also sparked a lively debate about the role God plays in a player’s success.
“It may be that Tebow will succeed in spectacular fashion; it may be that he will have the worst game of his life,” Owen Strachan, professor of theology and church history at Boyce College, wrote in an article in The Atlantic before the game with the Patriots.
“Either way, the Bible assures us that God loves his chosen, God is orchestrating every detail of their lives, and God will lead them through success or failure to the end of all things.”
Tebow’s status with the Broncos was a touchy subject even from the start of the team’s training camp. Several football analysts were pessimistic about his prospects as a successful NFL quarterback, and at one time speculation loomed that Tebow might fall to third-string behind Brady Quinn.
Things changed, however, when Denver went only 1-4 under then-quarterback Kyle Orton. The Broncos handed the starting job to Tebow who led the team to a 7-1 record over the next eight games, including several thrilling come-from-behind victories in the final seconds.
Though Tebow struggled late in the season and the Broncos lost their final three games, they squeaked into the playoffs when Oakland lost its final game to San Diego, giving Denver the division title with an 8-8 record. In Denver’s opening-round playoff game against Pittsburgh Jan. 8, Tebow had his best game in the NFL – throwing for 316 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play in overtime to give the Broncos a shocking win.
But Tebow couldn’t duplicate that success against the Patriots. New England quarterback Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes, and Tebow completed only nine of 26 passing attempts for 136 yards.
“I just wanted to show character, and anytime you get beat like that, you continue to fight,” Tebow said after the game. “It doesn’t change who you are, how you play, how you go out there. You should be the same at all times, and that’s what I wanted to show.”
Throughout the season, Tebow was the subject of mockery and scorn by some – such as Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who kneeled in a mocking prayerful pose after sacking Tebow in an Oct. 30 game. Others, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, were more vocal in their criticism. “We don’t need God on our sidelines,” Suggs said in reference to Tebow.
Despite the criticism, by the end of the season Tebow was earning the fanfare of writers and fans alike. ESPN columnist Rick Reilly, in an article titled “I believe in Tim Tebow,” reported on Tebow’s actions toward those who have serious illnesses.
“Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured,” Reilly wrote. “He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster’s), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.”
Reilly said such actions, regardless of Tebow’s performance on the field, are praiseworthy.
“I’ve given up giving up on him,” Reilly wrote. “I’m a 100 percent believer. Not in his arm. Not in his skills. I believe in his heart, his there-will-definitely-be-a-pony-under-the-tree optimism, the way his love pours into people, right up to their eyeballs, until they believe they can master the hopeless comeback, too.”
Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at the University of Florida, is a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is editor of BPSports (www.bpsports.net) and director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)