One of my favorite hobbies lately has been trolling the Internet for the seemingly ceaseless stream of Tim Tebow scholarly criticism that has been pouring in from every corner of a usually-fragmented blogosphere.
There is nothing more fun at this point then watching smart people – both religious and not, both sports-loving and not, both left and right – try to rationalize this Tebow quandary and, in the end, simply throw up their arms and shrug.
I love watching this utter bewilderment, and heck, I love being a little bewildered myself, so I get a little sad when, each week, at that moment when it appears that there is no way Tebow can pull it out this time, it becomes clear that a Tebow loss threatens to wash away the rising tide of Tebow fanaticism in a great, big “I told you so” from the skeptics.
You feel it in every fourth quarter — that sense that, not only is this the fourth quarter where Tebow will finally lose but also the fourth quarter where Tebow will lose his luster, lose his momentum as a national issue, lose his place as the most entertainingly and harmlessly polarizing figure we might ever see. Because as soon as he fails to come back in spectacular fashion, everyone can just switch back to the default and dismiss this all as something less than magical, or worst, as “just sports.” As soon as “normal people” can dismiss Tebow as “just sports,” we risk losing what has become one of the most fascinating, frustrating, wonderful cultural debates we have going – one that has low enough stakes to not hurt anybody but still captivates just about everybody – to the great American wasteland of a fragmented Internet culture where it’s hard to get everyone on the same page for more then two minutes.
“Hey do you watch Community?” I say.
“No not really, it doesn’t interest me.” Conversation over. “Have you seen Breaking Dawn?” you say.
“No. It’s not that I have a problem with it, but I really don’t have much to say about that.”
“Oh my god I hate his overt religiosity. It’s insufferable.”
“How could you? It’s the mark of a talented and humble man!”
And forty beautiful minutes of something, anything, connection… ensue. And with every fourth quarter we risk losing that. That common ground. But then we don’t.
Why? Because Tim Tebow refuses to lose. Well, he lost to Detroit, but, as the latest meme to blow up my Facebook feed explains, “He once lost to Detroit, just to see what it felt like. He is… the most entertaining QB in the NFL.”
And with an incredible comeback win over the Chicago Bears (and I mean incredible in it’s most literal interpretation – what I saw on my television stretched credibility) we now get treated to another round of Tebow talk, and with each week the stakes get higher. From every corner of the Internet – from Grantland and Time, NPR and FoxNews – Tebow articles will resprout anew as if watered and placed in direct sunlight. They’ll be largely the same as last week’s, but there will be new wrinkles added because A) this was a bigger comeback than most B) the Broncos are legitimate contenders to potentially take it all and C) the various articles are beginning to comment on and quote each other, as various lonely corners of the Internet unite in a giant web that brings groups that rarely interact together on one topic.
I find the myriad Tebow think-pieces fascinating. (My favorite so far, by Chuck Klosterman, can be found here.) They are interesting, issue-based and understanding of the narrative nature of a game, and a figure, that appeals to both middle America and the Occupy movement in equal measure.
Tebow is young, handsome and overtly Christian. He is a consummate scrappy underdog and an entitled so-and-so who has no right to claim the stake on the grand American stage that he currently has. He is a great, underrated athlete who says something about American can-do spirit and he’s… well, he’s just a dumb jock. Tebow is a walking contradiction, but only to us. What makes Tebow so great is that, in his mind, Tebow isn’t a contradiction at all – he’s a normal god-fearing gent with a mean stiff-arm and he doesn’t pretend to be much more then that. We, his public, get to put on his blank, handsome face our own baggage – be it sports-affiliated, religious or other – and he just affirms that hullaballoo in some way by consistently winning and winning and winning – and doing it without grandstanding in a way that would give “victory” to the doubters.
I would probably be a doubter if not for one simple fact – I am a University of Florida alum. Onto the great load-bearing platform of Tebow symbolism, I get to put my own baggage and sort out where I can possibly stand on a man who affirms so much of what I believe in while shattering so much of what I don’t. I am an atheist, but a Florida Gator through-and-through, and so I can’t, in principle believe there is something all that special about Tebow – nothing truly divine or supernatural – while knowing, in my heart, that I do believe there is in fact something that special about Tebow. Maybe not the same something Tebow thinks there is, but something. When Tebow wins, he looks to the sky and points. When Tebow wins, I look in his eyes and see something that’s missing from my own eyes and from just about everyone else’s. It scares me and delights me in equal measure.
So what happens if Tebow wins the Super Bowl? Will America explode? Will I? In some ways I don’t even want to say it, to suggest this possibility. It’s too early, the contenders are too good, the Broncos still too shaky. We are still in the realm of the jinx, and goodness knows I don’t want to jinx Tebow at this point. If this is what Tebowmania looks like, I’d like it to last the NFL, the sports world and America a few more weeks if not a few more years.
But what am I thinking? I don’t believe in jinxes. Jinxes are just silly superstitions uber-sports fans speak of in hushed tones. Then again, I don’t believe in God either, and if there’s one thing that Tim Tebow has taught me, it’s to check your beliefs at the door and let things play out in ways we may not have previously thought possible.