There are many reasons to like the game of football. It is highly sophisticated, yet at the same time dominated by sheer physicality. There are many ways to win and every game is different; some teams succeed with sheer brute force, others with swiftness and deception, still others by the perfect execution of an innovative system. Random chance can make or break a team’s fortunes, and every game truly matters. It is the open, variable nature of football that makes it such a great sport. While baseball and basketball rely heavily on individual talent and soccer and hockey on opportunism, football games are often won and lost on tactics – a new, confusing defensive alignment or a redefinition of a position’s role.
Most sports change little. The forms and rules of baseball and soccer today are almost indistinguishable from those of fifty years ago. Other sports force innovation through rule changes, as in basketball. Football evolves on its own, as offenses and defenses constantly seek to outmaneuver one other. From the wishbone and triple option to the West Coast passing attack and contemporary spread option, football is constantly in flux. The unexpected always happens, and the game is better for it.
These factors combine in the enigmatic career of Tim Tebow. During his college years at the University of Florida, he redefined what a big-school quarterback can do, setting a NCAA record for career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, functioning as a role player on one national championship team and leading his Gators to another two years later. Tebow’s off-field persona was unique as well; his outspoken Christianity and unshakable good attitude made him easy to love, and even easier to hate. Tebow’s stirring motivational speech following a stunning home loss to Ole Miss in 2008 famously spurred his team to greatness, as the Gators proceeded to win 22 games in a row, capturing a national championship in the process.
The pundits are correct in saying that Tebow is not an NFL quarterback. He seems to be something more. Tebow himself is not playing far better than his predecessor, Kyle Orton. However, his strength is that he understands this and knows that his job is to keep the Broncos in it until the end. What Tebow lacks in pocket poise, he makes up for in intelligence, athleticism, and the desire to avoid mistakes. John Fox has crafted an offense that makes sense for Tebow, an extreme-retro option attack from a bygone era. NFL coaches rarely take risks like this, but Fox has been courageous and the gamble has paid off. This is also not that unexpected; remember, Fox managed to coax a Super Bowl run out of Jake Delhomme.
The biggest factor in the Broncos’ rush to the brink of the playoffs, however, has been Tebow’s influence on the defense. The Denver defense has always had great potential and star power, and its current group of leaders – Von Miller, Champ Bailey, and Elvis Dumervil – can match almost any side in the league. What Tebow has provided is motivation.
Under previous quarterbacks Orton and Jay Cutler, the defense saw nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy of mediocrity. The questionable leadership of Josh McDaniels likely did nothing to help. Somehow, the defenders see Tebow in a different light. To them, he is a leader, a motivator, a symbol of hope. Even without knowing what goes on inside the Mile High locker room, it is obvious Tebow has sparked a revolution on this team.
John Fox and John Elway deserve credit as well, but it seems that the main catalyst for this newfound culture of winning is none other than Tebow himself. Elway might have his doubts, but it seems Tebowmania has a long time left to run in Bronco Country.
After all, Tebow can only get better. His throwing motion is awful and his decision-making remains questionable, but these will change in time. Tebow has won a game by completing two passes. He has won a game by racking up the highest quarterback run count since 1950. He has won a game by single-handedly driving 96 yards against one of the league’s elite defenses. At the end of the day, Tebow has willed this team to the playoff bubble.
The “Tebowing” meme, once done an expression of mockery, now symbolizes respect, even adoration. Tebow has turned this team around, most recently with his motivational speech before the Broncos’ overtime win at San Diego, quoting Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Tim Tebow is something new, something never seen before, and whether it ends in tears or trophies, it will not be forgotten.