Not everyone believes in Tim Tebow, but he is true to his beliefs
His voice comes through on a speakerphone, relaxed and eager. Tim Tebow talks about his blessings and offers prayers for the victims of the Penn State sex-abuse scandal. He is polite, accommodating and thoughtful.
"I look at my situation and consider myself extremely blessed," he says, "to play the game I love and have a platform to go out there and influence young people."
Statements like that have come to define the Denver Broncos' 24-year-old quarterback. He is 4-1 as a starter in the NFL, and he won a Heisman Trophy and was part of two national championship teams while at the University of Florida. Tebow might be the best college football player ever, to say nothing of his work with underprivileged children and the way he inspires others to live well, be good to others, and follow Christianity.
But this isn't about him. It's about us.
"He's going to have his fall one of these days," says James Franklin, 25, a bouncer at the Brooksider.
Inside, a crowd has gathered to watch the Oakland Raiders play the San Diego Chargers. Many of them have opinions on Tebow.
"I think he's rehearsed; I think he's robotic," says Tommy Myers, a 25-year-old Broncos fan. "I just don't think he's real."
As scandals have permeated America's favorite sport, corruption digging deeper into college football and a growing inability of the common fan to identify with NFL players, it is Tebow who has become the nation's most polarizing athlete. For many of the same reasons, he is loved by some and reviled by others. Hype has followed Tebow since his freshman season at Florida, and he is open and outspoken about his Christian faith.
Billboards went up in Denver this season, part of a movement for Tebow to become the Broncos' starter. "Tebowing," the act of dropping to one knee, forehead to fist to mimic Tebow's signature celebratory prayer, has become part of pop culture. But there are also websites and movements dedicated to Tebow's shortcomings, the emotions that some believe to be phony, and many Americans' overall dislike of an athlete and man who sometimes seems too good to be true.
"People pump him up to a status of a god, essentially," says Seth Winkel, listed as an officer for a Facebook page titled "I HATE Tim Tebow," which has nearly 3,500 members. "Always, everybody is like, 'Tebow this, Tebow that.' After a while, you just get sick of hearing his name."
Jacob Kleinstein was having fun a few Sundays ago, euphoric after Tebow led the Broncos to a comeback win against the Miami Dolphins, when he dropped to a knee in mock prayer. This is a familiar celebration ritual for Tebow, and Kleinstein wanted to imitate it. Someone took a picture, and Kleinstein uploaded it to his Facebook page.
This is how "Tebowing" was born, and three weeks later, Tebowing.com — a site Kleinstein created so that others can share their own photos — has been viewed more than 7 million times.
"The idea came from paying tribute," says Kleinstein, a Broncos fan who lives in New York. "Not in a mocking way, but to pay tribute to what had just happened."
Kleinstein also is a Tebow fan, and he understands the complexities of that. Following Tebow means more than admiring his football skills; there also are religious and cultural issues in play.
He also understands why these are reasons why so many others dislike Tebow.
"When somebody sees ESPN covering Tim Tebow," he says, "instead of Joe Paterno's retirement, it sort of makes people cringe."
Tebow is, in some ways, the new generation's Brett Favre. He is colorful, famous and divisive. One way or the other, most sports fans have an opinion. Les Shapiro is an afternoon radio host for Denver's KDSP-AM, and he says it's not uncommon for him to spend all three hours discussing Tebow.