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The Appeal of Tim Tebow


Jan. 18, 2012

As a Florida Gator, I’ve been watching Tim Tebow play football for the last five years. I’m very happy that he’s found some success in the NFL. However, many of my friends and sports writers have been baffled by his appeal. Why was Tebow voted the most popular athlete in America when he doesn’t even complete half his passes? The team he plays for barely made it to the playoffs. By all statistical or objective measures he’s a mediocre quarterback for a mediocre team. So why is he more popular than Tom Brady, a future hall of famer? I hope that I can explain some of his popularity.

Many quickly point to his religious beliefs as the primary source of his popularity. He prays before every game and is quick to thank his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” at every post-game conference. Sure, this makes him more popular with religious conservatives, but it is also a negative mark against not only the non-religious but also those who prefer to keep their religious feelings more private.

Ultimately, I think his popularity is best explained by the way he wins football games. Since Tebow became the starting QB, the Broncos are 4-0 in overtime. Tebow has several other last-minute comebacks. Not only is this exciting football, but it is also an example of what J.R.R. Tolkien called “eucatastrophe,” the unexpected joyous conclusion of what was otherwise considered a hopeless cause.

"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love." - J.R.R. Tolkien

At least 6 of the games Tebow played in this season ended in a crowd-thrilling eucatastrophe. The Broncos looked doomed, but somehow they pulled it off in the end. Christianity is founded on a story which is the greatest example of eucatastrophe ever told. Thus, Christians are especially primed to respond to a story of this type. Of course when a young man with strong religious beliefs not only lives their values but also tells their favorite type of story on the football field they are going to be wildly entertained. He isn’t just speaking the language in the press box, he’s also speaking it on the football field.

Yes, I realize there’s a big difference in scope between "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Redemption of Mankind" and "Broncos Win!" but scope rarely matters in stories. What humans respond to when they hear a story is the structure and the drama. In many cases, widening the scope can make the story less interesting because at some level we know that if the stakes are big enough the author won’t let us down with an unhappy ending. When the stakes are small we aren’t sure what will happen. This increases the thrill.

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One final off-topic comment. Many people seem to think that when Tebow prays a lot he’s praying for victory on the football field. They are right to criticize this because why would God care about whether the Broncos win? There are lots of Christians playing football on every team and he can’t make them all win. People who make this argument are correct in their theological reasoning but wrong about what Christians usually ask for when they play. Usually before a game they don’t pray for victory but rather to play their best and/or to be a good example to others while under the spotlight. Unlike the outcome of a football game, these aren’t topics outside the interest of a personal diety like Jesus Christ.

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DC: 2012-01-18 12:52:47

http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/01/1...

Matt Belcher: 2012-01-18 14:10:53

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Sports/2...

Patricia: 2012-01-18 18:21:19

Love the way you wrote this article. I actually understood exactly what you were explaining.
We all should have a little more TEBOW in us!
Your MOM

DC: 2012-01-18 19:26:31

To be clear, since I just posted a link with no explanation, I don't disagree with anything you said, I just thought that was an interesting related article. I'm sure Christians mostly pray for more neutral sports-related stuff, but sometimes the selfish prayer slips through!

Matt: 2012-01-19 11:41:18

Yeah that's true Damon. There's a fine line between wishing and praying and it is easy to cross over it.