That’s the moniker that Coach Richey, my 10th grade Bible teacher, attached to a rugged portrait of the Christ that hung over the door to his classroom. It was one of those photographic depictions of the Lord that made Him look more like an extra from a Kate Hudson movie rather than humble carpenter from the Middle East.
“Teen Heartthrob Jesus.” “Chevy Truck-Driving Jesus”. Big shiny teeth peeking out from behind a devil-may-care-grin, Paul Mitchell hair fluttering in the background…if Jesus had really looked like this, he’d have been a bigger sore thumb in Israel than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Those of you who might be offended at the thought of Christ’s image designated as “Linebacker Jesus,” must look the other way during gamedays in America. Assigning deification to our sports heroes is nothing new. Notre Dame has Touchdown Jesus (a mural of Christ overlooking the football stadium). The Minnesota Vikings have Purple Jesus (runningback Adrian Peterson). Alabama had Bear Bryant. And now Florida – and by proxy, world – has Tim Tebow.
The name itself – Tebow – transcends language. The Chinese word for Tebow is Tebow. Same in Uzbekistan. He’s a brand now, like the Nike swoosh. Hold up a picture of the guy in Niger and kids start faking jump passes and running roughshod over safeties. His story is etched into the Dead Sea Scrolls. His visage is outlined on the Shroud of Turin.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit. But I, like much of the college football world, have just about had my fill of Tim Tebow. Sure he’s great…a great quarterback, great leader, great human being…and no fan can honestly deny that they wouldn’t love to see him wearing their team’s jersey.
So why do we hate him so much?
Well, first of all, we don’t hate him. We hate people talking about him. Every sports talk show, every episode of SportsCenter, every blessed newspaper column (uh, well…I’m making a point here), is about Tim Tebow. And just about every radio personality, TV host and columnist slurps him all up and down like an ice cream sundae.
What? You don’t believe me?
Ray Melick in The Birmingham News, Jan. 12 – “The worst [Tebow’s detractors] seem to come up with is that Tebow is too humble, too courteous, too sincere about his faith, too aware that there is a bigger world out there with bigger problems than what goes on between the lines of a football field…Maybe we knock Tebow to compensate for our own failings.”
Pat Forde on ESPN.com, Jan. 6: “Back in July…a reporter asked Tim Tebow…’between winning the national championship and winning the Heisman, saving the world in the Philippines and all, did you ever, like, sneak a cigarette when you were in high school? Do you ever do anything wrong?’…My immediate reaction: Lord help us. Sporting America has become too jaded to appreciate Tim Tebow.”
Dennis Dodd on CBSSportsline.com, Jan. 7: “Think if you got to see Babe Ruth call his shot at Wrigley Field. Or Red Grange account for six touchdowns three different ways against Michigan. We've seen Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan revolutionize their sports. Doesn't Tim Tebow have a little of all those guys in him? The flair of Gretzky and Jordan? The confidence of Ruth (remember Ole Miss)? The game-changing ability of Grange? The problem is, no one has ever made the leap you're about to read with a straight face…Tim Tebow might be the greatest college football player of all time.”
Wow. Easy there, boys. You can’t all three fit in Tebow’s jock strap at once.
Compensate for our own failings! You’ve got to be kidding me, Ray Melick. Do you wake up each morning striving to be more like Tim Tebow? Or consult your WWTD bracelet when faced with a tough decision?
Too jaded to appreciate Tim Tebow? Because a reporter decided to wade through the molasses and try to pry an honest answer out of an otherwise humble kid regarding his supplanting of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity?
The greatest college football player of all time? I believe the 2008 Heisman Trophy was presented to Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford back in December, which would disqualify Tim Tebow as being the best player in college football this year, much less of all time.
You see…the problem here is not Tim Tebow. All he’s done is win football games. He might not have the best stats, might not have the best form in the pocket, and might win an ugly game or two…but he just freaking wins the game. He’s not the best of all time, but he is on the list.
The problem here is the incessant droning on of the media looking to crown the world’s biggest and best during each and every 24-hour news cycle. The problem here is taking a good kid and a good football player and placing an Atlus-sized boulder of pressure and expectations on his back. We’re talking about a 20-something kid here, with the normal urges any 20-something kid – who just happens to be the biggest thing on his college campus since beer pong – is subject to.
He’s 21 years old. He’s entitled to throw down a cold, adult beverage. He’s entitled to escort a pretty young lady to dinner and a show and an overnight stay at Casa de Tebow. None of this would be out of the ordinary for any other 21-year-old college student. But under the electron microscope established by Ray Melick, Pat Forde, Dennis Dodd and the like, those otherwise normal actions are not just verboten for Tim Tebow, they are devastating to his image.
The minute someone’s cell phone snaps him clutching an American ale, or sliding an arm around a young lady’s waist, his image is lost, the image that has been erected around him like a phony Hollywood movie set. And this kid, who the whole world thinks of as superhuman, will have to explain to the world why he’s, all of a sudden, so human.
The word, Pat Forde, is not jaded. It’s realistic. It’s skeptical. Fans are realistic enough to acknowledge the pressures that athletes face on a daily basis. Money, sex, drugs, etc. We know there’ll be some strong enough to withstand the temptation, others that will succumb without a fight, but we know that everyone is subject to it. We are skeptical when those on the bully pulpit claim to have found an exception to the rule.
And if he’s half the man I think he is, then I’m sure Tim Tebow would wholeheartedly agree.