If you follow the NFL at all, you know that one of the biggest stories this season is Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos. And you know that one of the reasons the story is so big is that everyone seems to have a strong opinion about the guy, particularly given what he has accomplished so far.
Flashback to the early weeks of this season. The Broncos were losing most of their games, and the Denver fans began calling for their coach to give Tebow a shot at quarterback. Some fans even rented a highway billboard to make their plea. So the Broncos’ brass finally gave the people what they wanted. With a record of 1-4, they didn’t have anything to lose. Some saw the move cynically, figuring their reasoning was basically as follows: “The season seems to be a wash, and now we can show the fans that Tebow doesn’t have what it takes to be a QB in the NFL. We can let him prove this with his inept play then move on to the long-term solution, which will be to draft another quarterback in the Spring—which given our eventual abysmal record, is sure to be an early pick.”
But something strange happened on the way to a disastrous season. The Broncos starting winning. This unorthodox, run-first, southpaw (and most scandalously) outspokenly Christian quarterback began to engineer late-game comebacks week after week. Now, seven weeks later, the Broncos find themselves in first place of the AFC West, having won six of their last seven games.
Like anyone else, I was skeptical about Tebow’s ability to be effective at the professional level, mostly because he didn’t have the pinpoint accuracy that successful NFL quarterbacks have. But as he led his team to more victories, I became a believer. Tebow has the leadership skills, the work ethic, the physical talent, and perhaps most importantly, the “it” factor that it takes to be a solid, long-term NFL signal-caller.
Yet many sports journalists remain critical despite the mounting wins. Why? Ostensibly, their reasons have everything to do with football and nothing to do with the fact that Tebow wears his religious faith on his sleeve, unabashedly giving thanks to “my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” at the start of every interview. But now that the “pure football” reasons for skepticism are proving more groundless each week, the naysayers’ persistence is making me more suspicious that their “reasons” don’t really have as much to do with the game as they insist. (It is noteworthy that so many pundits are quick to declare that their criticisms have nothing to do with Tebow’s public faith pronouncements and notorious “Tebowing”—kneeling and praying on the field after big plays. To which I want to say, thou doth protest too much.)
Football pundits have refused to credit Tebow with the Broncos’ resurgence this season for a variety of reasons. Some have insisted that this streak will be short-lived because Tebow’s arm is not accurate enough. Yet he continues to engineer late game comebacks to pull out victories. Also, he consistently avoids throwing interceptions, which is a huge asset. And he has improved each week, as he grows more comfortable with the offense and accustomed to game situations.
Other skeptics have downplayed Tebow’s achievements by crediting the Broncos’ defense, which has shut down opposing teams during the streak. “Sure,” some have said, “he can pull out a win when the defense only allows 14 points, but what will he do when the defense has a bad day and the offense has to score 30 points to win a game?” Well, that day came last Sunday, as the Minnesota Vikings racked up 32 points on Denver. But Tebow was up for the challenge, leading the Broncos again and again on scoring drives, ultimately winning 35-32.
I’m sure the critics will continue diminishing Tebow. This time I expect they’ll claim the Vikings’ defense was entirely to blame and that anyone—even an unorthodox, run-first, southpaw (who happens to be an outspoken Christian)—could have led the Broncos to a high-scoring victory against them. Perhaps. But perhaps there is another reason. Perhaps Tebow is just really good.