Friday, December 16, 2011

The Cult of Tim Tebow

Every discussion about Tim Tebow seems to turn religious. I'm not referring to his own religious beliefs or how he expresses them. I have no problem with that stuff. I'm talking about Tebow himself. He's become a mythic figure, a gridiron demigod. He doesn't have fans, he has "followers." Those followers aren't just rooting for him, they "believe in" him. They believe in him because he doesn't just play well in the clutch, he performs "miracles." And if you don't like him or think he's overrated, then you're a "doubter."

I have never seen anything like it. The debates and discussions on ESPN, on sportsradio, on the internet, they all do remind me of something actually. Arguments between science and religion. Atheists try to explain away God with logic (which is foolish, by the way, it's like trying to discuss history with math equations, it's two unrelated languages trying to have a conversation), and fundamentalists try to dismiss logic with faith (equally as foolish). What happens is polarization.

I've heard Tim Tebow called a "polarising figure" but he's just a quarterback. We're the ones doing the polarizing. His disciples gush on and on about him. In response, his doubters (dubbed "haters" because I guess you can't just root against someone in sports anymore) spew statistics. The disciples respond with his 7-1 record. The doubters attribute that record to his defense and a bit of luck. The cycle continues ad infinitum, escalating unchecked.

For the record, I'm a Tim Tebow agnostic. In other words, I'm not sure if he's that good. He's better than Kyle Orton, but who isn't? He doesn't turn the ball over much, and he's performed well in come-from-behind situations, but he's had to come from behind because he sucks for 3 quarters. His defense has kept him in games (15.6 points allowed per game in their last 5 wins), and they've played bad teams that also make huge mistakes (See: Marion Barber).

Actually, I'm a Tim Tebow Jew. I believe that he exists, he's a man, he's not a bad player, but he's not the Messiah. He doesn't perform miracles. He's not supernatural. He's just a football player.

It's hard to stay in the middle of the road with Tebow. Everywhere you look, you're confronted with his fanatic believers and his equally fanatic haters. And it's annoying to hear about how great a player is when he's not great. It's annoying that you can't try to discuss him logically without being bombarded by one-step logic and emotionalism. "He just wins." Really? I thought the team did? Especially when they have to carry their QB until the final round.

The story itself has become a story. It's self-perpetuating. Each column about Tim Tebow spawns two more about the story of Tim Tebow. for example: Tim Tebow Quarterbacks New Young Chrisitan Faith. Debunking the Myths of Tim Tebow. This blog post is a perfect example. The story is no longer about a football player. The story is about the story of a football player.

And we're not discussing this football player in football terms. I keep hearing about how much of an underdog Tebow was, how nobody believed in him. Nobody believed him? He won the frigging Heisman! He was drafted 25th! He's been a highly touted player at every level from high school through college. He hasn't come out of the woodwork. He's 6' 3" and 236 pounds, hardly a small, scrappy, overlooked guy. Can we dispense with the underdog talk?

And the doubters are correct. He has not been a good NFL quarterback, at least not for most of the games he's played. You can argue that he's "a winner," but he succeeds despite sucking 75% of the time. He runs around too much, his mechanics are awful, his throws are hideously inaccurate. His 4th quarter stats are impressive. He has a 111.0 rating in the 4th. But he still has an 83.5 rating in the 3rd, a 50.3 rating in the 2nd, and a 64.0 rating in the 1st.

I've heard some argue that the 4th quarter is what matters most. That's true, I suppose. Unless the deficit is too large to overcome. What's the point of having a good 4th quarter if the opponent won the game by scoring in the other three while you were struggling to get first downs?

That's what happened for Denver against Detroit. The Lions were up 24-3 at halftime, 38-3 going into the 4th quarter. Tebow had a TD drive in that 4th quarter, rushing for 26, throwing 4/6 for 39 yards and the score. More Tebow 4th quarter magic. It made it a 45-10 game.

He's usually clutch though. That's indisputable. And he has his teammates believing that they can win. That's significant and that's a big part of winning. But that's as far as my praise will go. He needs his defensive teammates believing in him, becuase they're the ones who keep the Broncos in the game until Tebow stops sucking.

I'm a logical man, at least I try to be. I'm also capable of leaps of faith, but not when there's explicit evidence to the contrary. Tim Tebow is extremely overrated, overpraised, and overhyped. He's exciting in the 4th quarter, but the defense puts him in a position to play a relevant 4th quarter. He is 7-1, but the "winner" label is reserved for people who have started more than 8 games.

He's not the first QB to be hyped. Brady was a media darling in 2001. Roethlisberger was a huge story in 2004. Tony Romo in 2006, Mark Sanchez in 2009. Brady and Ben are still great. Sanchez isn't. Romo is somewhere in between. I seem to recall Kyle Orton being hyped when he started 6-0 with the Broncos in '09. But with Tebow, everything is amplified. His disciples fiercely defend him like a religious icon. They're not fans. They're zealots. You're attacking their faith when you call him "overrated" or point out that he's not good for 3/4 of a game. It's sacrilegious to speak anything but praise unto Tebow.

I don't hate Tim Tebow. I've never met him. If it weren't for the media hype, and for his legions of loud and delusional fans, I'd feel as indifferent toward him as I feel toward Tyler Palko. When I watch football, I try to keep things in perspective. He's a player. Because of his hype (and because of his opponent) I'm rooting against him on Sunday. I'll continue rooting against him all year. Because I'm tired of the story. I'm tired of the Cult of Tebow. I want their sacred cow to be smashed. He's just a man.


  1. This is a really good post. You really deserve more public attention.