My Tebow Take

Seems like everyone has a take on Tim Tebow. Both his faith as a follower of Jesus Christ and his unique way of playing and winning football games have made him a double pronged lightening rod for praise and criticism both on how he plays football and how he lives and expresses his faith. I have stayed out of the discussion for the most part but feel like it’s time to weigh in. I have been in fulltime ministry for over 30 years and also have more than 25 years being involved in football both as a player, the member of two high school coaching staffs, one of which won the Pennsylvania state championship in 1990, as well as pastor and friend to several NFL players and coaches. So right or wrong, I think I have a good perspective on the Tebow phenomenon.
First let’s talk about Tebow’s faith. He gets huge amounts of criticism for that faith. It seems to come in two forms. First there is the desire expressed by some that he tone down the verbal expressions of that faith. He opens every post-game interview with thanking his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then his teammates. He then goes on to answer the questions his is given. I have no doubt what so ever that when Tebow gives thanks to Jesus , he means it with all his heart, mind, and soul. But I also understand some people feeling like it has become a religious tradition and and that it is getting old. I also am convinced that for some the issue is that he is thanking Jesus Christ. For some folks that is just way too specific. If all he said was I want to thank “God” then there would be much less reaction. After all, a generic “God” is safe and a culturally accepted cliche’. But Tebow ratchets up the intensity by being specific about Jesus. Secondly, there is a subtle cynicism to the kind of work Tebow does overseas with orphans and other people in need. This criticism is a lot more guarded but still present. Some people seem to think it’s not genuine. Of course most every athlete who serves others gets that critique. Certainly some do it for the photo op. But having watched how Tebow very quietly goes about serving others, I have no doubt it is born out of a sincere desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
So do I think Tebow needs to tone down his faith? Not at all. Why? Well I could give you my reason as follower of Christ, but let me give it to you as a football coach. I would not want Tebow to change anything about how he conducts himself and his faith because you cannot separate Tim Tebow the Quarterback from Tim Tebow the Christ Follower. Like it or not, Tebow is in part the football player he is because of the Christ follower he is. His focus, confidence, resiliency, courage, and energy come in part from the relationship of Trust he has in Christ. You cannot compartmentalize a persons life as and act as if one part would be unaffected by the change in another. Tebow would no more be the competitor he is if you bisected him from his faith than Bret Favre would have been if you tried to bisect him from being a Louisiana country boy. All the pieces of who he is, including his faith make him the player he is.
But what about the football part of this. Scores of “experts” are convinced he can’t last, this is a temporary freak show, a lack of skill with catch up to him eventually. Clearly Tebow does not win pretty. He has an ugly throwing motion. His percentage of completions, under 50%, would get most quarterbacks benched. But as Steeler coach Mike Tomlin says, “football isn’t about style points, it’s about wins”. And Tebow is, if nothing else, a winner. Every once in a while players like that come along. They just seem to be able to win. Steeler Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is another great example of that. He never gets ranked with the Peyton Mannings or Tom Bradys of the football world. But he wins. Interestingly, some are starting to compare Tebow to Roethlisberger. In 25 years around football I have seen a number of players, who like Tebow would not get many style points, but they win. Part of how they do it is inspire something in the rest of the team. Their courage, confidence, energy, will, whatever, have a way of inspiring others on the team to raise their game and victories come. There is a huge psychology to team sports. Tebow is a guy you want on your team because of the impact he has on the mindset of the rest of the team. You can tell he has this impact just by the comments of some teammates. Denver has a different attitude since Tebow started taking snaps. They were on the verge of a disastrous season and now lead their division.
Personally I would love to see Tebow and Roethlisberger in the AFC Championship. Forget the pretty boys who score style points. Let me see some big tough quarterbacks who inspire something in others that raises their game and makes it a team win all the way around.

PLAYOFF UPDATE: Well I didn’t get to see Tebow and Big Ben in the AFC Championship. But I did get to see them in the playoffs against one another. Tebow did it again. Broncos win in overtime. Of course I would have preferred that Ben not be playing on one leg but that’s football. Tebow played what was the best game of his NFL career and he deserves all the props for that. With Ben and Troy our of the playoffs I am now officially hoping Tebow wins it all this year, if for no other reason that to make all the “experts” scratch their heads.

Steelers Free Safety: a study in contrasts, or is he?

Troy Polamalu wears number 43 for the Pittsburgh Steelers but is clearly more commonly known by his extremely long, flowing hair trailing behind in the breeze, while he runs like few men can. On the field he appears to be everywhere at once. He makes plays that cause the most seasoned commentators, coaches, and players to be in awe. It doesn’t matter if it is tackling an opposing player with wrecking ball force, making an interception that seems physically impossible, or getting from point A to point B without seeming to make use of time or space in any conventional manner. Polamalu is probably best described as a human Tasmanian Devil, that whirlwind of a creature made famous on Bugs Bunny cartoons. It tears through everything and everyone and never stops. It makes the energizer bunny look like it is in a coma. Polamalu has that kind of impact on the football field. Other players at times seem to be running on dying batteries when compared to him.

Yet by all accounts, off the field he is one of the most calm, quiet, and considerate individuals you will ever have the privilege of meeting. His hobbies are listed as playing the piano and growing flowers. Growing flowers! Are you kidding me? This from a guy who is a perennial All Pro in one of life’s most brutal sports. Yet he finds joy in the simplicity gardening. On top of that he is most known for the fact that as an adult he converted to the Eastern Orthodox branch of the Christian faith. It is evidenced by the fact the he crosses himself after every play, doing so in the Eastern manner of from right to left and not the Western of from left to right.

Many people are struck by what seems to be a disconnect between the on field dynamo of energy and aggression and the off the field contemplative, meditative, religious gardener. If you are someone who has not experienced the passion of a faith that guides your life then such a diversity seem irreconcilable. That is because we too often look for external consistency and not internal ones. The internal consistency that I see in Polomalu is that he is passionate about whatever he does and I suspect that his Christian faith is understood in such a way that he is sold out to it 100%, just like he is to football and gardening. I also suspect that his faith is such, that he sees all of life as being centered around the God he trusts and prays to. There is nothing lukewarm about how he approaches any aspect of life, be it football, flora, or faith. It all comes from the heart of a man who is passionate about the things he deems important. It does not matter to him if they don’t seem to go together on the outside. The outside is not what really matters. It is the heart of faith that knits it all together in a very consistent package.

What are you passionate about? What drives you to experience all that God has to offer in life? What grips you so much that after every instance you do something to acknowledge the God who made you? Are you at peace enough in your life to be able to tend the roses and explode with a joy felt power and see no incongruity? It really is not about if things seem to line up on the outside, it really is about it things line up on the inside, in your heart of hearts. A radical love for God at the core of who you are will make it so much easier to have all of your life fit together and make sense, even if people looking from the outside don’t exactly get it.