The last few weeks have clearly been Tebow time. We have seen the rush of casual football fans to the TVs and Social Media, who knew nothing really about Football. Twitter saw the highest tweets per minute right after his win against the Steelers, “John 3:16” was one of the three most googled after he threw for 316 yards and the TV ratings for last week’s game were the highest since the year before Tebow was born. He has over a million Twitter followers, gaining 22,000 per day. His #15 jersey is the highest selling and an ESPN poll rated him more popular than Tiger Woods, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant—three athletes with considerably more athletic talent, but each quite lower on the morality ratings. He’s reached the masses. My mom phoned me a few weeks ago and asked me “what is a Tebow”. Last night my wife watched the beginning of the game, claiming interest despite never having watched a football game in her life. I’m sure she was not alone. We’ve seen him portrayed on Jimmy Kimmell and Saturday Night Live, a sure sign he’s reached the masses.
I’m a football fan, so I have snickered at quite a few of his wobbly passes, fumbles, and blunders. He does kind of suck as a QB. But I have also marveled at the wins from nowhere and began to wonder what is this thing called “Tebow time”. HIs effort is incredible. But what is it that people like about Tebow? Tim Tebow is definitely a Beloved Brand, loved by so many of the masses beyond the traditional football fans. I think the Tim Tebow brand is a throwback: humility, sincerity and offering hope to all. He feels like he should be on Happy Days with Richie Cunningham when times were simpler and easier.
In terms of humility, Tebow doesn’t speak in the third person as Lebron does, nor would he ever use the phrase “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”. Instead, he publicly displays his faith with his renowned pose of kneeling with his fist to his forehead. Tebow has become the standard-bearer of the All-American kid who the public adores whether or not they like his team. Even while in college at Florida, Tebow was liked by his rivals, even the Georgia Bulldogs, due to his first-class gentleman behavior.
In terms of his sincerity, yes he flaunts his religious beliefs but it is his beliefs. The difference for him is he actually attempts to live up to them. Every week, as Rick Reilly points out, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured, flies them and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner, gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff, gets them 30-yard line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), have them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts. Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat. In the hour after last week’s game when twitter was abuzz, he spent it with 16-year-old Bailey Knaub, talking about her 73 surgeries so far and what TV shows she likes. She wrote him a letter after saying “It was the best day of my life. It was a bright star among very gloomy and difficult days. Tim Tebow gave me the greatest gift I could ever imagine. He gave me the strength for the future. I know now that I can face any obstacle placed in front of me.” When Tim Tebow heard of the letter his genuine response was “Why me? Why should I inspire her? I just don’t feel adequate. Really, hearing her story inspires me.”
It’s easy to go after a big win, but he even did after getting demolished 40-14 by Buffalo. “He walked in and took a big sigh and said…Well, that didn’t go as planned” said Jacob Rainey. Rainey got his prosthetic leg a few weeks ago and he wants to play high school football next season. He would be the first-ever to play tackle football. “Tim told me to keep fighting, no matter what,” Rainey says. “I am.”
The stories become very special: Take 9-year-old Zac Taylor, a child who lives in constant pain. Immediately after Tebow shocked the Chicago Bears with a 13-10 comeback win, Tebow spent an hour with Zac and his family. At one point, Zac, who has 10 doctors, asked Tebow if he has a secret prayer for hospital visits. Tebow whispered it in his ear. And since Tebow still needed to be checked out by the Broncos’ team doctor, he took Zac in with him, but only after they’d whispered it together.
Tebow also gives us all hope. And we want hope. He’s not the most talented, far from it. All he does is win. Yes, many times in odd miraculous ways that we can’t believe. They make no sense even—many times there are a series of disconnected events in the game that come together to produce a Broncos win. But he wins. He’s only a starting QB because his team can’t find anyone better yet. But they will. And Tebow time will be over. Or will it?
Tebow sincerely seems to care more about people than he does about football. “Helping people is by far the best thing I do to get myself ready. Here you are, about to play a game that the world says is the most important thing in the world. Win and they praise you. Lose and they crush you. And here I have a chance to talk to the coolest, most courageous people. It puts it all into perspective. The game doesn’t really matter. I mean, I’ll give 100 percent of my heart to win it, but in the end, the thing I most want to do is not win championships or make a lot of money, it’s to invest in people’s lives, to make a difference.”
In today’s sports world, that thinking is kind of crazy. I hope that explains why Tebow is so beloved by so many. It’s not about football. He offers us hope, wrapped up in a package that is humble and sincere. And like all beloved brands, he lives up to that promise.