The blowback had become too much.
Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch(notes), who after a second-quarter sack of Denver quarterback Tim Tebow(notes) struck the "Tebowing" pose – praying on one knee – had become the center of a growing controversy that'd he crossed the line and mocked Tebow's religion.
"I have a love & passion for the game of football," Tulloch wrote on Twitter Monday morning. "Football is a form of entertainment. Have a sense of humor. I wasn't mocking GOD!"
This is where the Tebow phenomenon, already over-the-top considering he's a replacement quarterback on a horrible NFL team, goes to a new level.
And this is where Tebow's throngs of fans and admirers have to step back and relax. They can't have it both ways.
If they are overjoyed that football has allowed Tebow to very purposefully and very publicly promote his faith (and it has), then they can't get up in arms if another player makes fun of his actions in a very purposeful and very public way.
This is the NFL; just about everything is fair game. And while things such as religion, race or ethnicity would often fall into the "unfair" category, Tulloch wasn't bashing Evangelical Christianity.
If later this year he sacks the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers(notes) and then signals he's wearing a pro wrestling championship belt, he's mocking Rodger's touchdown dance (or is it the "Discount Double Check"?) – not saying the WWE shouldn't exist.
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It's great that Tebow's intention seems pure when he makes on-field – or sideline – displays of prayer. However, they are still displays. They are still something out of the ordinary.
This is the NFL; if you want to shut up the other guys, then you beat them.
Sunday Denver lost 45-10, the Christian thrown to the Lions.
Tebow has expressed no issue with this stuff. Not now and not through his entire career. His fans should follow suit.
The quarterback has always been comfortable in his faith, even as his public displays of it have made some uncomfortable. It's almost the beauty of it. He's so relaxed that it feels natural. It's tough to bash him for it.
Some do, of course.
"Religion stays in the locker room with the lords prayer," Lions tight end Tony Scheffler wrote on Twitter. "… football's a nasty GAME … deal with it."
Subsequently, anything Tebow related inspires such intense reaction. Sunday was filled with sack dances, touchdown dances, first-down dances, even five-yard gain dances.
Only one got any attention.
Tebow wore Bible verses on his eye-black at the University of Florida. He proudly told of stories of preaching to prisoners in America and circumcising babies in the Philippines. When he was asked at SEC media days prior to his senior year of college whether he was a virgin, he didn't flinch, welcoming the chance to offer the world an answer.
"Yes, I am," he responded.
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A lot of people went crazy at that, claiming the question shouldn't have been asked. Tebow said he appreciated the opportunity to discuss it and laughed at the other media who were uncomfortable. He said he'd been asked that before when speaking to youth groups.
"Y'all can't even ask a question," Tebow said that day. "I was ready for the question, but I don't think y'all were."
Tebow has always understood that this is a two-way street; he's always been more at ease with the stuff than the masses on either side of the debate. He's never sought, nor expected, protection.
He's willingly put himself out there, using his fame as a football player to promote his beliefs.
And he's well aware that if you're going to jump out there like that, you better be ready to answer every question, deal with every taunt and brush off any sack dance.
Religion is, and always has been, a third rail in this country. Tebow fans see what he's done as good and wholesome. That's fine, even the most spirited Tebow critic on the field struggles to find a fault in how he carries himself off the field.
In years of covering him, I've always felt he did a masterful and respectful job of putting his faith in front of people's faces, but not in their face.
It is, however, still out there.
Some would claim Tebow's public displays of prayer are not "look-at-me" moments but "look-at-God" ones. Others, of course, would note that it could be "look-at-me," as in, look at how devout I am.
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It's a matter of perspective and there is no question Tebow is benefiting financially from his position as football's most religious figure (and it's worth noting the league is filled with the highly-religious).
Very few people think Tebow is doing this for the money, however.
Either way, there is a reason Tebowing became an overnight phenomenon. It may have more meaning than other vapid celebrations, but in the NFL any phenomenon is begging to be teased.
Tulloch seized on it. He said it was good-natured.
It's the nature of the game – football and faith.
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