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A few thoughts on Tim Tebow

December 4, 2009

Tim Tebow, formerly of the Florida Gators, was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the NFL draft.

Black and white images are supposed to be the most simple, but often they provide a more real (and therefore complicated) version of reality than a vibrantly colored image. Furthermore, what would either black or white mean without the presence of the other? Without a contrast, there can be no true meaning. After all, the absence of white would simply mean that everything was black, and the absence of black would simply mean that everything was white, and in both of these scenarios absolutely nothing would be visible.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Tim Tebow, whose career has been predicated on an uncanny ability to come through in pivotal moments of major games, is best known for the way he acted following the loss that seemed to dash Florida’s national title hopes before they could even coalesce. Only in this moment, following a heart-wrenching one-point loss to an inferior Ole Miss team could the quarterback’s winning qualities truly emerge.

Tebow sat at a podium, thinking that everything he’d worked toward was suddenly over and looked frustrated, clenching his lips and shaking his head, claiming that Florida was the better team even as he searched for the reason why the Gators lost. Then, towards the end of the press conference, Tebow, whose eyes had pointed down the entire time, asked to have the last word. Suddenly, with one last glance at an imaginary hangnail, something changed in the quarterback’s demeanor. The embarrassed, downtrodden player who had been standing there before shifted into someone new, a determined, angry leader on the brink of tears. (Were they from anger, frustration or some form of sadness? We’ll never know.) He abruptly stopped hunching and locked his glare right on the camera whose lens he had been uncomfortably fidgeting in front of the whole time. He was promising that he would push this team,his team, harder than any other team had ever been pushed and that they would play harder than any other team in the game’s history.

And the weird thing is, you couldn’t help but believe him.

Tebow was supposed to be the golden child of Florida athletics, the strong Christian who still took time to go on missionary trips to the Philippines while nearly supplanting a senior quarterback coming off of a 9-win season from his starting job. The Legend of Tebow began even before he hit campus in 2006, though, as he completed a game in his senior year of high school on a broken leg. That performance would prove to be a precursor to the game against Florida State in 2007 where he played a full half with a broken right (non-throwing) hand. This is a player who has consistently claimed that his top four priorities, in order, are: God, family, academics, and football in an age where football seems to be most important to most athletes followed by family and maybe God. Tebow even claims to be saving himself for marriage, in a day and age where college athletics is portrayed as a landscape filled with wild parties and random hookups.

In other words, the whole entire Tebow legend seems a little too good to be true, especially to someone who already doesn’t like Florida. I am a child of the ’90s, when Florida was defined by head coach Steve Spurrier’s arrogance just as much as it was by his offense. It seemed like the Gators and their garish orange helmets were on the television every week despite a string of mostly pedestrian seasons between 1999 and 2005 where Florida was essentially riding on whatever leftover fumes Spurrier in Gainesville on the road to Washington D.C., where he coached the Redskins. (Spurrier’s replacement was assistant Ron Zook, who tried, and failed, to keep his predecessor’s system essentially intact before moving on to success of his own at the University of Illinois.) The Gators, in other words, stood for everything about big college athletics that many fans detest.

Then Urban Meyer and his spread offense came to town and Florida began to receive a little bit more respect from the panel of experts on the pre- and post-game shows. Maybe more importantly, though, Florida suddenly began winning again. I still didn’t want to like the Gators. They did, after all, still wear those hideous orange helmets and the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party still seemed to never be worth the month or so of hype it received. And Joakim Noah and his terrible mustache had still played a major role in securing the 2006 NCAA basketball title for Florida.

Somewhere along the way, though, something strange happened for me as a fan. I stopped hating the Gators. Or, more specifically, I began to look past my hatred of the Gators so that I could better believe the Legend of Tebow. (Stop hating the Gators? Ha. This is the same team that only sat its star defensive player for one game after he gruesomely gouged a Georgia player’s eye. I will never stop hating Florida.)

The question, then, is why did I stop hating Tebow?

The easiest answer is that I stopped hating him because I like winners, and I enjoy rooting for winners. I think that Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best NFL quarterbacks of the last decade, after all, based purely on the idea that he led his team to a Super Bowl title on two separate occasions. (Okay, he was dragged to the first one of those titles and helped along by the officials, but still.)

But logic would then say that I would like Tom Brady, who could be called the Tebow of the NFL. (Brady’s coach, Bill Belichick, actually spends time with Meyer in the Spring, learning about new offensive wrinkles. This has led to speculation that New England could be a natural fit for Tebow.) That just isn’t the case, though. I turn off the TV every time the Patriots are on because Brady does things like refuse to give TV reporters a comment or win games 59-0 just because he can. In other words, Brady wins, but he does so in the prissiest, most despicable way possible. The Tebows, Vince Youngs and Roethlisbergers of the world, though, are simply trying to make sure their team is ahead after 60 minutes of football. They don’t much care about the endorsement deals and the TV spots that come with that because, very simply, nobody would want a loser schilling their product.

No, the reason why I stopped hating Tebow is much simpler, much easier to explain. And it all stems back to that press conference. In a world where many athletes talk to reporters solely because they’re expected to, Tebow seems to do so because he recognizes that it’s important to the team. Percy Harvin could have just as easily been the face of last season’s Florida Gators-he was very likely the team’s most dynamic offensive performer and is now playing an important role for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Somehow, though, the season shifted when Tebow spoke.

It shifted because he meant what he was saying, unlike so many athletes who take their time in front of the cameras to recite rote answers from a seeming handbook. Tebow’s answers did not come from that handbook, instead turning to his own visceral reaction to losing. In a culture where an athlete’s facade is often his best friend-look at Kobe Bryant and even Brady, to a certain degree-Tebow dared to show us all that he was human.

By demonstrating that he is one of us, albeit one of us with extraordinary athletic abilities and a nearly supernatural urge to win, Tebow managed to carve a spot for himself in college football lore and, maybe just as importantly, in the hearts of fans everywhere.

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