COLORADO SPRINGS — This is Tebow Country. America that is, not just Colorado.
Tim Tebow is the only college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, and he led the University of Florida’s football team to national championships in 2007 and 2009. He is in his second year as quarterback of the Denver Broncos, and turned a Broncos team with a 1-4 record into a NFL playoff team. They won a first-round game before being eliminated by the New England Patriots, who lost a nailbiter to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Tebow is far more than a quarterback, though. He’s a cultural icon.
He is beloved among evangelicals for being outspoken about his Christian beliefs and because he infuses faith demonstrations into his on-field behavior. Most prominent is Tebow’s touchdown celebration ritual of taking a knee, bowing his head, and praying — a posture now known as “Tebowing.” He has become such a cultural icon that Saturday Night Live did a skit about him.
When UW Election Eye was in South Carolina covering the primary there, the pastor at Columbia First Baptist said he prayed for Tebow to lead the Broncos to victory the previous day, and this morning former National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard told UW Election Eye reporter Will Mari, “I have an Eli Manning shirt,” referring to the New York Giants quarterback, “But people love Tebow here. A lot.” Haggard’s website includes a Tebowing moment on its home page.
In 2010 Tebow and his mother — who said she contracted an illness and was advised by a doctor to have an abortion when she was pregnant with Tim — appeared in an advertisement for Focus on the Family, the international evangelical organization based in this city. Focus on the Family produced another ad that ran during the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Patriots on January 15. Here’s the 2010 ad.
But Tebow isn’t popular among only evangelicals.
Public Policy Polling conducted a poll of 700 U.S. voters in mid-December that included a mix of questions about politics and sports. PPP found Tebow was viewed favorably by 68% of self-identified Republicans and 39% of Democrats. PPP Director Tom Jensen added this: “Just to put those numbers into some context, none of the Republican Presidential candidates are even seen positively by 68% of Republicans. He’s more popular than any of them.”
The Tebow magic doesn’t necessarily transfer like a Midas Touch. In a Republican Party presidential debate in Iowa in December, Texas governor Rick Perry tried to jumpstart his faltering campaign by invoking Tebow and his reputation as a come-from-behind quarterback: “I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses,” Perry said. He wasn’t.
Murmurs have begun that Tebow may have a future in politics, and this week he did not squelch such speculation.
Asked about a political career he told Reuters, “Maybe one day in the future, not right now though.” And in an interview that aired on Golf Channel last night, Tebow said that politics “could be something in my future. If it’s something I care about, possibly.”
He would be far from the first professional athlete to make the jump into politics. Seattle Seahawks legend Steve Largent, for example, became a Congressional representative in Oklahoma after his Hall of Fame career.