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. Becki

    "Mourning"? Good grief! Tim Tebow is still very much alive and still in the NFL.
    Just somewhere else.

    March 24, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • arekhill1

      More bad news for Tim here http://www.richardcahill.net/1/post/2012/03/tim-tebow-cut-by-jesus.html

      March 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • GK

      Tebow done got swallowed by a whale, just like Jonah. But I have a feeling he ain't gonna come out of this whale's mouth when the story's over, if you know what I mean.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  2. retief1954

    Tebow is what, 22, 23? His only life experience is as an elite athlete and prominent evangelist. Like reality show "stars", he gets FAR, FAR more attention than he warrants. What does he know? What is his contribution? That Tebow is a big deal, is just one more sign of the utter emptiness of American culture. The Bronco fan who wrote this story, and has spent, apparently, the last several years focusing on Tebow and his exploits (only because he is an overt Christian)... man, good luck to him. He sounds like he's well on his way to a really stunted life.

    March 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • saneCanadian

      For stunted it's hard to beat his book (I did not buy it) not even a ghost writer could polish that turd.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  3. saneCanadian

    Here's hoping living in NYC will give Timmy the courage to come out of the closet.

    March 24, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  4. Chris

    Football is a sport and is meant for entertainment. If all of these people are more interested in an athletes religion than their athletic ability then they need to stay in church on sunday and stay the hell out of the football stadium. Keep your sorry bs out of sports and keep it where it belongs.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  5. Sharon

    Always amazes me that such haters seem to be reading a religious article. SMH!

    March 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      It's lot like driving past a car accident on the highway. You can't help but look.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • GK

      Not haters, just people with brains who use them and are infuriated by people with brains who choose not to use them.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I love it how people like you call people who don't agree with you 'haters". It seems you'd rather believe that people are filled with hatred than believe that they can form opinions of their own.

      March 24, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  6. Bryan

    I find it rather fallacious that self-professed Atheists on this blog would suggest that reading the Bible cover to cover would lead a upstanding, rational mind to atheism. Clearly these people do not understand what the Bible is: namely, a collection of writings which the conscious information network that makes up the physical multiverse (whom we refer to as God) inspired out of a series of chosen writers by choosing the path of unfolding quantum possibilities around them (as He does around us all) to unfold in such a way as to create meaning in the eye of their minds and, thereby, guide their pens to construct an optimal marketing message for His kingdom and Himself with the human race at moment in human history each text was written in. Understanding this, we should understand that the Bible is a history of a great teacher working with and guiding the human race under the constraint of possibility. For instance, 3000 years ago, mankind was not ready to hear a message like, "Love your enemies as yourself." This was a value completely alien to people in the world, say, 3000 years ago, and if God would of demanded that they obey it, the Israelites probably wouldn't have wanted much of Him at all! So God does the best and has always done the best with the resources that He has at a given point in space and time. We have to at least grant Him the once of faith so see the best in Him and His efforts–to see the message true message of love and grace, to see the invitation to freely chosen friendship and agape love with God that is threaded through the Bible from its beginning to its end; for otherwise, we can never see HIm. But if we do believe, if we do have but an ounce of faith to look at our lives and see the patterns of meaning that His Invisible Hand has woven into them–patterns which whisper to us and lead our lives down the best way–then we will see just this! And our rational minds will no longer be capable of doubting the presence of the Lord again, but have, like Tebow, a faith and joy and freedom from anxiety amidst all the critical voices arrayed against us in their ignorant condemnation of wonderful soul.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Wholly Mary

      Yeah, yeah, yeah-Sure, sure, sure-Yadda, yadda, yadda!

      March 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • atroy

      Yeah right, we are so much more civilized than our ancestor's were 3000 years ago. We just all love each other and get along so well; It's hard to imagine the things our ancestors went through like slavery, oppression and war.....so glad we don't have those things any more.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • saneCanadian

      LOL Buckminster Fuller meets Tammy Faye

      March 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Chris

      I agree with everything wholly mary said. Except I would add blah, blah, blah

      March 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • yupreally

      you are unsaveable

      March 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • A Normal Life

      You need to get a life.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • GK

      What are you saying? I do not have the slighest clue. You have used a load of words, yet said absolutely nothing of any consequence or real value. Carefully review what you wrote, cull from the tangled, knotted jungle of jibberish and empty verbiage the essence of what you want to say, craft a new comment using words economically and to better effect this time, and resubmit. Then and only then will I be able to engage you intelligently.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Bryan

      Per GK's request that I resubmit my comment, there is much that I would like to say here. However, what I have said is based upon a model of the physical multiverse that I am developing (essentially, the physics of how God interfaces with us through the natural world), and I don't believe what I really want to say is going to be communicable in a mere blogpost. You can't develop such a model in a few economical words. And my book is currently in the works–look for it, I hope, next year: The Pursuit of the Sower. But I stand by what I said. My reasoning mind is convinced that the universe (or multiverse) is an information network with signals traveling back and forth between particles; and like any such network or web (computer, brain), a consciousness emerges within that and it has to interface with us by making the quantum particles of the multiverse unfold in such a way that we perceive meaning in the eyes of our minds and through prayer can have a conversation with it. The multiverse as a whole can be likened to a computer–and I am convinced–to the Internet. This may sound unChristian to some, but I have found nothing in established faith that is contradicted by its emergence. When science and religion have a common model for the multiverse the world will be a much better place for it. Hopefully many of the divisions which presently rock society over controversial figures like Tebow will then die, and there will be peace amongst us. And per atroy's comment, are you kidding!? Study history and you will know how much more violent the world was back then than it is today. Sure, we have pockets a lot of violence in the world today, but there have been periods of history where the kind of violence was much more widespread! Praise modern values of peace and tolerance, rather than say, the Roman or Athenian hubris to wipe out whole cities in the pursuit of empire!

      March 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Well, I guess it all has to do with the fact that there isn't a single shred of evidence to support the existence of any of the thousands of gods (not even yours!) that have been worshiped throughout human history. Sometimes you just have to embrace reality, and the reality is, there is no logical reason to believe in any god.

      March 24, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  7. GK

    Give me a break! This guy has done just as much to damage the popular conception of Christianity as he has done to help it. Now even more people think most Christians are idiots.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  8. PraiseTheLard

    Patton Dodd may not be crazy... just stupid...

    March 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  9. palintwit

    Did Mary and Joseph do anal?

    March 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • granny 13 is off her meds
      March 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  10. palintwit

    Did the baby jesus m@sturbate?

    March 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  11. ac

    Dubya is proof that God cannot make you intelliegnt, even if you are born-again (whatever that nonsense means) a hundred times.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  12. ac

    If Jesus was so thrilled with Tebow, how come he did not even get to the Super Bowl, let alone win it.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  13. tony

    The belief blog really is the best thing for exposing the craziness of religion that I've seen so far. Well done CNN!

    March 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • tony

      How do you manage to get past the "duplicate comment" filter? Des it just give up after the 100,000 th time?

      March 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things .

      March 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • i don't get it

      like what?

      March 24, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • yupreally

      I've been praying for you to explain yourself for weeks since I first saw you post this garbage, yet your lack of intelligence and backbone remain unchanged

      March 24, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  15. FSM

    Tim Tebow has been touched by His Noodly Appendage and whisked away to New York to be moral support for Sanchez. Manning is free to win more championships in Denver. The Flying Spaghetti Monster knows all.


    March 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  16. ac

    Religion. The ultimate Crap.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  17. ac

    Silly. Crap.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  18. Jerry Freedman

    Would his overt religiousness be as attractive had he been Jewish? How about if he prayed to Mecca during a game? Or if he attibributed his running game to the eightfold path

    March 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • JohnRJohnson

      Jews don't proselytize. And, unless it's a Holy Day, they don't wear yamulkes. And most Jews are progressive thinkers. Not many right-wing Jews out there. One of the three young civil rights workers who was killed in Mississippi by the Klan was a Jew. Daniel Ellsberg is a Jew. Albert Einstein was a Jew. As a matter of fact, Jesus was a Jew.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  19. djbass

    for pete's sake does religion have to be dragged into everything, look how it has destroyed our political discourse. leave the sporting arena alone! and furthermore tebow is way way overrated anyway. you'll see.

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

      Religion is different from God. Tebow's not talking religion, you are. Think about it.

      He might be overrated, and John Elway was once, too. Think about that, too.

      Hang in there, first 100 years is the hardest as a critic. Have a blessed day.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Bill Cosby

      GEE, what INSIGHT.


      March 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  20. Jackie

    When you display your belief of God for show and profit you never win. I felt bad for the people who used Tebow's display of prayer when I've seen for more then 50 years a player silently take a moment of thanks to move on. With fake Religious Leaders like Pat Robertson and Law Makers jumping for attention and Tebow looking to make millions as his display of faith and not his action on the football field. Children were led to believe that God will give Tebow a win because he prayed. Its sick and sad because it's all for profit. Tebow learned from a born again Christian Governor who lied and said God told him to be President and the faithful voted for him only to learn 8 years later it was a lie. Tebow is making money off his display of prayer on national TV not his action on the field. Football is a team sport and Tebow should have chosen Golf.

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

      8 years of a born-again idiot.

      March 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • GK

      Tebow should have just bypassed the football crap and become a televangelist. That seems be his greatest talent. God knows he can't throw a football. Hope you're ready for another horrible season, Jets fans. But at least it will be very interesting. Take it from me, a Redskins fan- I know. I've dealt with that kind of thing for the past twenty years. I guess I'll just have to pray harder that somebody buys them from that fat fool Snyder.

      March 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
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About this blog

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.