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.”

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soundoff (469 Responses)
  1. Why Does God Hate Amputees?

    Never in the history of mankind has an amputee grown an arm or a leg despite TONS and TONS prayers and rivers of tears. Why does god hate amputees so much? If he didn't hate amputees so much he would have healed at least a couple. You know, being all powerful and all.

    March 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • googiecat

      He did give Mitt Romney several faces.

      March 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • sybaris

      God Hates Amputees..........another uncomfortable truth for Christians

      March 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  2. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusional.

    March 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Abolish All Religion

      You preach it brother!

      March 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • googiecat

      That's not true. If you pray hard enough Santa Claus will bring you an Easter Bunny who will then lay a virgin egg that will open up and carry you to heaven. It's been proven.

      March 24, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  3. sybaris

    Patton Dodd, you are obviously prone to addictions. It's a good thing the crutch of religion keeps you clean lest you become an addict to something physically unhealthy. At least being addicted to something mentally unhealthy doesn't harm your body.

    March 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  4. lovethedifferentcommentsystemsCNN

    is this a joke?

    March 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  5. googiecat

    Lets face it, christian zealot or not, great athlete or so so, it's really all about him being hot.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • TheBob

      Dude, are you gay?

      March 24, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  6. sdgman

    I didn't read this because I was uninterested. As a football fan I hated Tebow because he played for Florida and I hate the Florida schools. I hated Tim Tebow because he played for Denver and I'm a Chargers fan. I loved him because he's not even a serviceable second stringer and so many people are enamored by his religious beliefs they are willing to let him start on their team just to see him kneel.

    Would I want him to marry my sister? Hell yes! He's a wonderful person... do I want him on my Pro Football Team? NO

    March 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  7. Jeff

    Be a Jets fan.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  8. Plug1

    If he was black with those Q.B skills......he wouldn't be in the league....fact.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • timmyisaloser

      He won't last 10 min in NYC. Frankly, I thought the Jets were smarter than that. Bottom feeding is a sign of pending doom.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • krivka

      You are correct. He wouldn't have been drafted if it weren't for his mystique. He is a good guy I am sure, but a good guy who who believes in a fairy tale. If somebody with real football skills claimed to be an adherent of the Norse god Odin, would he be paying in the NFL?

      March 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • GK

      Word up, 'bro. (Sorry, I'm about as caucasian as they get, but it seemed like the perfect reply to such an insightful and accurate comment.)

      March 24, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  9. martog

    Ten Reasons You Know you are an Atheist.
    1. You were likely brought up a theist (probably a Christian if you live in the USA) and had to do your own thinking to rise above the beliefs that still occupy the mind of the believer. This usually involved being smart and working hard at school and college so as to get a good, accurate view of the natural Universe and overcoming significant social pressure to dumb yourself down and conform. In short, you had the guts to ask the hard questions and the brains to spot the weak answers. The more you came to understand the Universe, the less reason there was to believe in a god and the more you came to appreciate human nature, the more you understood why billions of us still do.
    2. While rejecting the supernatural elements of the Bible, you nevertheless retain a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent you reject Christian morality, it is where it is mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, your basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – you just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over your head in order to act in a manner that you consider moral.
    3. You know a great deal more about the Bible than most believers. This is because you took the time to read it yourself and did not rely on the primary-color simple stories you learned in Sunday school. You have also probably done some research into the historical Jesus and have a good handle on where he REALLY fit in to the broader picture of the Middle East at the time. Needless to say, his miracles and other magic powers soon started to look pretty unlikely.
    4. Your knowledge of basic science and history is much stronger than that of your average believer. You likely have a basic working knowledge of physics, astronomy, evolutionary biology and cosmology and a good idea of the history of life on this planet. This acc.umulated knowledge puts you in a position to judge the claims of the Bible in a critical light and they are almost always found wanting. To the theist, this makes you “elitist” and ‘arrogant”.
    5. You relish your role as a religious minority in the USA, as this gives you an impetus to fight and you understand how others with unpopular, but doubtlessly correct views have felt throughout history. There is something altogether satisfying to you about having a deep conviction you are right and being viewed with disdain for your views by the errant majority. You feel a quiet confidence that future generations will look back on you as a member of a class of trailblazers, as religious supersti.tions go into inevitable decline in popularity.
    6. You are likely more environmentally aware than your theist friends and colleagues and unlikely to fall for claims of industry and wind-bag politicians concerning the impact of man’s activities on the environment. You could no more act in an environmentally irresponsible manner because “god will keep us safe” than you could jump of a ship, believing King Neptune will keep you safe.
    7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude, but will fiercely defend any attempts by theists to thrust their views on you or your children, directly or through control of school boards, the legislature or the executive. While you are prepared to debate and argue passionately with the theist on an intellectual level, you would never wish them harm or ill will. You know you are likely to be smugly told you will “burn in hell for all eternity” for your healthy skepticism. This highlights what you despise about religion, as you would not wish a bad sunburn on another, simply because they have a different religious view to you. You have never heard of an evolutionary biologist strapping a bomb to himself and running into a church yelling “Darwin-u akbar”.
    8. You likely know more about other religions than your average theist. This makes you less fearful of them and enables you to see parallels. You realize that, if you were born in India, you would have been brought up with a totally different religion. You realize that every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. They cannot all exist and you see the error all faiths make of thinking only theirs exist(s). This “rising above” the regional nature of all religions was probably instrumental in your achieving atheism.
    9. You likely have a deep, genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe, from the 4 nucleotides that orchestrate every aspect of you, through to the distant quasars, without having to think it was all made for you. You likely get more out of being the irrelevant ant staring up at the cosmos than you do in having to pretend that it was all made to turn in majestic black-and-white pirouette about you.
    10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does. You know that the whole final judgment story, where you may be sent to hell if you fail, is Dark Ages nonsense meant to keep the Church’s authority. You also know that you were dead for 13,700,000,000 years before you were born. It is impossible for you to fear death, for the simple reason that you know the capacity to fear (or to feel pain or discomfort) itself dies. You will not even know you are dead. Fear of death is as meaningless to you as is the fear of a vacuum, the fear of not being born. You feel a lot more secure, and indeed a deep comfort, in this knowledge, than you would in trying to yoke yourself to some quasi-hope that every part of your intellect tells you is untenable.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • reason

      line breaks.

      like this.

      March 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Rationalist


      March 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Rich

      11. You have the smug condescension to offer straw-man arguments refuting that which you THINK you understand so well, and will post them in a 1,016-word essay because you hope others will think you sound as smart as you think you are.

      March 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Justice

      Do you judge all those who are different than you? You should try practicing patience and tolerance with others. You list quite a few accusations against believers in your treatise–the same accusations I often see in the atheist community–that is, those based on anger, arrogance, and ignorance. You see, the truth exists–God–but many refuse to see the truth. You don't present an argument based on substance, you present nothing but your opinion. You say you know the bible? You read what you wanted to believe based on your owned skewed thought processes. You're right about one thing–you don't know God, or Christ, or really the meaning of anything because you are blinded by the dark. I truly feel sorry for you and I will pray for you. That's love. That's God. God bless you.

      March 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • martog

      Jeez RICH, can you refute ANYTHING I posted mr Not Smug?

      March 24, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • El Giblet

      Hehehehe... I've you've got so much time on your hands that you can write essays that relatively nobody will see, you might want to pick up the bible and read it for a bit. Making a whole lot of assumptions about something you know nothing about makes you look ridculous. Also, what you'll learn, is that *nobody* gets to God without Christ. Period. Whether you want to believe it or not.

      March 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • martog

      El Goblet....you have a delusion. Try thinking for yourself for once in your life

      March 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  10. JC in the hot tub!

    The next big bombshell will be Tebow coming out of the closet.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • mandarax

      Right! But probably not until later, after he has retired. Right now he would lose his fan base.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  11. Andrew

    Jesus SPECIFICALLY said not to pray this way and it nullifies the prayer. Writing about it is even more inane.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Tim

      Is it his fault the cameras are always in his grill. I am sure he prays at home when nobody is watching too..
      It is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are stupid, than open your mouth and remove all doubt

      March 24, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • martog

      Tim, it IS his fault the camera is always in his face. He is afterall the one that makes a public display of himself praying! Maybe you should try keeping your mouth shut!

      March 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • sailor

      "it nullifies the prayer"
      Sounds like someone keeping score. Makes me laugh.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • preacherman

      No one has to strike that absurd pose to pray. He is making a show of his piousness.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • krivka

      Do you have that quote for Jesus on tape?

      March 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • krivka

      Do you have that quote from Jesus on tape?

      March 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  12. Urafkntool

    I personally think trading Tebow was a mistake. All it takes is one bad hit and Manning won't be walking again, now they have no backup. Plus, Tebow could have learned a ton from Peyton.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  13. cp

    Yeah, God doesn't want to solve world hunger, violence against women and children, malaria and the AIDS epidemic. He want to determine the outcome of NFL league games. Yee-haw!

    March 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  14. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Tebow is a mediocre player and a loser.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  15. Peter E

    I think it is a bit arrogant to believe that God determines football game outcomes. HE has a bit more important things to do, and football is just a game.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Guest1m

      Like watching Syria rip itself to shreds, a terrorist kill a bunch of people in France, an American kill a bunch of people in Afghanistan? "He" probably was too busy deliberating the most "godly" form of intervention and ended up forgetting to intervene.


      Nothing about what happens in this world suggests there is divine intervention. The idea that "faith" is about believing without needing proof, is ridiculous. Fine. I believe in leprechauns. I don't need proof, that shows my faith.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • GK

      Except for the two Giants-Patriots Super Bowls. Even God didn't want to see Brady and Belichick win them.

      March 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  16. AtheistsSeeThePinkElephant

    Tebow proves that stupidity has become a virtue in the minds of many in this country...

    March 24, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  17. Tim

    Wow! There are alot of insecure, angry people on here. How can the simple act of praying offend so many people?
    I am Agnostic, it doesnt ruffle my feathers to see this kid take a knee. I have never heard Tim tell someone they had to kneel and pray with him. I have never heard Tim say he was special and deserved Xtra attention.
    Here is an idea for all of you people who think Tim is a "dummy" and you are so sophisticated, When he kneels to pray, change the channel!!!!. If you dont want to hear about him, change the station.
    If you are sooooo sensitive that someones religion gets your panties in a wad, well than you are the cry baby loser, not Tim
    Grow up and get a pair

    March 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Bryan

      Thank you for saying this! People out there do seem so strangely angry. Or am I just strange for being tolerant and trying to see the best in people. I would say lol, but I don't find intolerance by atheists or religious to be very funny.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  19. GK

    Man, this guy is being set up for one of the most spectacular collapses in the history of the NFL. Can't wait for the season to begin!

    March 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  20. ThinkAgain

    I believe in God and follow Christ's principles of love, tolerance, compassion and acceptance, but I don't attend any church because my faith isn't dogmatic and not for a second do I believe that anyone has to believe exactly as I do or the Bible says to experience God. Religion, more than anything, is a cultural manifestation of human desire to understand the universe.

    Regarding Heaven, until someone dies and comes back with Polaroids, no one knows for sure what happens after we die. Better to just live the most ethical, loving life you can, leaving the world a better place having lived in it and trust that the rest will take care of itself.

    March 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • RR

      Please stop being so dogmatic and telling me what to do. You have no right to say that I MUST live the most ethical life I can or that the Bible tells me to experience God. What gives you the right to tell me these things?

      March 24, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • martog

      RR, you can not discuss reality with a delusional mind. Might as well give up this one. Religious people cannot think logically or rationally when it comes to gawd,jeebuz, and the holy ghostie....

      March 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • George37

      RR. Read what ThinkAgain said again. I read it twice and don't see any 'MUST's' in there – he's just letting us know what he thinks and believes, not how anyone else should think or believe.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:46 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.