There is a segment of the football-following public who would like to see Tim Tebow brought to his knees for a reason other than his faith.
The Patriots don't usually have a lot of fans outside of New Englanders and members of the Boston sports diaspora, but you can bet this Sunday, when they take on Tebow and the Denver Broncos, they'll be some NFL fans rooting fervently for them to end Tebow's turn as a Cinderella signal-caller.
Regardless of whether you believe in Him, err, Tim or not, it's hard to deny there is something special happening with the Broncos, be it divine intervention or simply a fortunate football team bonding behind a new quarterback, a la the 2001 Patriots. The Broncos, who started 1-4, have become born-again winners since inserting Tebow into the lineup, winning seven of eight, six straight, and authoring five fourth-quarter comebacks to seize the top spot in the AFC West.
Tebow has become a polarizing player, and the constant caveats detractors attach to his success are not solely because of his throwing motion or his reliance on running the ball. There is just as much intolerance of Tebow's pious nature as there is of his unorthodox style of play.
How else do you explain the scathing criticism that Tebow has endured even though he keeps winning? Yes, there are not many successful NFL quarterbacks who complete 48.5 percent of their passes, and throw a football like Johnny Damon's long-lost cousin. But there have been other NFL QBs with elongated or unusual throwing motions -- Byron Leftwich comes to mind -- who weren't subjected to the same derogatory and derisive comments that Tebow has inspired.
The problem isn't how Tebow plays. It's how he prays. Tebow repeatedly thanks the Lord and mentions God in his post-game interviews, and is open about promoting his religious values and virtues.
Even though the NFL plays on Sunday, a holy day, and the phrase Hail Mary is a part of the football lexicon, it is a secular enterprise. Many fans demand the separation of church and snap. There are some fans and analysts who seem to simply resent the fact that Tebow has injected religion into their Sunday ritual.
Full disclosure, I'm not particularly religious, but I have no problem with Tebow conveying his piety each Sunday. It's no worse than a NASCAR driver shouting out his sponsor after winning a race, or Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wearing a TB12 cap to the podium some times.
Instead of a shoe company or a clothing brand, Tebow has an endorsement deal with God.
He's not pitching a brand of sneakers or a car. He's pitching Christianity, and as long as he does it without denigrating any one else's religious beliefs or lifestyle choices it shouldn't be an issue.
Truthfully, few pitchman have ever done as good a job of generating publicity for their product as Tebow is doing for piety. He is the talk of the NFL and the country.
What has been known since the 1600s as genuflecting is suddenly a social phenomenon know as "Tebowing," thanks to the hype surrounding Denver's devout quarterback. The pious passer has even become a political frame of reference with dunce-cap debater/Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry declaring himself to be the "Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses," a nod to Tebow's penchant for miraculous fourth-quarter comebacks.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said earlier this week that Tebow has sparked a greater discussion of spirituality and faith in this country that is good.
"I feel if that is true, I’d take that as a huge honor," said Tebow. "I feel if I can be a good role model, if I could make faith something cool, having a relationship with Christ something cool, then I think that would be awesome. I think one of my biggest prayers, more so than scoring touchdowns or winning games, is to try to be a great role model for the next generation and someone that always puts my faith first no matter what.
"Someone that is hopefully an athlete that parents can look at their kids and say, ‘You know what that’s someone who is trying to do it the right way. He doesn’t always. He messes up, but he always tries to give credit to the Lord. He always works as hard as he can, and he’s trying to do the best that he possibly can.’ I think that’s something that I’m definitely working on."
It is notable that Tebow has been subjected to iconoclastic criticism, when from a football standpoint he is an iconoclast. He goes against the accepted model of what constitutes a successful NFL quarterback. For years we've been told that you have to be a proficient pocket passer to win in the NFL, that the gimmick offenses of college football like the spread and option attack won't translate. Tebow has proven those beliefs wrong so far.
Tebow's intangibles may be unique, but his physical skills, while impressive, are not.
There have been other mobile quarterbacks who, if given the opportunity, could have had the success Tebow is having in the NFL if a team tailored its offense to suit that quarterback's skills. What would Doug Flutie have done with an offense constructed around his mobility? How about Kordell Stewart or Randall Cunningham or countless successful college quarterbacks?
It's hard to believe that a higher power doesn't have more important matters to attend to than deciding the outcome of football games. If the Patriots lose to the Broncos on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High it will not be because God is a more of a Broncos fan than a Patriots one.
But Tebow obviously draws strength and poise from his faith. It's a part of his success, and he shouldn't have to apologize for it.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.