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Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) celebrates after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in overtime of an NFL wild card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, in Denver. (Chris Schneider/AP/Chris Schneider/AP)
Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) celebrates after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in overtime of an NFL wild card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, in Denver. (Chris Schneider/AP/Chris Schneider/AP)

David Shoalts

Like him or not, Tebow is exactly what the NFL needs Add to ...

Tim Tebow is the best thing to happen to sports fans in a long, long, time.

Yes, he is the most confounding winner to hit the scene since, well, who knows? His ability to create miracles leaves his Denver Broncos and their fans open-mouthed and delirious and his opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers this time, and their fans incredulous and angry. We lost to that freaking guy?

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But Tebow is the breath of fresh air the NFL and a lot of other professional sports, for that matter, needs.

A lot of people may object to Tebow’s proselytizing, the most obvious form being his celebratory kneel-in-prayer that we now call Tebowing. But riddle yourself this: when is the last time you saw an athlete, in football or anywhere else, celebrate an accomplishment by honouring someone other than himself?

The NFL became so infested by me-first guys it had to put in a rule against excessive celebrations. Not that it made much of a dent in the self-love.

Tebow, though, is the gift (from God, if you choose) that keeps on giving. Aside from the obvious benefits to the Broncos’ loyalists, the rookie quarterback is drawing a whole new group of fans to the NFL. His ability to pull wins out of nowhere attracts everyone from lapsed NFL fans to curious women. Tebow is also a one-man story bank for the media.

You have to go back to Billy Kilmer to find an NFL quarterback whose talent and statistics were routinely dismissed by the experts but who did nothing but win. When Tebow was drafted in 2010, there was no shortage of brusque media dismissals of his prospects.

When Tebow was given his chance to run the Broncos offence this season, more media laughter followed. Even as he led the Broncos to one improbable victory after another, somehow fashioning wins despite just a handful of completed passes, the story was it was just a matter of time before it ended.

In the last three weeks of the regular season it sure looked that way, as the Broncos just squeaked into the playoffs. John Elway, Denver’s last great quarterback who’s now a Broncos executive, said Tebow had to “pull the trigger” if the Steelers were to be defeated in the NFL playoffs on Sunday.

The Steelers showed their disrespect for Tebow’s passing ability by playing the Broncos to run on every first down. Broncos head coach John Fox and offensive co-ordinator Mike McCoy played into that disrespect by running on almost every first down and then stunning the Steelers with Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown strike to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.

The result left even those who watch Tebow all the time gob-smacked and those who don’t shaking their heads.

In true Tebow fashion, though, the quarterback also set up a great story line for the Broncos’ next playoff game against the New England Patriots. The Broncos will be facing their detested former head coach, Josh McDaniels, who is now a Patriots assistant.

McDaniels took all kinds of flak when he made sure the Broncos drafted Tebow and Thomas with their two first-round picks in 2010.

But one play into overtime on Sunday, it seems to have worked out all right.

Follow on Twitter: @dshoalts

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