Tim Tebow: An Elegy.

The Denver Broncos signed Peyton Manning to be their Quarterback last week.  It signified the end of the Tim Tebow era in Denver.  As a football fan, I understand it.  But as a fan of sports, I hate it.  Here’s why.

I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan since I was a chunky little sports-obsessed five year-old.  When other kids were watching cartoons and reading comic books, I was memorizing sports statistics, begging my much older brother to play catch with me, driving my family crazy on the nerf hoop that my mom graciously hung up in our little living room, and obsessing over every baseball and football card that my mom and dad bought me.  My first televised sports memory was watching the 1981 NFC Championship Game with my brother, sister, mom, and step-dad  on our little tv, in our little trailer which sat on our little farm, just outside of our little town, in rural Oklahoma.  I remember being so excited when my favorite player, Danny White, led the Cowboys down the field for the go-ahead touchdown with only a few minutes left to play.  In my world, this was a fitting conclusion, because the Cowboys were the good guys.  I remember thinking that to reinforce this fact, no matter whether they were on the road or at home, they always wore white.  It was as if the league knew that they were the good guys, so they allowed them this courtesy out of respect.  Years later, I learned that they chose to wear their “road” white jerseys at home because they wanted to force their opponents to wear their dark jerseys in the hot Texas sun, but to my five year-old mind, they wore white because they were the heroes of the only morality play that mattered to me – sports.

So, when the San Francisco 49ers took possession of the ball at their own 11 yard line with less than five minutes left to play, I didn’t fear the outcome.  I knew that Coach Tom Landry would somehow put together a plan to help Randy White, and Ed Too Tall Jones, and Harvey Martin and Bob Bruenig, and Everson Walls stop them from scoring a touchdown.  Even as Joe Montana led them down the field while the clock stubbornly refused to click faster, I still believed that somehow the right team, my team, would win.   But on third and two from the 5 yard line, with a just about a minute left in the game, I learned what Henry James might have considered to be an important life lesson:  the good guys don’t always win.  Joe Montana eluded Too Tall Jones, rolled to his right, faded back, flicked a floating pass towards the back of the end zone – and, out of nowhere, Dwight Clark leaped over Everson Walls to propel the 49ers to the Super Bowl and, for good measure, kick me in the stomach on the way down.  We were America’s team.  We had God’s coach on the sidelines.  We lost.

My love affair with sports has brought countless joys and sorrows to me over the last 30 years since “The Catch.”  I’ve experienced so many unexpected graces – like when Scotty Thurman arched a jumper over Antonio Lang’s outstretched arms to clinch a national championship for my Arkansas Razorbacks over Duke  – or when Magglio Ordonez hit a walk-off home run against the A’s to send my Detroit Tigers to their first World Series appearance in 22 years.  I’ve seen so many terrible twists of fate – like when Magic Johnson hit an improbable skyhook against my Boston Celtics to deny my favorite player, Larry Bird, a chance at three NBA Championships in a row – or when Tom Watson hit a perfect 8 iron pin high from the fairway of the 18th hole at Turnberry to clinch the par that would have given him his 6th British Open win at the insane age of 59, only to see his ball take an inexplicably hard bounce over the green and settle in an area where a bogey was almost assured.  That bounce did lead to a bogey for Major Tom and thwarted what would have easily been the most improbable sporting accomplishment of my lifetime.

The unpredictable beauty of what may come next, is the wonder of sport. Sport teaches us that winning is a gift to be grateful for and losing doesn’t only befall the unrighteous. In fact, righteousness doesn’t play much of a role at all.  Both sides kneel and pray.  Both sides beg and bargain for a little extra bounce or gust or inch.  And, in my experience, God remains neutral.  The devout hero sometimes misses at the buzzer.  The team with the most players gathered in the prayer circle at the end of the game doesn’t determine who wins the game – the team with the most talent and the best coaching normally does.   And you know what?  Even as a man whose faith is very important to him, I am glad that God doesn’t get involved.  I think I would be very embarrassed if God altered the outcome of something as trivial as a sporting event based on the relative righteousness of its participants.  The guys in white sometimes lose, and I am thankful for that. Grace and heartache, joy and sorrow – participating in sports as a player and fan has taught me more about the capacity and frailty of man than any other single source in my life.  This may seem shallow to some, but there are millions of us who share this experience.   Every game, every season is an allegory of the human condition.  And when a sporting event or player or team transcends the mundane and rises in an extraordinary fashion, we are all little kids, cuddled under the covers, eyes open wide, filled with amazement, as sport reveals its latest fairy tale of improbable achievement in the face of impossible odds.

In the fall of 2011, sport became fairy tale again. Tim Tebow became the starting quarterback of the 1-4 Denver Broncos and made me question my faith in God’s general ambivalence towards the faith of athletes.  For the next 8 amazing weeks it seemed that the good guys always won – and won in such an improbable way that the most skeptical among us had no plausible answer for the outcomes.  Make no mistake:  Tim Tebow is a good guy – and not because he thanks Jesus after every game.  Rather, it is because he earnestly attempts to live like Jesus every day.  Each week during the season, Tebow flew a sick or dying person along with their family to a Bronco game, paid for their airfare, their hotel, their meals, and their rental car.  He got them pregame passes, good seats to the game, and spent significant time with them both before kickoff and after the game – no matter whether he won or lost.  He talked to them.  Listened to them.  Laughed with them.  Prayed with them. Then, when they were done visiting, he sent them home with a basket of gifts and, often times, more hope and faith than when they arrived.[1]  He is building a hospital in the Philippines.  He sponsors over 2000 orphans.  Whether you like his faith, hate his faith, or are completely indifferent, Tim Tebow is a good guy.

During that amazing 8 week stretch, the Broncos, led by their good guy, began to win in miraculous ways – not necessarily “Jesus walking on water” miraculous – but certainly more so than “the face of Mary appearing on the bun of a Big Mac” miraculous.   Preposterous drives, amazing catches, baffling mistakes by the other teams, insane overtime conclusions – the Broncos became must-see TV every time they took the field.  During that stretch, Tebow led them to five fourth quarter comeback wins and three overtime victories.   It felt like with four minutes left in the game, if the game was remotely close, mortal Tebow would be “touched by an angel” and everything would start to work right for the Broncos.  They won seven of eight games in that stretch and catapulted to the top of the AFC West Standings.  As a football fan, this stretch was baffling, maddening, and inexplicable.  As a sports fan, it was wonderful, magical, and inexplicable.

Of course, as is the case with any good sports movie, the angel stopped touching Tebow for time.  Going into Week 14, the 8-5 Broncos needed only one more win to clinch a playoff spot.  But they lost each of their last three games — and Tebow didn’t look particularly angelic in any of them.  On the final Sunday of the regular season, it appeared that their dream season would completely implode after a miserable 7-3 defeat at Kansas City.  Tebow did not lead any frantic comeback that day.  That day, he stayed very mortal.  But a curious thing happened that day around the league: the other contenders for the AFC West Title lost too, and so, by the narrowest of margins, the Denver Broncos slipped into the playoffs.  Even when Tebow failed, the rest of the league managed to conspire to give this story the fairy tale conclusion that it deserved – a playoff start for Mr. Tebow.

And so the scene was set for a potential movie ending that would make Walt Disney say, “nah, too improbable.”  The Broncos faced the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers – led by their classic sports villain quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.  Big Ben had two super bowl rings and two sexual assault accusations on his resume.  In stark contrast to Tebow, a couple of years ago, Ben Roethlisberger failed to even show up to meet a girl with cystic fibrosis, whose make-a-wish had simply been to meet him.[2]  This is a guy who grew up with Billy Zabka and Martin Kove posters on his wall.  He is a real life Kenny Powers without the mildly endearing side.  Not a good guy.  Not at all.

Thirty years after the NFC Championship Game that taught me the hard lesson that the good guys don’t always win, I settled into watch the game with a few friends in my suburban Arkansas home — all grown up but still asking friends to go outside and play catch.  I hadn’t been this excited for a playoff since the Cowboys were last in the Super Bowl fifteen years ago.  Tebow versus Roethlisberger.  Light versus Dark.  This time, however, I had no illusions that the good guys always win.

The flow of this game was different from most of the Denver games I had seen during the season.  In this game, the Broncos used a huge second quarter to build a 10 point lead with 13 minutes left in the game.  It appeared that no heroics would be necessary today.  The Broncos were looking like the best team on this day.  But then, the Steelers began to play like Champions.  Roethlisberger began to play like a Champion.  Over the next 13 minutes, the good guys fell apart, and the Steelers scored 10 straight points to send the game into overtime.  It was the sports villain, not the hero who made the right plays down the stretch.  When the fourth quarter ended with the teams tied, I was no longer the kid who was confident that the good guys would prevail.  Experience and talent had turned the tide in the champs favor and there was little indication that the momentum would shift back to the Broncos.  When the coin landed on heads and the Broncos received the ball, I felt little hope that Tim Tebow would lead the Broncos to a 4th overtime win.  The Broncos had only scored three points in the second half, and, had a spent a good portion of the half going backwards.    It appeared to me that the Angel had touched Tebow a little too early in this game and the effect had already worn off.  I, like everyone else in the stadium and watching at home, thought that their first drive in overtime would be a series of runs with Willis McGahee and Tebow that would produce little against an increasingly effective and aggressive Steelers Defense.  Their best hope, I figured, would be a 50+ yard field goal by their clutch field goal kicker, Matt Prater.  I prepared myself for the inevitable disappointment of a Roethlisberger led victory for the Steelers.

On first down, Tebow took the snap from center and, quite unexpectedly, faked the handoff to McGahee.  Simultaneously WR Demetrius Thomas, jittered as if he were going to block, and instead, ran a deep post across the middle of field which had been vacated by a hard charging safety hoping to lend run support on the play.  Tebow surveyed the field and delivered a strike in stride to the speedy Thomas.  Thomas did the rest, outrunning the Steelers defense for an 80 yard touchdown and giving the Broncos their first playoff victory in six years.  The crowd erupted.  We erupted.  The good guys won.  The guy who had all year skipped one out of every three passes to his receivers, who had terrible mechanics, a long release, and atrocious accuracy, had found a way to win a playoff game against the defending AFC Champs – and he had once again done it in an improbable, miraculous way.  And so my 35 year-old self had to amend the lesson that my five year-old self had learned.  The good guys don’t always win, but sometimes the good guys win, at least in part, because they are good.  I still don’t believe that Tebow’s faith caused God to tip the scales in the Broncos favor, but I do believe that the effects of Tebow’s faith tipped the scales in the Broncos favor.  His hope, his belief in his teammates, and their belief in him, his humility, his passion, and his expectation that any obstacle could be overcome, unified the Broncos in a special way and caused them to believe that their faith and passion could propel them to greater heights than they could ever reach on their own.

In the next round, the Broncos were routed by the New England Patriots and the fairy tale ended.  The Broncos front office, led by the prototypical quarterback John Elway, never warmed to the anachronistic Tebow as a quarterback.  I think they liked him, they respected him, they appreciated his guile, but they never wanted him.  Elway was John Wayne riding tall in the saddle, Tebow was Bruce Willis with bandages on his bloody feet.  Elway was looking for another John Wayne.  When Peyton Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts, he found one.  Manning also afforded Elway his one way out of Tebowmania — that didn’t involve him being tarred and feathered by the rabid fans of Mr. Tebow.   The Broncos inked Manning to $96,000,000.00 dollar contract, and, before the ink was dry, shipped Tebow to the New York Jets for 4th and 6th round draft picks.

Tebow is gone now — on his way to Gotham to be the backup QB and Wildcat specialist on the most loud, brash team in the league.  His trial is coming.  I have no idea whether he will ever start again in the NFL.  In a recent interview, Tebow openly expressed the same sentiment: he may never lead another team as their starting QB.  In his opening press conference, he smiled and graciously thanked the Broncos for giving him the opportunity to do just that last year.  He spoke of his excitement about being with a team that wanted him and believed in him.  He handled himself with complete class and grace.  There was no trace of lament in his voice.  But there was in my heart.  As a football fan, I understand the Broncos decision, and, if I were a Broncos fan, I would be excited to have Manning under center this fall.  But I am not a Broncos fan.  I am a sports fan.  So, I lament what is lost in Denver.  I lament what Tebow has lost – a team to lead.  And I lament what I have lost — dozens of Sunday afternoons watching a game and a player spur me to believe that my faith and my passion could lift myself and those around me to greater heights than we could ever get to on our own.


About David Davies, Editor-in-Chief

David Davies is the Editor-in-Chief of Media Rostra. He is also a lawyer and a licensed minister, so he is basically distrusted by everyone on some level. He received his Political Science degree from the University of Tulsa and his Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas. He is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arkansas, a former "good athlete for his size," and current owner of The Law Offices of David Davies, PLLC -- an Estate Planning and Elder Law firm that has offices in Arkansas and Tennessee. He co-authored, with fellow editor, Aaron Brooks, the article entitled: “Exploring Student-Athlete Compensation: Why the NCAA Cannot Afford to Leave Athletes Uncompensated," in the University of Notre Dame’s Journal of College and University Law.

Comments

  1. Donna HogueNo Gravatar says:

    Great article!!!!!!  I, too am a rabid sports fan but unlike you, I fell in love with the Washington Redskins playing the NY Giants on a muddy cold field in December 1971!LOL  I fell in love with Billy Kilmer, Chris Hanburger, Rusty Tillman, Larry Brown and Charley Taylor.  And of course, they were rivals with the Dallas Cowgirls!LOL  My brother was an avid Cowboys’ fan and me a Redskins fan so the war was on every time they played.  It drove our parents crazy.  That is back when football was football –gritty, tough, rough and a little mean.   Today, too much finesse, too much ESPN, you get the picture.

    We love Tim Tebow and thank God for his testimony.  What a great guy!  I will cheer for him wherever he goes and I have no love for the Broncos or the Jets, strictly an NFC fan here. 

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I am so glad to know you are a fellow Razorback fan!  WOO PIG!!!! 

  2. david daviesNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you Donna!  I can forgive your Redskin Allegiance.  Haha.  We are a new site, if you like the article, please pass it on!  Thanks for your feedback.  It is greatly appreciated.  I look forward to the Robert Griffin III era in DC, he seems like a truly class individual.  Oh, and tell your brother he is right!

  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/opinion/sunday/douthat-tebow-in-babylon.html?_r=1&src=tp&smid=fb-shareThought you might like NY Times’ take on the Tebow Trade. Made me hopeful for the future and it was one of the best articles hands down I have ever read. Loved his appeal to this culture! I do think that America needs a missionary in many ways because as a nation we are have drifted a way from a supernatural faith in a real God. God sent us a missionary through Tebow and put him on display in one of the biggest cultural arenas in American life – the NFL.  I have not always been a sports fan but recently married one and have thoroughly enjoyed my rookie year as spectator watching ESPN commentators shake their heads and try to speak about what was inexplicable about Tebow. God has received much glory through Tebow’s outward expression of inward transformation. The above link speaks to that – His integrity and it agrees with your sentiments about good guys but it does say there is something truly supernatural about a good guy’s life whether he is winning or losing a game. His life as authorship which makes for a fascinating story – one worth seeing despite a scoreboard.

  4. grandokieNo Gravatar says:

    Great article. I love Tebow’s line, “I don’t know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future.”  It will be interesting to see his progress with the Jets. 

  5. Yes, I agree, great article!  While I don’t really follow sports too much, I do enjoy following these sorts of epic stories because, like you said, they have the ability to spur us on in our faith journey.  To dare to dream and hope and acheive great things.  When the decision came out about Peyton Manning I wasn’t really surprised, but I was a little sad.  After the whole fiasco with Josh McDaniels’ brief coaching stint in Denver, I had given up being a Bronco fan; I was disgusted with the whole organization.  Tim Tebow and his amazing season was bringing me back around.  The decision to go with Manning makes sense for the Broncos and it makes sense to me, but I didn’t want to see Tebow leave or to see the end of an era before it even began.  No matter how Tebow’s NFL career plays out, he is one of the good guys and he will definitely be missed here in Colorado.

  6. A great article David. Sometimes I forget how well you write. Beautifully done. And I cried when Clark came down with that pass. I was at skating pracitce and my dad had brought out a small TV out to the floor so we could watch when it wasn’t our turn. I don’ t remember a time I hurt more for a team that I love than that Sunday afternoon.