There has been one conversation in Colorado this week, from the high country in the mountains to the sprawling city of Denver: The miracle of Tim Tebow meets the reality of Tom Brady.
Football is religion in Colorado and an editorial cartoonist on Saturday captured the mood perfectly. The cartoon pictured a tiny Tim Tebow, the most famous evangelic Christian in America, tossing a football labelled “belief” in his left hand, staring confidently up at a hulking figure, with Patriots emblazoned on the giant’s back.
“David vs. Goliath = Tebow Time.”
In one corner, Timmy Tebow, the Mile High Messiah, one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever, a surprise first-round pick, an NFL sophomore who experts still insist will be a failure. In the other, Tom Brady, a sixth-round draft choice, Hall of Fame bound, three Super Bowl Rings. It is a 24-year-old self-declared virgin versus a 34-year-old married to a supermodel. It is New England, 10-3, with the second-most offensive yards in the league and a defence that’s given up the most yards of any team. It is Denver, 8-5, with the NFL’s best rushing offence, the second-worst passing, and a so-so defence that is spectacular against the run.
But obviously it’s more than football. It is the intersection of religion and sport, money and violence. It is the story of America, encapsulated in one 60-minute game, to be played out this afternoon at Sports Authority Field across the South Platte River from downtown Denver, kickoff just after 2 p.m. Mountain Time, the sun bright, the sky mostly bluebird, a forecast high of 10 C.
The mood around the stadium was festival-like, as fans enjoyed the brilliant and unusually warm December Sunday - ideal tailgating weather. Smoke from barbeques billowed, beer cans were in most people's hands. And Tebow jerseys were everywhere, of course, though there were plenty of No. 12 Bradys, too.
Denver locals Carmella Trujilla and friend Denise Pettenger sported twin signs, "Tebow 3:16, For God so Loves the Broncos..."
"I love that he believes," said Pettenger. "Don't leave early is all I have to say!"
Trujilla, on Tebow: "He's brought great energy to the city, and football. His positive approach is what draws people to him."
Nearby, 21-year-old Erik Buysey had driven from Billings, Montana. He converted to Broncos fandom from backing Green Bay when John Elway heroically won Super Bowl XXXII, Denver's first. Buysey was shirtless, painted orange and blue with No. 15 on his chest.
"I love Tebow," he said. "He wins games. It may not be the prettiest. Wins are what matters."
With three games remaining in the regular-season schedule, a W is big for both teams. A win clinches the AFC East for New England and vaults the team towards home-field advantage through the conference playoffs. A win for Denver keeps it ahead of Oakland, with the Raiders right on the heels of a Broncos squad that had been widely predicted to easily secure last place in the AFC West.
Back then, in August, before Tebowing was a word, the truncated preseason after the lockout, Tebow was dealing with the usual flack. He can’t throw. His feet are at best clumsy after he takes a snap to drop into the pocket. Tebow was, as ever, confident in himself, and unwilling to lash back at the many, many critics.
The skeptics, it is widely assumed, included his own coach, John Fox, and John Elway, Broncos legend and the team’s executive vice-president of football operations. Both men were hired last January, after Josh McDaniels, the young coach that drafted Tebow, was fired. Of course, McDaniels knows something about winning quarterbacks, having coached Brady in New England for four years.
“They don’t know what I’m capable of and what’s inside me,” Tebow told reporters of the legions of detractors.
“My family and my friends have been bothered by what’s gone on, and I tell them to pay no attention to it. I’m relying as always on my faith.”