So many athletes try. They want to be moguls, transcend, take over outside the painted lines. They want commercials and cameos and its associated cash. "Icon" is the operative word, the ultimate goal. They dress like hipsters or appear in GQ; they make Letterman appearances and garner E! News mentions. But they fail. They never expand outside the SportsCenter circles of fandom.
A select few have, but not like this, not with this little amount of public preening. Then there's Tebow. He prays and wins — and America abides, jaws agape, ready to devour every bit of him we can.
Look at us: We're relating happen-stance statistics to bible verses. Lady Gaga's tweeting about his overtime miracle. (Lady Gaga?) We're listening to Skip Bayless and not throwing up in our mouths. We've named him the U.S.' favorite athlete. Katy Perry's parents want him as a rebound for their daughter. Lindsay Vonn and that meme.
Shaq was never this popular. LeBron tried. Brian Wilson's made a concerted, unshaven and spandex-wearing effort. Chad Johnson changed his name. None even come close. Tiger was there, but blew it.
America hasn't seen a level of adoration for an athlete this rabid since Michael Phelps was swimming his way into our hearts with his eight-gold medal performance.
For Phelps, we all watched. We stopped what we were doing and found a television, national pride swelling as our eyes stayed glued to TV sets. Phelps became a worldwide obsession in 2008 with his historic Beijing pursuit, and an icon back across the ocean. Everybody wanted a piece of him. Even though Olympic glory is ephemeral, he was a rock star for a summer. Grandmas and girlfriends watched and read about Phelps. He was a hit outside the target market.
Four years later, we have Tebow, and he's orbiting in a completely different stratosphere. Just look atthe ratings. Phelps transcended, but it took plenty of NBC packaging to make us look past his boring personality and DUI. He had abs, but didn't have the goody-two-shoes, religion angle.
But Tim? Every single entity with a web address or a camera wants a piece. What parts of the media — from sports to religion to pop culture—hasn't used his trending name and or soft-on-the-eyes looks to garner more ratings, page views or sales? And it's always fawning: He never says "no'" to an autograph request! He answers all questions politely! He volunteers!
Try it yourself. Put something about Tebow on your Facebook wall, and wait for the comments. It's going to have a lot more traction than a party pic or a restaurant check-in. He's just that compelling. My co-worker next to me in the B/R offices just wrote something about Tebow, too. We weren't assigned these pieces, we just had to write something.
And it's multiplying and multiplying. Tebow's the number and his fame is an ever-expanding exponent. Faith squared his fame. Winning those close games tripled it. Beating the Steelers? Cubed.
Meanwhile, athletes all over are going to agents and publicists, trying to come up with ways to be more well known. Tebow has to beat the Patriots.