Tebow: A matter of faith, talent

Tim Tebow's religion, charisma, and winning ways put him in the spotlight.

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Quarterback Tim Tebow prays before a game, in the pose that became known as "Tebowing." (Joe Mahoney / AP)

There's something about the American sporting public that likes its heroes to be tough, consistent and deadly in clutch situations. Add a bit of cockiness to that list for good measure.

But in those instances when sports and religion - or sports and politics - intersect, it's a different story.

Second-year quarterback Tim Tebow, recently traded from Denver to the New York Jets after the Broncos acquired free agent Peyton Manning, has been the talk of the sporting world for months partly for those reasons.

Love him or hate him, many people have strong feelings about Tim Tebow primarily because of his Christian faith.

"What defines Tim Tebow is his charisma and leadership qualities," said Jonathan Tamari, Eagles beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. "He doesn't do the same things that other quarterbacks do - he doesn't seem to be the kind of guy that would lead his team. His charisma is a driving force of his personality."

Late last year, after a laudable winning streak that propelled the Broncos into the playoffs, Tebow had become the player that defined an NFL season - a season marred by a lockout by owners.

Yet for all the late-seson heroics and "Tebowing," he also became one of the most polarizing figures the NFL.

Anyone who has heard Tebow during a postgame interview knows that he's a gracious and humble athlete.

So what is it that rubs some fans the wrong way about this all-American, raw-boned kid who won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore at the University of Florida?

Could it be that he wore his religion on the sleeves of his No. 15 jersey?

"I like Tim Tebow because he's not cocky," said Chris Reichardt, starting center for Gloucester Catholic High. "He doesn't go around saying that he's the best."

Tebow's life has been shaped by his Christian faith. As a child, he traveled the around the world with his parents, who were Christian missionaries. Tebow has done missionary work himself in countries such as the Philippines.

In college, he was known for writing Bible verses in his eye black. And during Super Bowl XLIV, he appeared in a controversial antiabortion commercial that made national headlines.

Tebow isn't the first NFL player to openly talk about his faith.

Former Eagles and Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Reggie White, known as "The Minister of Defense," was an ordained Baptist preacher who led group prayers before and after a game on the 50-yard line.

Former Eagles kicker David Akers, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers, runs his own church in Medford, N.J. Former New York Giant tight end Mark Bavaro and current San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers are devout Catholics who make no secret about their faith.

And while all of these players, like Tebow, have had success in the NFL as far as winning goes and have a strong faith, none has drawn the amount of media coverage as Tebow has.

It wasn't Tebow's religion or his charisma, nor was it simply his wholesome image that placed him in the spotlight this past season. Rather, it was all of these things plus winning.

"Tim Tebow is a rare feat," Tamari said. "He has charisma and he's a winner. He's the whole package."