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. William Pelegrini

    funny how the media portrait him as "polarizing". Why? because he makes his ritual each game? because he pray?

    I bet if he curse on the mic or scream "gays are normal and deserve marriage"! would be just fine....

    the silent majority must act more often cause these people are not only disgusting but radicals.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Jeff in LA

      Using god and faith for a piece of cheap showboating theater is repulsive. God doesn't give a hoot about football.

      April 16, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  2. bob springer

    so what would you prefer, Tebow and his faith on his sleeve, or the bounty system and people wrecked for life?

    March 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • GK

      Why does it have to be either or? And, how much sense does it make, from a Christian perspective, to pray to God for strength to batter the brains out of your opponent? Personally, I think the bounty thing makes more sense than the Tebow thing. At least the bounty thing can't be seen as hypocritical or nonsensical.

      March 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  3. watnen

    Religeous people are scary! I think they would believe absolutely anything you told them.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Chris

      If you honestly believe that you are the gullible one. Don't believe everything you read about religious people that is written by atheists, humanists, and agnostics, most of the time it isn't true. Ad fontes (to the sources). Read scripture yourself instead of regurgitating the same old drivel.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Jeff in LA

      Religious fanatics are the greatest threat facing the world today. We saw what one born again alcoholic president was able to do thanks to his version of "faith." No thanks.

      April 16, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  4. X

    Tebow, in my opinion is a genuine guy and an amazing role model that promotes positivity and hope. His last season may been the work of God or luck. But regardless it caught peoples attention and I look forward to seeing him play again whenever that is. God bless you Tim.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • logan5

      Well which is it? God or luck...

      March 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • GK

      You know why Tebow caught people's attention? Hype. He is a terrible quarterback. God had nothing to do with his victories with the Broncos; even horrid quarterbacks have winning streaks. But don't let his fool you. He will be miserable with the Jets, because he stinks. And what will people say then? That Satan is trying to tempt his followers and supporters to abandon him? Come on, people- think! If you really want to be of service to God, start by not believing in foolishness!

      March 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  5. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusional.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  6. TIm Tebow

    Why don't you guys leave me alone?

    March 24, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  7. Michael

    His is NOT football's most polarizing figure. Dodd is an idiot and obviously not a NFL fan. Way to try and capitalize on another brainwashing opportunity...dumb America.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  8. Jeff in LA

    God doesn't watch football, doesn't care who wins or loses, and loathes show-boating tools like Tebow who use faith for cheap theatrics.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • logan5

      The Christian god doesn't exist, period!

      March 24, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  9. Taylor

    Tim Tebow is a closeted gay that uses religion for personal promotion.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Jeff in LA

      I feel exactly the same way about Rick Santorum.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  10. badparent

    We as christians should understand that Tebow was not praying for the winning. He prays for consistent strength in everything he does. His character shines through both winning and losing. Or sometimes, prayers are just ways for us to stay close to God every minute of our lives. Looking at his life, not just those games, we know his prayer has been answered!

    Tom Brady is born to be the best,most handsome quarterback. Tebow is born to be a missionary who preaches on the football field. We all have our own purpose of life.

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

      Perhaps his mission work will lead him to Saskatchewan where he can lead the Roughriders to glorious victory in the 2012 Grey Cup...


      March 24, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • logan5

      Nothing more selfish and dishonest than the deliberate promotion and advancement of a belief system based on terror.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • GK

      Thomas, I think it would be far more fitting if he ended up with T. O. on that semi-pro team in Texas.

      March 24, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  11. RC

    get over it already, Tim Tebow got traded to th NY Jets. This isn't a biblical exodus from Denver. He is a very marginal Pro QB who is only getting attention because of his constant displays of his faith. He only "Tebows" when he does something good. He is an athlete who like most athletes is full of himself. The NFL is a business. Tebow got traded like a million other players. his style wasn't what Denver wanted. They signed Manning (which is another gamble) and that's that. Pat Robertson is only involving himself because Tebow is Christian. Robertson is certainly showing his lack of understanding or kindness whne he seems to be wishing that Manning gets hurt so Denver misses Tebow. God, Jesus, etc don't care about football. If they follow one sport it is soccer because that is more of an universal game. But idiots like Pat Robertson show their true colors when they make the silly statements that he always seems to make.

    Just get over Tebow getting traded already.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • badparent

      Business wise, just hope Manning delivers for what he is paid for. He may retire as a bronchos with a contract of that size. But I sympathize his awkward situation.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • logan5

      "God, Jesus, etc don't care about football. If they follow one sport it is soccer because that is more of an universal game."
      You sound about as confused and deluded as Pat Robertson.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  12. JJ

    Ugh....more Christian blather.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  13. badparent

    If we believe, we should worry nothing about Tebow. He is taken care of. Jets will be part of his journey to glorify God. New York is a much bigger arena. He will have a much bigger crowd to influence. However I am not so sure about Elway and Mannings. What is the bigger purpose of their decisions? Winning? I highly doubt! We shall see!

    March 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  14. SNAPPA

    What a worlld we live in when someon e with a mental disorder can be put on a pedistal and talked about as if he was some kind of superman. Just like the people in the Muslim world who put Bin Laden on a pedistal this teabagging Tebow is the same thing. The guy sucked as a quarter back and he's most remember for getting down on his knees when he actually did something worth noting. Very sad for the world these days, someone should intervene with him and tell him he should seek mental help right away.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  15. libfreak48

    A lot of Christians – Mr. Dodd included – seem to be bordering on the verge – or past the verge – of worshipping Tebow.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  16. Ed

    Tebow mocks Christianity when he prays to Jesus to help him win a football game. During the period of the game, thousands of innocent children die from war and starvation. Instead of helping these children, or asking Jesus to, he begs for help with a game. It's sickening.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • libfreak48

      You can pray for anything you want. Doesn't mean you'll get it.

      March 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Jason

      How do you know what he is praying for?

      March 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  17. Thinkergal

    Here's another Colorado Christian saying farewell to Tebow: "bye"

    March 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Mary

      Yeah right...what a stupid thing to say.

      March 24, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Adam

      Mary, what's stupid about that lol? You seem to know something?

      March 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  18. Mary

    Cathy – If you knew anything about Christians, you would know he isn’t praying to win the game but the strength to do his best and thanking God for his blessings.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • TebowSucks

      If that was the case, how come he never got down and Tebowed after throw one of his numerous interceptions???

      March 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • JakeAZ

      bull. maybe thats true for tebow, but how many times have we heard athletes thank god for victories or good performances? i heard one on the radio today after one of the NCAA basketball games. one of the players said something along the lines of "without god we would'nt have gotten this far." didn't the players on the team that lost pray hard enough?

      March 24, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • logan5

      So if he prays for the strength to do his best then he's praying for the strength to do his best in order to win the game duuhhh!! What a sad, selfish, silly display.

      March 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  19. jeff

    OH TIM, TIM!!!! be careful what u wish for for..you prayed too hard and god gave denver payton

    March 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  20. joiseygal

    take heart, patton dodd.
    God knows where he is sending Tim.
    (I live very close to the Meadowlands and can assure you that this is an area of the country that is so secular, it's scary.
    God will take good care of Tim and I pray that he is a blessing to many people here.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • JakeAZ

      why would god "take care" of tim more than any other good poor christian struggling in the world? sounds like your god plays favorites. no thanks.

      March 24, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • GK

      Dear God, please move Daniel Snyder sell the Redskins to somebody who knows what they're doing. And make Tom Brady have a terrible season. And Tony Romo too. And please, please let this be Norv Turner's last year in the NFL. And get some sportscaster to call the Broncos 2013's "Dream Team", just like the Eagles were last year. And speaking of the Eagles, please let them stink even worse than they did last year. And please let the Saints beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl, for that would truly be the best one ever. And, oh yes, before I forget- please get the NFL Rules Committee to make icing the opposing team's kicker an infraction punishible by a fifteen-yard penalty. In Jesus name I pray- amen.

      March 25, 2012 at 12:02 am |
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