WASHINGTON — I have officially called off my boycott of the National Football League. I do not care how many felons or frotteurs play the game. Now there is Tim Tebow to redeem it. He can pass and run. He inspires his teammates. He inspires many returning fans like me. I shall follow him through the playoffs and maybe even next year as the season resumes anew. He is an American original — and he is controversial. I am for him.
No, I shall not fall for the NFL's gimmicks. You will not see me wearing a jersey of the Denver Broncos, for whom Tebow plays. I shall not even buy a coffee mug. In fact, I think I shall add up how much money I could spend on Tebow paraphernalia and donate it to charity. Tebow inspires his teammates, and now he has inspired me.
I first noticed Tebow when he won a string of games in the last minutes. It was phenomenal, but then I seemed to have brought him bad luck, for he lost the next three games.
Then came the Denver Broncos' surprising upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. The Steelers played a great game behind the two-time Super Bowl winner, Ben Roethlisberger (himself an almost-convicted felon who has now confessed his errors and mended his ways), but Tebow outplayed him. Roethlisberger did lead his team to an overtime Sunday.
That worried me, for I had already sat through hours of play, and one of my complaints with the NFL is that the games are the closest thing we can experience on earth to eternity. Yet the Broncos won the flip of the coin. They elected to receive. And on the first play from scrimmage, Tebow threw a pass to Demaryius Thomas (note the noble Roman name), and Demaryius outran the desperate Steeler secondary for 80 yards and a touchdown. Good show, fellows! The whole play took 11 seconds — the briefest overtime in NFL history.
Then came the grounds for controversy. After congratulating his Roman receiver, Tebow knelt on one knee and thanked God. His recollections convey the essential Tebow. "When I saw him scoring," recalled the victorious quarterback, "first of all, I just thought, 'Thank you, Lord.' Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him — like I can catch up to D.T.! Then I just jumped into the stands. First time I've done that. That was fun. Then, got on a knee and thanked the Lord again and tried to celebrate with my teammates and the fans."
Tebow is very pious, very humble ("like I can catch up to D.T.") and a lot of fun ("that was fun"). How can anyone dislike him? He runs charities in the offseason. He invites sick children to games. He does all manner of good deeds. He is the son of missionaries, and he takes his religion seriously.
This appears to be a problem for some players in the NFL and other concerned Americanos. Some have uttered insults at him over his religion and, in fact, over his general good-guy deportment. Why should this be? One can strut and perform the most lurid dances on the field. One can demonstrate on behalf of various controversial causes. Nary an eye is batted. Yet a show of piety to one's creator is deemed an offense.
By the way, Tebow was not the only person on the field expressing a prayer. I saw a fellow from the Steelers make the Sign of the Cross repeatedly, and after an exceptionally good pass, I dare say Roethlisberger raised his hands to the heavens. So what is so outrageous about a pause for a prayer of thanksgiving?
I predict that Tebow is in for some serious controversy in the weeks and years ahead. Some say he does not deserve his fame, that he is an unorthodox passer and a terrible ball-handler. I do not know what they think they know. He is as strong as a bull, and his running and passing win games.
Yet his real problem is the religious angle. Many Americans do not like it. They prefer their own gestures of false piety. They need our prayers.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His most recent book is "After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery." To find out more about R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.