God’s quarterback, Tim Tebow, is an American football player and evangelical Christian who has the US in a frenzy. Initially it was his performance on the sidelines that had people talking. Before every match he plays for the Denver Broncos, he drops to one knee and prays. His gesture, reminiscent of Rodin’s The Thinker, has spawned much debate, a verb – “Tebowing” – and a website on which fans post pictures of themselves imitating the pose. Photographs of him in conversation with the Almighty have dominated sports pages here. If you were to imagine a similar scene in Britain, it would improbably involve Wayne Rooney or David Beckham pausing to genuflect before Jesus, while fans look on in awe.
But then Tebow’s underdog team started winning, something no one ever expected, and more attention was paid to his actions on the pitch. The quarterback’s story jumped from the back pages to the front as he seemingly miraculously proceeded to wipe the floor with all opposition, always in the final minutes – sometimes seconds – of a game.
Unusually for a sportsman, Tebow talks openly about his relationship with Jesus Christ in interviews. He appeared in an advertisement for Focus on the Family, a Christian charity, alongside his mother during the Super Bowl last year with an anti-abortion message. When it was suggested that Jesus was helping him win, all hell broke loose. Saturday Night Live ran a sketch featuring Christ visiting Tebow’s locker room and Jewish Week had to apologise after publishing a column by a rabbi that suggested a win for the Broncos in the Super Bowl could incite religious violence.
“Can God take credit for the victories of a thick-set NFL quarterback who scrambles in a weirdly jittery fashion, throws one of the ugliest balls in the game, completes fewer than half of his passes and has somehow won six of his team’s last seven games?” asked Frank Bruni, of the New York Times. (His conclusion was “yes”).
But for believers and atheists alike, the real miracle here is a football player who appears to practise what he preaches. Not for Tebow the venal lifestyles of many sportsmen. Instead, he has become a poster boy for the Christian Right; a role model of such virtue that mothers across the Bible Belt would happily trust him to take their daughters to the prom. That’s because Tebow has said he’s “saving himself for marriage”. How many British footballers could say the same?