Reusse: Tebow's popularity a faithful endeavor

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 12, 2012 - 7:12 AM

The Denver quarterback has shown questionable passing skills, and his fans seem to be basing their passion on his overt religious beliefs.

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Tim Tebow: The Denver Broncos quarterback’s legend and popularity continue to grow.

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The e-mail accounts contain several offers per day making sources available to be interviewed on various issues, real or imagined. On Wednesday morning, there was such an e-mail from newsandexperts.com offering an expert on the topic:

"Why Do People Hate Tim Tebow?''

The gentleman in question was Shay Dawkins, "a self-professed Christian'' and an author of a long-titled book on Christianity.

According to the e-mail's synopsis, the media might want to interview Dawkins based on this: "The one thing that seems to be at the tip of every Tebow-Hater's tongue is his religious beliefs.''

A couple of hours later, an article appeared on ESPN.com with these lead paragraphs:

"How big is Tebow-mania? According to the ESPN Sports Poll, Tim Tebow is now America's favorite active pro athlete.

"The poll, calculated monthly, had the Denver Broncos quarterback ranked atop the list for the month of December. In the 18 years of the ESPN Sports Poll, only 11 different athletes -- including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James -- have been No. 1 in the monthly polling.''

This was beautiful.

Anyone skeptical of Tebow as a quarterback has been instantly labeled a hater by his fans. And yet, among the 34 qualified quarterbacks this season, he was rated No. 28 and was the least accurate passer by 7.8 percent. With that résumé he's become America's favorite pro athlete.

Hey, newsandexperts.com, how about a source to interview on this topic:

"Why Do People Love Tim Tebow?''

Many Tebow-maniacs seem to feel that all criticism is based on him starting postgame interviews with a big howdy-do to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

That has to be the reason. It can't be that after watching Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Cam Newton throw a pass as the football gods intended, it drives some of us crazy to see this 6-3, 236-pound lug winding up to throw a football like an overgrown Cub Scout.

My view of the Tebow phenomenon is there's much less religious bigotry involved with his critics than there is religious zealotry assisting in his astounding popularity.

Here's the test: If you watched the SNL skit last month with Jesus (in the form of Jason Sudeikis) visiting the Broncos' locker room and didn't laugh mightily, you're taking the religious side of Tebow way too seriously.

He's a 24-year-old second-year quarterback who played the worst game of his NFL life on Jan. 1, going 6-for-22 for 60 yards in a 7-3 loss to lowly Kansas City in Denver. The 8-8 Broncos were able to back into the playoffs when Oakland also was beaten that afternoon.

Denver had closed the regular season with three consecutive losses. Tebow's play was pathetic in the last two, as it had been frequently from Oct. 23 through Dec. 11, as the Broncos won seven of eight.

The battle cry from Tebow-maniacs (including those involved in ratings at ESPN) was "Tebow's a winner.'' In reality, the Broncos defenders had been in such a shutdown mode that they made it close to impossible for any quarterback to lose.

And if you don't believe any quarterback, consider this: There is no quarterback in the 51-year annals of the Vikings more remembered for his futility than Spergon Wynn, who played in three games and started two late in the lost season of 2001.

Tebow's completion percentage during the 2011 regular season was 46.7. Wynn's was 49.0 a decade earlier.

What Tebow does offer is outstanding athletic ability. And anyone with that is entitled to throw a pass in the right direction on occasion -- which Tebow did in Sunday's 29-23 overtime upset of Pittsburgh in a first-round playoff game in Denver.

On the first play of overtime, Tebow hit a wide-open Demaryius Thomas over the middle, and he turned it into an 80-yard touchdown. That put Tebow over 300 yards (316) for the first time. It also sends them to Foxboro, Mass., to face New England in a Saturday night game that will draw monster ratings.

The No. 1 reason for that will be Tebow, America's favorite athlete, rather than Tom Brady.

I'll admit it. That makes me a little sad -- to watch someone who might be the NFL's best quarterback ever settle for second billing to a guy who throws a football almost as accurately as Spergon Wynn.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

DIVISIONAL ROUND saturday NFC: New Orleans at San Francisco 3:30 p.m. • TV: Ch. 9 AFC: Denver at New England 7 p.m. • TV: Ch. 4 sunday AFC: Houston at Baltimore noon • TV: Ch. 4 NFC: N.Y. Giants at Green Bay 3:30 p.m. • TV: Ch. 9
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