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My Take: Momma’s boy Tim Tebow meets playboy Tom Brady
Tim Tebow is having a great year, but the author says his appeal runs much deeper.
January 13th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: Momma’s boy Tim Tebow meets playboy Tom Brady

Editor’s note: Patton Dodd is the managing editor of Patheos and the author of The Tebow Mystique: The Faith and Fans of Football’s Most Polarizing Player.

By Patton Dodd, Special to CNN

Denver, Colorado (CNN) - A few weeks ago, a joke made its way around Denver about Tom Brady, the New England Patriots’ living legend, and Tim Tebow, the raw Broncos quarterback who is turning in a legendary season. It went something like this:

Tom Brady dies and goes to heaven and is greeted by God, who shows him to his new house – a cozy, modest home with a Patriots flag flying from the porch. “Gee, thanks God!” says Brady, feeling very special.

As Brady walks to his door, he notices another house down the street – a sprawling, gorgeous home with a 50-foot pole flying a Broncos flag, a swimming pool shaped like a horse, and a Tim Tebow jersey pinned to the front door.

“Um, God?” Brady begins. “I’m not ungrateful, but I don’t get it. I won three Super Bowls and went to the Hall of Fame. Why does Tim Tebow get a better house than me?”

God chuckles. “That’s not Tim’s house,” he replies. “That’s mine.”

It’s not a very good joke, but it neatly summarizes cultural attitudes toward Brady and Tebow, whose teams meet this weekend in the second round of the NFL playoffs.

Brady is a quarterback’s quarterback; his fellow players voted him the best player in football at the beginning of 2011, and he rewarded their admiration with another spectacular season. He’s been at this for a while – he was the winningest playoff quarterback of the last decade – and he’s settled into a life reserved only for guys like him: really good at sports, plus really, really, really good-looking.

Brady dated actress Tara Reid during his initial rise to fame, then settled into a relationship with actress Bridget Moynahan, with whom he had a child.

By the time the child was born, Brady had moved on to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, to whom he’s now married and with whom he’s built a Brentwood, California mansion. (Forbes named them the world’s highest-paid celebrity couple.)

Brady’s post-game press conferences can be fashion shows. When my wife and I lived in Boston, we would watch Patriots game coverage until the conference began so we could spy Brady’s gingham shirts, thick-knotted ties, and pocket squares. No matter how tough a game he played, Brady looked ready for the red carpet. The man can wear a suit.

Tebow is something else altogether – an apparently God-blessed raw talent who wins games with a little bit of passing and a whole lot of prayer. Haters aside, he’s the most popular athlete in the nation.

He’s also made football itself more popular this year, drawing in admirers who wouldn’t be watching otherwise. Last weekend’s Broncos-Steelers matchup drew the highest television ratings in the history of the wild card round.

A Zillow.com poll named Tebow America’s Most Desirable Neighbor, and anyone who has sat through one of Tebow’s press conferences (or read his autobiography) can see why. Whatever you think of his faith commitments, he’s the genuine article. He builds orphanages and visits with sick kids and deflects praise and plays the game like a kid whose parents wouldn’t let him go outside until all the chores were done.

Brady is the guy every teenage boy wants to be. Tebow is the guy every teenage boy’s mom wants him to be.

Both quarterbacks overcame low expectations. Brady was drafted in the sixth round and seemed destined to life as a backup until Drew Bledsoe was severely hurt in Brady’s second year. Tebow was drafted in the first round, a move that every expert opinion deemed a mistake.

Both emerged in breakout fashion. Brady’s first season as starter turned him into a famous football player. Tebow’s is turning him into a cultural phenomenon.

What’s the difference? Why is Tebow’s fame supercharged? Why does Brady get a Brentwood mansion with Gisele, but only a quaint house in heaven?

Recall that Brady’s rise happened in the fall after 9/11, which was also an era before media platforms were numbered like stars in the sky. The nation is in a different mood now, and for better or worse, we have new, more powerful ways of making people famous. Twitter, Facebook and a billion blogs helped Tebow saturate everything.

But the biggest difference is that, in Tebow’s case, religion is a factor. Brady, a cradle Catholic, became famous as an athlete. Tebow is becoming famous as an athlete, acolyte, and avatar all rolled into one.

Tebow the athlete is fun to watch with his passion and flashes of brilliance. Tebow the acolyte – the devoted follower of God – is easy to admire, and even those annoyed by public piety can be won over by his goodheartedness and the sheer joy with which he plays the game.

Perhaps most acutely, he’s a cultural avatar. The internet meme “Tebowing” took off because it’s a readymade symbolic gesture people can use to express themselves against our scoffing, serious times.

Brady is a great football player. Tebow is a great football story, and stories are immersive – they give us a chance to get involved, to see ourselves through them.

Tebow’s story tees up the questions that frame many people’s lives: Is God involved? Can he help us overcome? Can he help us win? What if he stops helping us – where is God when our critics are correct, when our flaws are exposed for everyone to see?

Saturday’s game will likely be the most-watched second round playoff game in NFL history. Millions will be watching because they want to see how the story will unfold, and the hero most of them will be rooting for is not the playboy, but the momma’s boy.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Sports

soundoff (1,294 Responses)
  1. rad666

    Doesn't Tebow know that God was created by man for man and woman is a second class person?

    January 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  2. Reality

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka football stadiums, mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    January 14, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • .........

      the flaw here is any reality post hit report abuse on all of them

      January 14, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  3. Marge

    Tell you right now I was so glad my sons grew up and turned out very well and they didn't act any where near Tebow. I think he is a fake pushing this religious crap because it gets him attention. When he screws up and looses you don't hear anything about it. Gee you could take a football, basketball or hockey player and every time they do something good put it in the headlines but when they are every day or screw up say nothing and every one will think they are great. I think he is a bunch of crap. Who is using religion to get ahead.

    January 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Sandy

      Stupid thing to say about a man who has done so much for others. You sound like a very bitter old hag.

      January 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • HoyaLaw15

      Judging from your brainless and poorly worded comment, I'm sure you raised your sons to be terrific young gentlemen. Well done, shrew.

      January 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  4. henbeatsfox

    Tebow does not flaunt anything. It's just that sincere expressions of faith are so rare in pop culture, when they occur, people don't quite know what to do or how to respond. That is well demonstrated in the comments here. But as for Tebow's character, Rick Reilly, no fan of open expressions of faith on the football field, has a great article on ESPN's webstie about how Tebow has won him over. He says that Tebow's humility and selfless acts (that get lost in the midst of all the mindless blustering about his eye black and bowing) make him the real deal. Most people are missing that. But of course, humility and selflessness are hard to make fun of, so the trolls on the web are compelled to ignore that and focus on a knee-jerk reactionary view of anything Tebow does related to faith in a public way. Humans are very silly creatures.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  5. Emanuel Burgos

    Liked the article CNN. Thanks! Will have to tell that joke in church.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  6. RDM

    Man created "God" in his own image.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Ace

      EXACTLY!!

      January 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  7. jim bob

    GREAT ARTICLE! Even as a Steelers fan, and having them lose to Tebow, I still can't hate the guy. That's something.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Bigsancho

      BigSancho Says: Steeler fan doesn't hate Tebow? See I always knew us Raider fans were harder than you "steel"-town jag-offs 😉

      January 14, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  8. James

    2011-12 Broncos = 2010-11 Seahawks

    When the Seahawks made it into the playoffs it was a flaw in the NFL playoff system. When the Broncos did made it in it was divine intervention.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  9. kinum

    Tebow is nothing but a bible thumper who thinks that his beliefs are better than everyone and that god somehow bails him out. For 6 games in a row, god only showed up in the 4th quarter, then disappeared only to come back in OT. effin ridiculous.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  10. Bigsancho

    BigSancho Says: "Brady is the guy every teenage boy wants to be" ? Maybe 50%. The other 50%? Giselle's masseuse.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  11. Temuchin

    How come the only people that are getting upset are ones that don't believe in God? I mean, why do you even care about Tebows faith. Do you even know what he is praying about. Real quick story: I coached hockey and after the kids got on the ice for a warm up, The head coach and I alone in the locker room would say a prayer. One time right before a championship game a player walked in (forgot his stick) and said "coaches, you don't have to pray, I know we are going to win." We smiled at that. But we always prayed for the safety of the players on both teams, that they will conduct themselves a gentleman (as much as you can playing hockey LOL). Never was winning a part of it.
    Now, forget if their is a God or not. It is a belief we have within us. I don;t care if you do or don't. But don't knock Tebow for showing his faith. Many athletes pray, the press is just giving him more exposure. And a true Christian does not believe God is giving the Broncos an edge to win. The Bronco season is just a great sports story.
    In other words:Grow up and leave the man a lone.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • JohnRJ08

      False! I believe in God and Tebow's incessant pronouncements of his faith are nauseating. He's like a child who is obsessed with a toy and he has to tell everybody about it.

      January 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Sandy

      Very well written. In a time where so many athletes are nothing but thugs, Tim Tebow is a breath of fresh air.

      January 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  12. Wholly Mary

    Pride goeth before destruction and haughtiness before a fall. Pretended humility and phony public displays.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  13. Absutoth

    Then again with me being Catholic I hope Tom Brady breaks Tebow's protestant face in. Man I wished the Steelers could have woken up last week so I can watch a better game

    January 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Relationship not Religion

      Gee, how wonderfully Christ-like of you Catholic! I wonder if the rest of your relationship to God is as touching?

      January 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  14. Lew is a troll...

    Don't feed the trolls.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  15. John F.

    Tim "Walks The Walk" with Faith...

    Non-believers have a right to wander without guidance and without faith....and if they are wrong........More will be revealed.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • jk

      Revealed when? Jesus has never showed, and nothing will be revealed when you lose consciousness at death.

      January 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Socrates

      Really? And...when these revelations will take place? Please, let's know. In the meantime I am going to call God. Just to let you know God and I chat every morning.

      January 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • JohnRJ08

      Your own words prove the points that people have made here about Tebow's zealotry.

      January 14, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Relationship not Religion

      Always interesting to see Scripture lived out in the lives of others...

      3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” IIPeter 3:3,4

      January 14, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  16. Independent Mind

    Interview with the loosing team: "We would have won if it weren't for God helping the other team. I mean, how can you compete with that?"

    January 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  17. jk

    News flash: Many, many, many mothers do not want their sons to become anti-choice, culturally conservative, coddled jocks performing a job that is utterly useless to society.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Independent Mind

      The job is not quite utterly useless to society. Afterall, football helps keep the healthcare professionals employed you know. : )

      January 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Joe

      I'm guessing you're not from Texas?

      January 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Pats Fan

      I am a huge Pats fan. I want the Pats to win and for Tebow to do well. Because he is a winner – in life and in sports. I don't care about his religious beliefs. If you really don't like what he stands for that's your right. But be respectful.

      January 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  18. TheyNotHim

    SO, your mom wants you to be e type of guy that goes on television to promote his belief that an entire segment of our society should be denied their civil rights because of the misguided supersti-tions of another segment of the same society. Yeah, Marge, you got a real winner there!

    January 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  19. rplat

    Only godless atheists are threatened by Tebow. Tebow isn't thanking God for a winning football season, he's thanking God for all that He has given him and a loss today would not change the strength of his faith.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • jk

      Only desperate believers in imaginary friends need to make a hero out of a dunderheaded, inexperienced ball-thrower who knows very little about life and reality.

      January 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Technically

      He doesn't have a winning season yet. He has to win at least one more game or the best he can finish is with a .500 season.

      January 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • JohnRJ08

      I'm sure that Tebow appreciates you speaking for him and explaining his behavior. And thanks for making the completely unprovable assumption that anybody who is critical of Tebow's zealotry is an atheist. People like you are one of the reasons Tebow is getting criticism here.

      January 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  20. neil ill

    New Englanders love their sports teams. Admiration for Brady comes second to their pride in their hometeam.

    Midwest doesn't have that level of history and respect for their teams. Tebow draws fans to football, increasing the faith in Denver franchise, but really it's Tebow first, Broncos second. Tebow is doing his franchise a service, but it still runs short of the blood-deep support the tristate has for their teams.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • rplat

      As a Midwesterner I can only say . . . Hogwash, you're wrong.

      January 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • neil ill

      @rplat I was raised in the midwest, I'm not trying to degrade fans back home. I'm just saying where I live now it's how whole different level of intensity. Sports is a passion worn on the sleeve here. Never saw that back home.

      January 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • TheyNotHim

      No history and respect for teams in the midwest? HUH?

      Green Bay – 4 Super Bowl Ti-tles, 1 runner-up ring, Championship trophy named after legendary coach, team owned by the city not the wealthy
      Minnesota – 4 runner-up rings
      Saint Louis – 1 Ti-tle, 1 runner–up
      Chicago – 1 Ti-tle , 1 runner-up
      Denver – 2 Lombardi Trophies, 4 runner-up rings
      Kansas City – Super Bowl IV Champions

      Do I need to list NFL Ti-tles before the Super Bowl era? How bout we start listing Hall of Fame members, all time attendance numbers, or John Madden references to "this is what football looks like"?

      January 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Pats Fan

      Born in New England but living in Tebow's home town for the last 10 years, I can say with confidence that people everywhere love football just as much as NE loves the Pats (even more in many cases). It's the SEC on Saturdays around here. I remember having Pats season tix for 6 years – just before and after the Pats drafted Drew Bledsoe. Manyempty seats before. You never see empty seats in Gainsville, Alabama, or other SEC powerhouses – even in off years for the team.

      January 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.