Tim Tebow and 316

by Seth Dowland
Since I believe that the Patriots will smite the Broncos this weekend, the Spirit has moved me to follow upon Matt Sutton’s Tebow post with one of my own. I discerned the need to take hold of the cultural obsession with Tebow before the moment passed.

(The Spirit also moved me to reconsider my plan of using only religious verbs in this post after I beheld that tortured first paragraph.)

The Broncos’ most recent win, an overtime playoff triumph over the mighty Steelers, was the most improbable Tebow victory yet. After directing unlikely comeback wins over the Jets, Vikings, and Bears in the regular season, Tebow led the 8-8 Broncos to an upset victory over the league’s #1-ranked defense on Sunday. The game featured his most complete performance as a passer, capped off by an 80-yard strike to star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.

Of course, we’re not talking about Tebow here because of his quarterbacking skills. We’re talking about him because of his very public evangelical faith. Since his days as a championship-winning quarterback at the University of Florida, Tebow has prominently proclaimed his faith in Jesus, from painting scripture verses on his eye-black to declaring that he was “saving himself for marriage” in a memorable 2009 press conference. Tebow’s good looks and purported chastity, alongside his public “Tebowing,” have made him a folk hero to many evangelicals. As Matt points out below, Tebow’s success galvanizes a group that sees itself as embattled by experts who scoff at the truth.

Tebow represents muscular Christianity in its 21st century form. Evangelicals have long been enamored of big-time sports, though their reasons have varied over the years. Mid-19th century Protestants touted sports’ custodial elements, as they kept young men occupied and away from more ignominious pursuits. By the turn of the twentieth century, as historian Clifford Putney has shown, muscular Christians celebrated the “character-building” qualities of sports. And by the end of the twentieth century, big-time sports appealed primarily because of their popularity; celebrity athletes could proclaim the message far and wide. Tebow represents the confluence of all three strains of muscular Christianity: sports have kept him pure, built his character, and given him a bully pulpit unrivaled in American culture. In an era where “Christian” athletes are often caught with their pants down (sometimes literally), Tebow seems like the real deal.

God’s vindication of Tebow seemed to come in Sunday’s box score. Tebow wound up throwing for 316 yards against the Steelers – not only the highest total a quarterback has mustered against Pittsburgh this year but also an echo of one of Tebow’s favorite verses: John 3:16. Tebow has literally painted evangelicals’ favorite passage on his face in past games, and as if any more proof of his divine favor was needed, Tebow managed to throw for 316 yards exactly. Whosoever believeth...

My own taste runs more to the sardonic, I’m afraid. Who knows what that 316 number could stand for? Maybe God had Lamentations on his mind instead.

I guess we’ll find out more on Saturday night.


Tom Van Dyke said…
"Hispanic fans also feel that a holy power is helping the Broncos quarterback as 81 percent of those polled believe God is behind Tebow, compared to 59.5 percent among blacks and 38 percent among whites."

Quick, somebody write The Scandal of the Hispanic and Black Minds.