The PJ Tatler

Image of the Year

I was on America’s Radio News earlier today, and after a discussion of the state of the GOP race, host Chris Salcedo moved the discussion from politics to sports. He asked me what I make of the derision that has greeted Denver Broncos QB Tim Tebow’s run in the NFL this year.

Tim Tebow has undoubtedly become the story in the NFL. Until Sunday, Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers were chasing history on an undefeated run. They missed by one day going a full calendar year without losing a game and could have gone undefeated this season. The Indy Colts, winners year in and year out with Peyton Manning, had gone o-fer without him. The league’s MVP could well be a QB who never took a snap this season. None of the powerhouses in the NFC East seem to be capable of stringing enough wins together to claim that division. None of those stories or Drew Brees closing in on Dan Marino’s single-season passing record have been the big story, though. The big story has been Tim Tebow and what he does when he’s not leading unbelievable comeback victories.

That image is, in my opinion, the image of 2011. Not so much the photo itself, but any photo of Tim Tebow praying. Or Tebowing, as his mockers call it. Tebowing is now a global phenomenon.

As I said on ARN, any image of Tebowing is a Rorschach test.

Tim Tebow is an unconventional quarterback, but the NFL has seen many unconventional quarterbacks come and go. Michael Vick was among the most recent oddball QBs, known more in his college days for his legs than for his arm. His throwing mechanics were off, and many pundits and fans questioned whether he could ever really fit into a traditional NFL offense or really ever learn to play the pro game. But Vick wasn’t slammed with the same level of derision that Tebow has been (at least, until the dog fighting business came to light). Tebow has been hammered from before he was drafted, and will be hammered for a long time. And that image above is why.

Tim Tebow is an outspoken Christian. Those also aren’t exactly rare in pro sports or in the NFL. During the 1970s, the Dallas Cowboys had an outspoken Christian coach in Tom Landry and an outspoken Christian QB in Roger Staubach. All they ever did was dominate the NFC and win two Super Bowls. They should have won a third, but on that dropped pass late, will shall not dwell.

The 1970s were not 2011. Landry and Staubach were never as controversial as Tim Tebow is. Times have changed.

Tebow hasn’t disappointed us yet. I don’t mean on the field of play. His record there is currently 7-2, which is great for a rookie QB, but he hasn’t lit up the league with his stats. What I mean is, he hasn’t disappointed us in his life yet. We’re more cynical now than we were in the 1970s. We expect the rise and fast fall of people who claim to be great or even good. We know too much about everyone. Facebook and TMZ know all and tell all.

And along comes this kid who can’t even seem to throw a proper football spiral. He thinks he can play this game? He’s outspoken about believing, in a very old-fashioned way. He’s not cynical. He’s not a model-dating wild man like Tom Brady or Tony Romo have been. He’s not a trouble maker like, well, probably half of pro athletes these days tend to be (and maybe 90% were in the days before media saturation). And he’s not Charles Barkley, who took the good parts of fame and fortune and rejected the role model part of it.

Tim Tebow just is who he says he is. And for an awful lot of cynics out there, that’s just too much to take.