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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. tony

    @jmb is clearly a man who has no thoughts of his own. How sad that a life is so wasted.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  2. tony

    The US religious "conservatives" who revel in capitalism as the underlying force of their lives on Earth, somehow manage to look forward to a reward of spending eternity locked in a totalitarian regime of pure socialism.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  3. JC in the hot tub!

    It is so obvious that God hates Tebow.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  4. JC in the hot tub!

    With all that praying Tebow was doing, why didn't he ask God to make him a better QB?

    March 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • LOL

      He did, it's just that "God" is an ambiguous magic sky pixie invented by ancient Mesopotamians, and not actually indicative of reality. Ask any religious person to define "God," and then ask another and note that even if the two religious people are close, their gods will have subtle differences. Once you move beyond the culture line, those differences become night and day obvious.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  5. jmb

    What Revelation makes known to us is confirmed by our own experience. For when man looks into his own heart he finds that he is drawn towards what is wrong and sunk in many evils which cannot come from his good Creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his source, man has also upset the relationship which should link him to his last end, and at the same time he has broken the right order that should reign within himself as well as between himself and other men and all creatures.

    - Gaudium et spes

    March 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • GK

      You know, sometimes I think that Satan uses people like you and Tebow to make a mockery of the faith, causing others to see it as shallow, witless, stupid, ignorant, and inconsequential. You just make it harder for the rest of us trying to clean up all your damage. Keep up the goood work.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  6. Russ

    it's JUST football. the guy isn't even that good. he's a 1 year wonder and all the religious fanatics out there are making a big deal out of him. when will people stop being so gullible?

    March 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  7. jmb

    We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of mankind does not depend on material success, but on Jesus alone.

    - St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

    March 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Spawned

      When we decide to rely on faith, hope and prayer we will never get anywhere.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • JC in the hot tub!

      Tebowmania is over. I guess God answers prayers after all.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • tallulah13

      By all means, stop posting on the internet and start praying! Hurry! You're wasting time!

      March 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • GK

      How does this have anything to do with the topic at hand? If you believe in God, use the brain that he gave you. It is not a sin to think before you comment.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  8. LOL

    So he's mourning the permanent move of a millionaire that he doesn't even know because that millionaire happened to share his delusion that a magic Jewish sky wizard will one day come and whisk all of those that tell it how awesome it is up to the sky to live with its dad forever?

    Mmmmmkkkkkayyyy... here in reality Peyton Manning doesn't throw like a girl, and I have yet to see him belittle legitimate suffering around the world by kneeling on the sideline and praying for touchdowns.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  9. Brian

    When can we stop talking about religion as if it's anything other than a fairy tale?

    March 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  10. michael

    Maybe you guyz just didn't pray hard enough?

    March 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  11. jmb

    O most sweet Jesus, who came into this world to give to all souls the life of your grace, and who, to preserve and increase it in them, willed to be the daily remedy of their weakness and the food for each day, we humbly beseech you, by your heart so burning with love for us, to pour your divine Spirit upon all souls in order that those who have the misfortune to be in the state of mortal sin may, returning to you, find the life of grace that they have lost. Through this same Holy Spirit, may those who are already living by this divine life devoutly approach your divine table every day when it is possible, sot that, receiving each day in Holy Communion the antidote of their daily venial sins and each day sustaining in themselves the life of your grace and thus ever purifying themselves the more, they may finaly come to a happy life with you. Amen.

    - Pope St. Pius X

    March 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • michael

      Now, where did that little boy go???

      – Pretty much any Pope

      March 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Spawned

      Religion, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction!

      March 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • GK

      You're just an app that pumps out irrelevant quotes about Christianity, aren't you jmb? How do you expect people to take anything you post seriously? Quit your trolling, and go try to win a game of Jeopardy against some real human beings.

      March 24, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  12. martog

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • michael

      AMEN BROTHER.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Rich

      Generalize much?

      March 24, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • martog

      Rich, can you refute anything I posted or are you just hot air?

      March 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Egyptian-American male

      Martog,

      Clever and thoughtful post, but unfortunately You contradict your number one sign since your post ironically
      displays a rather cursory and superficial understanding of Christianity and Christians. It seems that you are trying
      to tear down a straw-man versus the real thing. Clever though.

      March 24, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • JAUNTY HUMPHREYS

      Marty ........ I am a Christian because i follow Jesus. Not Tem Tebow

      March 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • saneCanadian

      LIKE

      March 24, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  13. tony

    Around 11,300 atheists are born every day in the USA. Thanks to the comment section of the belief blog, less and less of those are now being groomed as young children for irrational religious belief by un-thjnking adults.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  14. jmb

    Even though you possess plenty, you are still indigent. You abound in temporal possessions, but you need things eternal. You listen to the needs of a human beggar, yet yourself are a beggar of God. What you do with those who beg from you is what God will do with His beggar. You are filled and you are empty. Fill your empty neighbor with your fullness, so that your emptiness may be filled from God's fullness.

    - St. Augustine

    March 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • GK

      I really think you're a jihadist masquerading as a Christian, undermining the integrity of the faith by making people think Christians are nothing but a bunch of clueless dimwits. You guys are really getting sophisticated these days! I can't wait to see things come crumbling down around that twit Tebow. I mean, I could understand God being a Broncos fan, but the Jets? The NFL's personification of evil? Man, God must be in a bit of a bind now.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  15. jmb

    You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.

    - St. Therese

    March 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  16. jmb

    Grant, O Lord, that my heart may neither desire nor seek anything but what is necessary for the fulfillment of Your Holy Will. May health or sickness, riches or poverty, honors or contempt, humiliations, leave my soul in that state of perfect detachment to which I desire to attain for Your greater honor and Your greater glory. Amen

    - St. Ignatius Loyola

    March 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  17. tony

    This nutter is only able to write a non-news "story" by piggy-backing his subject on a current "celebrity. His added value and interest is a big fat zero.

    March 24, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  18. palintwit

    When Sarah Palin arrives, teabaggers are sure to follow. And teabaggers bring with them the trailer parks. And trailer parks bring nascar tracks. Nascar tracks breed John Birchers, the KKK, republicans and Walmart. It's a vicious circle that's eroding our country. So very, very sad.

    March 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    March 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • tony

      Outrageous and long proven lie. But then that what religious nuts keep pushing – LIES!

      March 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • GK

      Well, I keep praying that somebody calling themselves a Christian would actually make an intelligible, insightful comment about all of this, but so far no luck. I guess he's laughing at all the stupid remarks just as much as everybody else, and just can't get himself to do something to stop them.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  20. JohnRJohnson

    I once asked my 97 year old grandmother if she believed in Jesus. She was a great woman. Never uttered a cross word. A care-giver. She looked at me rather puzzled, then tilted her head in thought. Finally, she said, "I don't really like to talk about my religion. It's very personal and a struggle everyday." What she was saying is that she felt wearing her deepest beliefs on her sleeve for public display would somehow trivialize it. Made it less personal. Tim Teebow disgusts me. He acts like a brainwashed cultist who has one foot in this world and the other foot on a banana peel.

    March 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • pt

      Well put....thank you!

      March 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • GK

      Perfectly put! Thank you! Tebow is just another clown in the pseudo-Christian circus that does nothing but destroy the aims of true Christianity. He's a manifestation of the same basic idiocy that has spawned mega-churches the size of aircraft carriers, Las Vegas shows masquerading as worship services, televangelists like Joel Osteen that spout nothing but the lie of self-serving prosperity, and a right-wing conservative political movement that offers vacant, evil morons like Sartorum and Perry as potential candidates for the presidency.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
      • JohnRJohnson

        Well, the mega-churches are a whole 'nuther issue. Those are all about making the church leaders rich and famous. They are money-making factories for charismatic preachers who are more than likely more flawed than the people to whom they are preaching.

        April 18, 2012 at 4:32 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.