Tim Tebow did not even mention his new team, the New England Patriots, at a Christian men's conference over the weekend, but he thrilled a packed stadium with both humorous and serious anecdotes about his young NFL career.
Tebow joined an eclectic mix of speakers at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, South Carolina for the 2013 Wildfire “Men’s Impact Weekend” Conference, a celebration of sports, faith and the outdoors, featuring reality stars like Willie and Jase Robertson of A & E's popular Duck Dynasty, and preachers like Bishop T.D. Jakes.
Before Tebow took the stage, University of South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson explained that he had emulated Tebow when the latter was a University of Florida Gator and while the future USC QB was still in the ninth grade.
Thompson summarized the lesson he has learned from Tebow: "No matter who you are, you can be an ordinary person that God can do extraordinary things through."
Tebow took the stage to the music of "Eye of the Tiger" and a rousing ovation. He recounted some of the extraordinary faith connections that people have drawn from his football successes, but he also talked about the pivotal role a streaker had played in the 2011 season while Tebow was leading a Broncos victory over the Jets.
We were down with maybe three minutes to go and they had pinned us back at our own five-yard line and we had to go 95 yards to win the game. So we spread it out and they kind of let me do my thing. I'm running around the field and we go on this long drive. I take a lot of pride in being in the best possible shape I can be in, but I was playing so hard on every single play and I was pretty exhausted. We were going no huddle, so by the time we got to the other side of the field, I was exhausted and I couldn't catch my breath . . . Instead of coming back to the line and telling the offensive line the call, I was just saying, "Same play! Same play!" because I could't get it out and so we get down to their, I think, 29-yard line and its third and four, the biggest play of the game . . . It's a huge play. I'm getting ready to call for the ball and I could barely breathe and catch my breath and all of a sudden I see one of the fans jump out of the stands and start streaking across the field. Most of the time [when something like that happens] you turn to one of your buddies and start laughing and maybe joke about it, but, no, I just said "Thank you Lord!" . . . During the TV timeout I go to the sidelines and catch my breath and we go back on the field for the third and four play; they blitz everybody and I get around the edge and run for the game-winning touchdown and it was pretty fun. I guess some people might call it divine intervention.
That supernatural reference was a joke, but Tebow explained that he never anticipated how far-reaching his faith-fueled exploits would be.
Tebow wryly pointed out that his decision to stencil the biblical passage John 3:16 into his eye blackener for the 2009 BCS title game (after donning Philippians 4:13 for much of the regular season) did not initially go over well with coach Urban Meyer, whom Tebow described as "so superstitious." Tebow reenacted the exchange:
Meyer was flabbergasted: "What?! What are you talking about?! Philippians 4:13 got us here! You can't change it now!"
Tebow reassured Meyer that the verse "didn't get us here" and the coach relented and supported the decision. Two days after the Gator championship victory, Meyer received a call from a PR person for the Gators while sharing a celebratory lunch with Tebow and his parents:
"He looked at me and said, 'Timmy, did you realize that during that game 94 million people Googled John 3:16?'"
Three years to the day of that event on January 8, 2012, Tebow would unwittingly evoke the same passage.
After the Broncos' stunning overtime defeat of the Steelers, Tebow was stopped by a Broncos PR person. Tebow told the Greenville audience that he was impatient to get to the press conference so that he could sooner spend time with his family, but he stopped in his tracks when he heard the statistical connections to John 3:16:
"You threw for 316 yards, your yards per completion were 31.6, your yards per rush were 3.16, the time of possession was 31.6 and the peak ratings of the night were 31.6, and during that game 90 million people Googled John 3:16. And it's trending on Facebook and Twitter." And man, was I humbled of what the God that we serve can do with our lives.
It was also during that game that Tebow was startled by the faith of an opponent, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
With five minutes left in the game, Polamalu tackled Tebow on a read-option play and inadvertently ripped off a bracelet Tebow had received from a girl with cancer. In some lighthearted trash talk, Tebow complained to Polamalu about his insensitivity. Tebow claims that Polamalu was incongruously earnest in his response.
I'm just kind of kidding when I get up and I look at Troy and I say,"Man, a girl with cancer just gave me that and you broke it." And I"m expecting him to say something that I wouldn't repeat, especially here, and he looks at me and puts his hand on my shoulder and says, "Aw, Timmy, I'm so sorry. But God bless you, man." And I was like, "Yeah, God bless you too, freak." But it was cool for me in an intense moment in one of the biggest games of both our seasons that year that someone else who was a huge example to me and was trying to live out his faith in a pretty cool way. And I didn't know this at the time, but I came to find out that Troy prays after every single play, and I just thought what a cool example that is.
Tebow has also known his share of professional setbacks. In the 2012 season with the New York Jets, he mainly languished on the bench. When the Jets released him this summer, he remained an unwanted man for much of the offseason, until the Patriots signed him for no guaranteed money. Asked to consider the hard times that men in the audience might be facing in their own lives, Tebow reflected on what helped him persevere through his trials:
A lot of support from family and friends, but more than anything the scriptures that I have in my heart: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord: plans for welfare, not calamity, to give you a future and a hope." "For in me you have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world." He didn't say that on accident. He said that on purpose . . . . So there are a lot of things we can worry about, guys. There are a lot of obstacles, a lot of trials, there is a lot of tribulation, there is a lot of hardship in our lives, but God is saying, "I got your back. I've got a plan for you" . . . . You need to know that if you don't know what your future holds, you can know who holds your future. Because He's got it.
Tebow's football future arguably remains less clear now than it did when he first came into the league, but his faith seems to have Tebow believing that anything is possible. And he's drawing on both his highlights and lowlights to convince others of the same thing.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless stated otherwise.