Birmingham—I get emails all the time basically asking why the media makes such a big deal out of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
The notes I get basically say the same thing: “Well, yeah, Tebow’s a good football player and all that, but NOBODY is that good of a person. You geeks/nerds/idiots in the media need to quit fawning all over this guy and building him up. It’s too much.”
They even have a name for this attitude. It’s called the “Tebow Backlash.”
One of my mentors in the business, Irwin Smallwood of Greensboro, N.C., taught me as a rookie that reporters should always be skeptical but never cynical. But the media in the 21st century, at least what’s left of it, is incredibly cynical when it comes to analyzing Good. We don’t trust Good. Good has let us down too many times. After years of watching the Michael Vicks of the world, it’s easier (and professionally safer) to assume that Good is just a temporary destination on the way to Bad.
But here’s the deal with Tebow and I can only speak for myself. Every time that I think I have seen the limits of Tim Tebow, the athlete and human being, he does something else to make me realize that he is a once in a generation—maybe once in a lifetime—kind of person and athlete.
Thursday at SEC Media Days was a perfect example. I had a chance to spend some time with Tebow when we videotaped an interview for “Talkin’ Football” on CSS. Tebow was asked if the 2009 season, his last as a college football player, was one where anything less than an undefeated national championship would be considered a disappointment.
“Not at all. Would we like to win the SEC again? Absolutely. Would we like to win all of our games? You bet,” Tebow said. “Would we like to get another shot to play for the national championship? Of course. But this season is not going to be a failure if we don’t finish No. 1. This is about all of us getting close as a team and some of us enjoying our final season together.”
Sounds like a pretty healthy attitude.
Tebow’s personal ministry has taken him to a number of prisons over the years. But on Thursday he talked about a recent visit to Death Row. These were some of the worst for the worst. But Tebow went anyway.
“Think about that,” said Florida coach Urban Meyer. “Does it get any tougher than that? How many of us could look those men in the eye? And he does it because he wants to help. It was what he was put here to do.”
After our talk Tebow again showed why he is different than any other athlete I’ve covered. In a large interview room he was asked a totally inappropriate question—whether or not he is still a virgin (I am not going to mention the person’s name who asked the question or his website. It’s out there if you really want it).
Tebow was within his rights to get up and walk out of the room. He was within his rights to tell the questioner that it was none of his damned business. Instead he said “Yes, I am.” The reporters in the room—at least the ones with integrity—were clearly uncomfortable at the line of questioning. Tebow laughed and put them at ease.
He took a situation where a “reporter” was clearly out of line and made light of it. It was a move few us could have made so deftly.
Look, I’m a big boy. This is the SEC and it’s a tough, competitive situation. And if you have to compete against Tebow there is only so much you can like the guy. I get that.
But I also get this. Tebow has a chance to finish his football career with three national championships, three SEC championships, and two Heisman Trophies. Are the odds against that? Of course. But if he pulls it off, you have to start talking about Tebow as perhaps the greatest college football player of all time.
And he’s done it all with a level of commitment to something bigger than football that we have rarely seen. When it comes to his faith, he has talked the talk and then he has walked the walk. To him, the slings and arrows from the cynics are worth it because the media exposure—good and bad—gives him a platform to talk about the more important things in his life.
So I, for one, am not going to spend a lot of time waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to Tim Tebow. I’m going to enjoy his final season at Florida, regardless of how it turns out. Because after he’s gone, we probably won’t see another one like him for a long, long time. If ever.
The guy is good. Really good. And we are all going to have to get comfortable with that.
Programming note: Bob Neal, Mark Schlabach, Sandra Golden and I will do our final CSS “Talkin’ Football” show from SEC Media Days today at 6 p.m., Eastern time. Among the coaches scheduled to appear are Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin, LSU’s Les Miles, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, and Auburn’s Gene Chizik. Please join us.
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