Photo by Jeffrey Beall
Some have compared Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos polarizing quarterback, to a superhero. In fact, he even got the nickname Superman during his college career at the University of Florida. However, the feats that Tebow is able to accomplish are much more akin to an American tall tale. Superpowers are not his driving force; he’s an everyday American man able to achieve outlandish feats with his natural God given (and don’t you forget it) talents.
Perhaps his larger than life abilities are what make him so polarizing and not his overt Christianity, as many claim. When you get down to the bare bones of the matter, many non-Christians are huge fans of Tim Tebow; just as many Christians are not fans of the football star. Although he does pray on the field (inspiring the Internet sensation of “Tebowing”), he’s not the first pro-athlete to do so. Nor is he the first to give thanks to God “first and foremost” for the abilities he has been given.
Still, there is something about the charismatic leader that sparked Tebowmania, which took the nation by storm during the 2011 NFL season and created such a definitive taking of sides across America. Could it be the fact that some find the non-stop, astounding narratives that surround the athlete transfixing while others are turned off, perplexed, or even jealous of the constant media coverage of his remarkable talents?
It’s one thing to learn about a folklore legend like John Henry after the fact. But, can you imagine having to work and compete alongside the steel driver with exceptional strength and physical ability in the 1860s while building a railroad? Even living in the same town with such a gifted man where you have to hear of his achievements every time you go to the grocery store could be a bit irksome. The man raced against a steam-powered hammer and won!
Just as the American folklore legends built their legacies with their talents, Tebow is creating quite the tale of his own; one that may get under the skin of those trying to measure up.
From the day of his birth, the 24-year-old superstar was already defying the odds. Just as the legend of Paul Bunyan proclaims that the lumberjack was so big when born that 5 large storks had to carry him to his parents and at just a week old he was wearing his father’s clothes, Tebow’s story of entering the world has an equally remarkable and tall tale-esque spin.
Tebow tells the story of his birth in his autobiography, Through My Eyes. His mother became ill with amoebic dysentery while working as a missionary in the Philippians. The dysentery caused her to go into a coma and she was given heavy doses of medication to cure the infection. It wasn’t until after this treatment that she realized she was pregnant.
She suffered a placental abruption and doctors feared for both her life and that of her child. They essentially told her she would have a stillbirth and she needed to abort the baby. She refused, and against all odds Timothy Richard Tebow was born. Though malnourished, Tebow made up for the lack of nutrients in a hurry; now standing 6’3” and 235 pounds.
Like Davy Crockett, John Henry, and Daniel Boone, Tim Tebow isn’t a fictional character but a real life human being. He differs from such legendary names in the fact that where their stories are exaggerations based somewhat in fact, the seemingly exaggerated stories that surround Tim Tebow, such as his remarkable birth, all seem to be true.
Take for example the time he stopped by a baseball field and had the coach pitch him a few balls. The sporting news world exploded with the story of him hitting 12 out of 15 pitches out of the park. This would be quite the accomplishment for a gifted baseball player but the story becomes even more amazing when the athlete at hand isn’t hitting at the batting cages every day. Many didn’t buy into the hype but it wasn’t long after the story broke that the baseball coach pitching the balls, Kyle Finney of the Memphis University School, confirmed its truth to ESPN. Even clarifying that Tebow probably hit more than 12 home runs that day.
The legend of Tebow in the football realm goes back to his days as a high school quarterback at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. Originally thought to be a leg cramp, Tebow’s coaches sent him back on the field after halftime of a game with a broken fibula. Tebow courageously played through the pain and even ran for a 29-yard touchdown on his broken leg. In a day where many players will roll on the ground, writhing in pain from a bruise, you have to admit that’s pretty impressive.
How about his work with his foundation in the Philippians? The Tim Tebow Foundation is currently building a CURE hospital there and back in 2008, the Orlando Sentinel reported that ‘Dr. Tebow’ (as they referred to him) assisted doctors in circumcising Filipino boys in an impoverished town outside of General Santos City.
During his college football career, he created many legendary moments as well. He won two national championships with the University of Florida Gators. In 2007, he became the first college sophomore ever to win the Heisman trophy. Perhaps one of the greatest moments in the Tebow folklore is the speech he gave after his team’s loss to University of Mississippi in 2008:
“I promise you one thing. A lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.”
He held true to that promise and the Florida Gators won every game for the rest of the season, including the BCS National Championship.
The list of phenomenal accolades goes on and on: he’s saving himself until marriage, he sang on stage with Kenny Chesney, he’s buddies with LeBron James, his football jersey was the top selling in the NFL before he was even a starter. All true.
Then there are the unbelievable fourth-quarter comebacks that he led the Denver Broncos to during the 2011 season, beginning with his first start against the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos made it in the NFL history books by becoming the first team in NFL History to make up for a 15-point deficit with less than three minutes to play and win the game.
Many records were set as he took the Broncos from a team with a losing record to one that made it to the second round of the playoffs. Playoffs in which the Broncos faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round in yet another legendary game. Not only did the Broncos defeat the Steelers in a stellar fashion, but Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards. The significance being that in college he famously wore eye black with a bible verse written in white. One of his favorite verses just happens to be John 3:16…
And, the absurdity of the Tebow legend continues.
The unbelievable tall tale-esque stories are plentiful. Currently, two big name quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Eli Manning) are preparing to lead their teams into battle as the Super Bowl gets set to take place tomorrow in Indianapolis, IN. However, Tebow is still stealing the show. Skip Bayless of ESPN reported that no player – hall-of-famer, pro-bowler, etc – in attendance at the pre-Super Bowl festivities needs more security than Tebow. Hordes of fans and autograph seekers are tripping over themselves to catch a glimpse.
This week many reporters have asked Tim Tebow and themselves the same question, what is it that makes Tim Tebow such a polarizing and fascinating figure? The answer is simple, he’s a living tall tale whose amazing stories and accolades will be talked about for years to come. However for now, those that have to live with the constant attention given to his gifts will take a side: those that can both look up to him as a role model and admire his accomplishments, and those that can’t stand him because they feel they will never compare.