Church mothers who never watch football because they're always in service have heard of him. Preachers who want to make points about incredible faith and overcoming odds have preached about him. And Christians who didn't have a favorite NFL team or a favorite player have chosen the Denver Broncos and him — Tim Tebow.
Tebowmania reached new heights on Jan. 8 when he led the Broncos to a playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game produced several numbers connected to John 3:16, the popular Bible verse that Tebow sometimes inscribes on his eye black. He'll attempt another miracle Saturday night against the New England Patriots, though there's already enough proof for true believers: They contend that Tebow transcends football.
But observers who use football, not faith, to inform their opinions remain skeptical. And fans who prefer that athletes keep their religion to themselves are upset. Opposing sides in the cultural divide struggle to keep their views unencumbered. Thoughts on Tebow the Christian get mixed with Tebow the Quarterback. Tebow the Hyped is entangled with Tebow the Great Guy.
Charles Barkley called Tebow "the national nightmare." Noted atheist Bill Maher sparked an outcry with a profanity-laced tweet that mocked Tebow. A national argument has raged, having to do with religion's role more than with Tebow's talents.
The two camps are unduly influenced by the hype machine. It's what leads Tebow fans to overlook obvious flaws in his mechanics, accuracy and pocket presence. But the hype machine also led the Broncos to draft him with the 25th pick in 2010, smitten by his high character, affable nature and history of winning at the University of Florida.
Put it all together and you've got the anomaly that is Tim Tebow. He's an outstanding young man who's never been within sniffing distance of trouble, yet he's widely mocked and despised (partly because he seems too good to be true). He's a marginally talented prospect who had one of the all-time great college careers, yet he's hailed as Denver's savior and franchise quarterback (partly because he seems so good, it must be true).
Along with race and politics, religion forms our trinity of third-rail topics, and it's the accelerant fueling this debate. But Tebow is just an overtly religious player, not a litmus test for faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, that won't stop the saints and the ain'ts from issuing grades.
If Tebow develops into a winning NFL quarterback, it just proves that scouts, personnel executives and our own eyeballs can be wrong. If he's eventually relegated to a career on the sideline, holding a clipboard and wearing a cap, it just proves that being the nicest, most devout guy with impeccable integrity isn't enough by itself.
But we're talking about Tim Tebow. Why let reason get in the way?