My Take: A Colorado Christian bids farewell to Tebow
March 24th, 2012
10:16 AM ET

My Take: A Colorado Christian bids farewell to Tebow

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) - As a lifelong Denver Broncos fan, I’d have to be crazy to second-guess my team’s signing of the great quarterback Peyton Manning, assuming he’s as healthy as Broncos’ Vice President John Elway wishes him to be. And I’m not crazy.

I got chills watching Manning hold up the new #18 Broncos jersey at his introductory press conference, and I’ll be counting the days until his September debut.

But as a Tim Tebow scribe, general religion nerd, and sucker for inspirational sports stories, I’m mourning the loss of something special, something larger than football, and something Denver may never have again no matter how many championships the team wins.

Tim Tebow is moving to New York to play for the Jets.

Ten weeks ago last Sunday, I fell to my knees in my friend’s living room as Tebow threw a strike to wideout Demaryius Thomas to open overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the NFL playoffs. Thomas ran 80 yards for the score that won the game, and I genuflected before the television, shouting Tebow’s name.

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He had thrown for 316 yards, led my Broncos to their first playoff win in six years, and made good on a season of shaky promise.

On that day, Tebow wasn’t just what he had been all season long — a polarizing religious athlete, questionable quarterback and reliable comeback kid. As I watched Thomas saunter into the end zone, I saw Tebow finally cementing his place with the Denver Broncos. Whatever happened the next week didn’t matter (and it’s a good thing, because the Broncos would get crushed by the New England Patriots).

Tim Tebow was the future of the Denver Broncos, and the future was now.

On Monday morning, a co-worker popped over to my desk to see if I had heard the news: “Peyton Manning chose Denver. They’re signing him today.”

I shouted and clapped my hands. I spent the next hour drowning my head in Twitter for confirmation after confirmation that yes, the Broncos had nabbed the most decorated free agent ever. Peyton Manning — Peyton Manning! — was a Denver Bronco.

Later that morning, someone asked me how I felt about Tim Tebow.

He hadn’t yet crossed my mind.

Maybe I’m fickle — it’s a familiar trait of sports fans — or maybe I’m devoted to the Broncos first and their players second. My childhood bedroom was an orange and blue shrine wallpapered with clippings of Broncos stories from the Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post and Sports Illustrated.

As an adult, my love of sports has merged with my love of studying religion, and I’ve been tracking the Tebow story and its religious angles since he entered the University of Florida. Last fall, I wrote a Tebow e-book and several Tebow stories, gave dozens of interviews on the Tebow phenomenon, and treated Broncos games like pieces of performance art.

They were frustrating and weird and begging to be interpreted, as the Broncos scored precious few points but often won by hook or by crook of Tebow’s stubborn heroics, punctuated by prayer and a post-game shout-out to a sick young man or woman whose presence at the game was always the best part of Tebow’s day.

I love Tebow’s story in part because it’s a misunderstood story. He gives the lie to many stereotypes about conservative evangelicals. Sure, he has missionary zeal, and his faith rises to the surface of his language with regularity, but he isn’t a virulent culture warrior.

He doesn’t seem to see Christianity as something that needs to be protected from outsiders or critics. He doesn’t have a public faith agenda beyond saying Jesus’ name after games and helping sick people. He doesn’t even believe God helps him win football games — all that game-time prayer is reflexive religious passion, pure and simple.

If Tebowing taught us anything, it’s that plenty of people of all faiths don’t have a problem with public prayer, at least when politics is out of the picture.

To be sure, lots of people didn’t want to hear this larger-than-football Tebow story, including many football storytellers. In the press box of one game I attended last year, I watched as a reporter took a knee — mocking Tebowing — before the kickoff and prayed aloud, “Oh God, please tear his ACL today and make all of this finally stop.”

Another reporter told me, “You’re here to cover the culture story. We are covering the sports story.”

No argument here — but the culture story of Tim Tebow brought a lot of people to sports last year, and it gave sports people the occasion to reflect on the meaning of the game.

There was plenty of Tebow hatred and Tebow fatigue — and plenty more ignorance of the content and meaning of Tebow’s faith — but there was also a remarkable amount of thoughtful, generous responses to this unique religious sports figure. One of the most shared and most discussed sports articles I’ve seen in ages was Rick Reilly’s “I Believe in Tim Tebow,” an account of Tebow’s habit of meeting with the sick and dying before and after every football game.

Or take Chuck Klosterman’s “The People Who Hate Tim Tebow,” an attempt to understand the epistemology of faith, fandom, and disbelief. How often do we get reflections like that in the middle of a sports season?

Tebow didn’t add the qualities of virtue and faith to sports — they were already there in spades, but his story forced us to pay close attention. Were Norman Mailer alive, he may have delivered to us something like his famous coverage of Muhammad Ali. Mailer may or may not have liked Tim Tebow, but he would have recognized the young athlete as a moment of American culture that warranted a major response.

So I do have mixed feelings about the Broncos’ move. Winning with Manning will be fun, but winning with Tebow is the better story.

Shortly after New England finished decimating the Denver in the playoffs, I sat in the interview room at Gillette Stadium waiting for Tebow to emerge from the locker room. I wasn’t the only “culture” writer there — GQ, The New Yorker, and People had reporters in the room, because at the time Tebow was still the nation’s biggest story. Still, the only questions being asked of Tebow were about football.

But near the end of the interview session, I reminded Tebow that his season had provoked nationwide discourse on religion, especially about the relationship between winning and faith. “The Bible says, ‘Victory belongs to the Lord,’” I told him. “But what about losing? How do you make sense of losing in light of your faith?”

Tebow answered, in part, that his job was to give God glory, win or lose: “Whether I’m the hero or the goat, I still honor the Lord and give him glory, because he’s deserving of it. Just like my faith shouldn’t change, neither should that.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Uncategorized

soundoff (469 Responses)
  1. scatheist

    Just another fairy tale gone bye bye.

    March 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  2. Thinkergal

    Another CO Christian bid farewell to Tim Tebow: bye.

    March 31, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  3. Mike Dewey

    Good riddance, Tim. And when you leave, take Jesus with you.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • nathandf

      ..he will...

      March 31, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  4. Mike Dewey

    Good riddance, and when you leave, Tim, take Jesus with you.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  5. James D Johnson

    Since the formation of Christianity, adherents have been encouraged to be apostolic with their faith. I do not sense that he is aggrandizing himself nor putting down others. His spirit of intent appears simply to publicly thank his God for the gifts he has received and celebrate their appropriate use. Tim Tebow has acted as a role model by effortlessly including his faith in sport and in work. What can we really fault in that? After all, I know that the NFL is just wallowing in good news stories right now... Why not recognize, reward and support someone who revels in following the path that has heart and celebrate with him along the way? As a Broncos fan, I will miss him; I will celebrate with him when he does it wherever he goes.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • scatheist

      They use to do it for Zeus. Who's your next candidate?

      March 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  6. Dean

    Just waiting to hear from Elway when Manning can't finish the season much less win the Super Bowl for Denver as Elway expects.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  7. Dr. Lane

    I guess now I have two new teams to cheer for as I am a fan of Tebow and Manning.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  8. allthingsreligious

    Public prayer at a secular event is about drawing attention to oneself. The thought that there is a god that has an interest in football is ridiculous. Playing football is just a sport. Just a job. Tebow is not serving the greater good or humanity. He's just trying to make himself look pious. Ask Penn State what happens when football becomes god.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Dean

      Did you not even read the story?
      He doesn’t seem to see Christianity as something that needs to be protected from outsiders or critics. He doesn’t have a public faith agenda beyond saying Jesus’ name after games and helping sick people. He doesn’t even believe God helps him win football games — all that game-time prayer is reflexive religious passion, pure and simple.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • scatheist

      If there actually was a Jesus son of god who is actually god too then it might be interesting.

      March 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  9. augustghost

    who cares? really

    March 30, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  10. Miike Finley

    Ok, all is good. I am still not a Jets fan nor a Broncos fan. However, Go Broncos! I guess we will see if Peyton can change things in Denver. May not even see Tebow play since Sanchez is the man. That would be a bad thing if the Jets just brought Tebow in as a motivational strategy for Sanchez. Do you think Tebow will get a start this year?

    March 30, 2012 at 2:48 am |
  11. DREAM15X

    Regardless of whether a person has faith in God or not it is hard not to admire a man, let alone NFL player unafraid of proclaiming his faith in God. There are many closet Christians who will not declare they're devotion and belief due to peer pressure. Good for you Tim, you will be a success no matter which path you travel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  12. Beatrice

    My husband's team are the Broncos. He really liked Tim Tebow (and still does) but he remains a Bronco fan. I am not really a sport fan but I always enjoy watching games with him especially when his team is playing. I find Tim Tebow interesting and I think a lot of people who don't like him don't understand what it means to have a relationship with God. It doesn't mean that you are going to win all the time or that nothing bad is going to happen to you. Tim Tebow finds strength in his faith. When he prays he concentrate on his game. I don't know what was his reaction when he heard that quarterback Peyton Manning was joining the Broncos, if he took it badly... If it's the case, because of his faith he is going to take advantage of this adversity to grow. I think the Broncos made a mistake. They stopped Tebow's momentum. Now just for fun, I am with the Jets and I can't wait to watch it playing against the Broncos with my husband.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Jake

      Beatrice I am a Christian and a Dolphins fan...when I heard that Tebow was going to be a Jet, I tucked in my tail and said I will be a Jet's fan just because of him. Now if it's Dolphins vs Jets...go Dolphins! I really enjoyed your comment. God bless.

      March 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  13. Elliot

    The thing that bothers me the most is if you say something truthful like "Tim Tebow isn't a good quarterback" people just assume you are an athiest or something. That is completely ridiculous. I am an athiest, but so what, I could still like Tebow as and athiest and that doesn't mean I'm a Jesus nerd. Football and religion, come on, this is a joke and all the small minded simple people eat it up.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  14. Adam_Warlock

    I'm not trying to be mean or anything, but noone else thinks Tim Tebow seems a little bit...


    March 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Martin

      Very fruity, a guy with the body and looks of a greek God that went to one of the best party colleges in he US being their star quarterback and he has never been seen with a girl or had a girlfriend. Even the Pastor Joel Osteen had a wife by now. Ohh well the village in New York city will help him come out of the closet already.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  15. FrankinSD

    As a San Diego Chargers fan, I am sorry to see Tebow head for New York. If his throwing mechanics were so poor that even John Elway couldn't fix them, I would have preferred to see him stay in our division for as long as possible. And the longer he was in Denver, the harder it would have become to get rid of him. Folks like Dodd would have turned keeping him into a crusade (with all that term implies).

    March 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  16. Starman

    I can do without the "giving thanks and praise" for every little thing on the field, but Tebow seems a genuinely good guy, a decent person. A species in decline generally and in sports specifically. Best wishes for you and your career Tim.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  17. David Crosby

    With one less Christian in Colorado now that Tebow is gone..I do not know how we will survive as a Civilization...And without God personally running our Football team any more all the Evangelicals here may well want to move to New York to be with their new Prophet...you have my blessing...

    March 29, 2012 at 4:37 am |
    • juniorbarnes

      Dude....God is running the Broncos. We mortals call him John Elway!!

      March 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  18. Tom

    I too am thrilled that the Broncos signed Manning. But I also think Tim Tebow is special. I hope he does very well – except when playing the Broncos. Like the author, I believe that he showed a sense of himself as well as an inspirational quality unlike many other athletes no matter their skill set. There is no other way to explain how he was able to win the way he did.

    I have always been a John Elway fan. He was an incredible athlete. What he did with the Broncos – certainly in his first 3 SuperBowl appearances is drive a lesser quality team into the ultimate showcase. He made those teams better because of the way he played and he willed them into victory. But he didn't finally win the SB until he had a better team around him. What is different about Tebow is that he INSPIRED his teammates to better play. You do that based on who you ARE not necessarily the way you always play. That's another thing entirely. All the best to him in NY.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:31 am |
  19. Dzerres

    Wow, this guy has a serious bromance with Tim Tebow. I don't envy the coaches and the owner of the NY Jets: if Mark Sanchez even sneezes these "christian fans" will put up billboards and demand the back QB be put in the game. It has nothing to do with skill, ability or luck, if Tebow loves Jesus then Jesus will insure the Jets a win; or so that twisted logic goes. I feel sorry for the rest of the Jets team. The Jags would have been a better fit for both the team and Tebow but its going to be a delicious disaster to watch. Again, no hate, just schadenfreude.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • juniorbarnes

      Your comments indicate you have 0 football knowledge... Why would Jacksonville be a better fit? Because ESPN wanted it that way since he's from that area? Tebow was given the wonderful opportunity by John Elway to pick where he wanted to go. Tebow picked NY as he knew the coach, team and style of football they want to play is a better fit for him. The sad thing is that team was a mess last year and adding a polarizing figure like this will only make things worse within that locker room.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  20. Barry G.

    I'm now a Jets fan.

    Way to go, Tim!

    I wish you the best.

    March 28, 2012 at 4:51 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.