The Christian Science Monitor asked me for an interview not long after the Steelers fell to the Tim Tebow-fueled Broncos in the 2011 AFC Divisional Playoffs.
It's odd when a publication as big as that wants to talk to a hack like myself, especially over, presumably, something I neither did nor had any control over. Still, it seemed interesting, so I agreed.
Perhaps my frustration over that game, and the ironically merciless taunts I had been receiving from Broncos and Tebow fans tuned me out to much of the postgame coverage. The writer informed me Tebow threw for 316 yards and had 31.6 yards per completion (ouch).
I slowly made the connection to what he was saying; the eerie connection with the Bible verse Tebow wore on his eyeblack in college, John 3:16. Tebow used to use Philipians 4:13 until the National Championship game in 2009. His Gators would end up defeating Oklahoma on Jan. 8, 2009 - three years to the day his Broncos would knock off the Steelers.
It's also the same verse "Rock 'n" Rollen Stewart wore on a t-shirt and a rainbow wig at national sporting events in the late 70s and 80s, gaining a modicum of national fame in the process.
John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
The writer seemed convinced there was some kind of connection between the appearance of the numbers 3, 1 and 6 in Tebow's stats. If he was looking for someone to affirm his belief, I'm sure he could have talked to a Broncos writer.
All I saw was a quarterback who completed 10 of 21 passes - incidentally, John 10:21 is "Others said, 'These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?'" which is also very odd to me - but those 10 completions went for a lot of yards.
I appreciated what the writer was trying to say, but just made a joke out of what would happen if Tebow had thrown for 420 yards. He didn't seem to get it, and to my memory, that quote didn't make the final copy.
We had a good conversation, though. It shifted at that point to the writer asking me if I felt Tebow's success and popularity would help or hurt his staying power as a quarterback. I said it's hard to say anything on this topic without sounding bitter, but objectively speaking, I think his receiver (DeMaryius Thomas, who had 204 yards and the game-winning touchdown) was the MVP of that game. Tebow made plays when his team needed, and I'm not taking anything away from him, I really enjoyed watching him play during the regular season, but I'm not sold on him as a starting quarterback in the NFL. I loved the way he didn't just lead his teams to wins, he advanced on them and conquered them, like a platoon commander seizing a hill.
He then asked me what I figured it would eventually get around to; my faith, and whether it - or maybe a lack thereof - causes my doubts over his ability to play quarterback in the NFL.
He was very polite - friendly even - and professional. He wasn't trying to start an argument. I skirted past the faith issue and asked him if he knew Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
By all accounts, the most spiritual man on the Steelers' roster. An Eastern Orthodox Christian, Polamalu makes the sign of the cross after every play, and is oftentimes seen doing it on the sideline. He doesn't do this as a means to display his faith, as Tebow did with 3:16 eyeblack in college. He does it, as he's said, to help keep him focused. He rarely goes an interview without mentioning his faith as a response, not as provocation.
He seems as genuinely spiritual as any person I've ever seen. This isn't to suggest Tebow is a fraud at all, I just wanted to point out a display of faith that didn't carry with it the mega-wattage of the media spotlight, the way Tebow's does.
I came across this story recently, a first-hand account of Tebow speaking at the 2013 Wildfire "Men's Impact Weekend" in Greenville, S.C. The writer transcribed an anecdote Tebow told about Polamalu during that infamous Jan. 8, 2012, playoff game.
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.
It's a great story, but the part that grabs me is Tebow saying he didn't know Polamalu is known for praying after every single play. The smallish nets of BTSC won't spread that message further, even if the most iconic football player in history is the one saying it.
Maybe the fact I've been more or less worshiping the Pittsburgh Steelers for the better part of my life, and have seen every play of Polamalu's Hall of Fame career, leads me to be one of the few people who is fairly indifferent toward Tebow's faith, gets excited watching him play but still derides his abilities as a quarterback.
Polamalu spreads a message that resonates more with me, but I have no issue with people who root for Tebow because of his faith.
I'm not threatened by either Tebow's faith or those who feel it's forced upon them. I just believe those who look for what they need end up finding it. Tebow's outspoken yin meshes with Polamalu's reserved yang.
None of these things means Tebow will replace former Patriots TE/HB Aaron Hernandez, but that's a different story.