So, the Denver Broncos didn’t get to play in the Superbowl. Tebow, no doubt, was praying they would. Though I know of a priest in Boston who was praying for the New England Patriots during their victory on Jan. 14. I guess that’s proof, once and for all, that Jesus is Catholic.
(Yes. I’m kidding.)
According to one poll, 43 percent of football fans said that divine intervention played a role in Tebow’s victories. While I’m not sure if God makes a habit out of intervening in how straight and far a ball flies when it’s shot from a quarterback’s arm, I have no doubt that he intervenes when it comes to people performing the best they can, especially with regard to their character, and Tebow took MVP in that category this season.
Tebow has been labeled a religious fanatic for daring to publicly display his faith. His devotion has even gotten him labeled among the most controversial figures in the NFL. What sad commentary on our culture that someone who is openly devout is considered more controversial than the players who are sleeping with groupies, cheating on their wives, using steroids or who spent time in jail for dog fighting.
The “controversial” nature his faith would have as a pro was made clear to him in the Scouting Combine (NFL tryouts). When he suggested saying a prayer before one exam another player shouted, “Shut the ____ up,” prompting open laughter from the other athletes.
But for all the mockery he’s endured, I’d propose that if you’re not a “Jesus freak,” you’re going to be somebody’s freak. When people don’t have a higher reality (aka, God) to live for, they tend to live for the wrong things, or, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, when we fail to worship God, we experience the “endless disintegration” that comes from chasing one false god after another. (No. 2114)
Here in Bronco country I saw a bumper sticker that said, “I bleed orange and blue.” I was going to suggest that the driver get that checked by his doc. Contrast this with Tebow, whose foundation’s executive director, Erik Dellenback, sums up his attitude with, “Tim believes there is more to life than football.”
Tebow has a charity whereby he invites a kid dealing with a serious medical problem to be his guest at every game. Spending time with that person seems to be as high a priority for Tebow as playing well, if not higher.
Why does he do it? “Before all this hoopla and this pressure of playing this game” Tebow has said, “I get to go over and invest in someone else’s life and in turn it’ll put things in perspective for me.”
At one post-game press conference after a Bronco’s victory, referring to his special guest, Tebow’s first comment was, “I was very excited to have Bailey here at this game, and get a chance to hang out with her … and that’s the biggest win of the day.”
And after being pummeled by the Patriots, he told reporters, “It still was a good day because before the game I got to spend time with Zach McCloud and make him smile. Overall when you get to do that it’s still ... a good day. Sometimes it’s just hard to see but it depends what lens you’re looking through. I choose to look through those lenses and I got to make a kid’s day and anytime you do that it’s more important than winning a game, so I’m proud of that.”
When someone puts God before all else, all else tends to stay in its proper place. In a letter to a friend, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” Tebow has kept first things first, and that, far more than prefacing every post game interview with, “I want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ,” is what’s made him such a witness. And it’s a witness that’s hard to miss.
In an interview with USA Today, John Elway reflected, “(Tim’s) maturity level with dealing with the pressures of what comes with playing the position (is enviable) ... If you watch how he handles each press conference, that is truly who he is. It is not an act. It is a credit to his background and his parents. There is no question that, from where I sit, his priorities are different than those of most 24-year-olds.”
If something other than God sits on the throne of our hearts, life is a roller coaster with ups and downs, losses and wins.
“I don't have to live the roller coaster other people live with my life,” Tebow said.
While I’m not canonizing Tebow, I think we can all take lessons from the way he keeps first things first, the way he expresses his faith in charity, and his willingness to ignore all criticism and be true to who he is by wearing his love for Jesus on his shirt sleeve.
God bless the Giants/Patriots, but the biggest win of the season is the witness of a young NFL quarterback who showed the world that there’s more to life than football.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.