Pro football players have made their religious faiths public for decades -- the Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s were pretty outspoken about it, to be specific -- but it's safe to say that no football player at any level, in the history of the game, has transcended his on-field doings and connected with fans in a spiritual sense more than Tim Tebow. On Easter Sunday, the Tebow brand made its way to a church in Georgetown, Texas, so that the quarterback could take questions from pastor Joe Champion of Celebration Church.
"I think it's exactly what we wanted to have happen," Champion said. "We had people coming from all over the region; even from out of state. One lady drove 17 hours from Indianapolis with her two daughters, and Tim just did an outstanding job of sharing Easter and the life of Christ in his personal testimony. We were just thrilled with everything about [the service]."
Tebow, who requested the opportunity to speak, hit the stage at the huge service to passionate applause from those in attendance, and the attendees who could not see him on stage because he was too far away were helped by giant video screens.
"In Christianity, it's the Pope and Tebow right now," Champion said. "We didn't have enough room to handle the Pope."
In addition to those who drove from all over to be at the service, there were over 100 school buses there, shuttling in more believers.
When it was Tebow's turn to speak, the former Denver Broncos and current New York Jets quarterback reaffirmed his conviction that he would be public about his Christian beliefs. "It's OK to be outspoken about your faith," he said.
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Tebow then took a shot at those athletes who claim that they're not role models, or act in ways that would not be worthy of the title, in his mind.
"Yes you are. You're just not a good one."
When asked by Champion what needed to change culturally in America, Tebow echoed the thoughts common to most arch-conservative thought processes. "First and foremost is what this country was based on: one nation under God. The more that we can get back to that."
It is not known what Tebow thinks of the separation of church and state, but that's another matter best left for a time in which Tebow aligns his beliefs with a political cause -- if he ever does. One begins to wonder how far we are away from that.
The pull Tebow has with America right now -- especially the right and religious right -- seems to far outstrip the numbers of people who mock the "Tebow thing." With a presidential election coming up soon, and a hard battle on the Republican side, it will be interesting to see if Tebow allows himself to be a spokesperson for any particular candidate.
Perhaps he won't, believing that matters of faith are more important. Or, perhaps we'll be saved from a throng of presidential hopefuls readying their "Tebow's With Me!" propaganda bombs by the blessings of the NFL schedule, which will have Tebow working hard this fall to take a job that currently belongs to Mark Sanchez.
No matter how far Tebow wants to take the effects of his faith on America, and where he wants to apply them, the reach on Americans hungry for a voice matching their own can not be overstated.
Debbie Sandoval came to the Easter service with her husband and two sons. The Sandovals are not regulars at Celebration Church, but they would not miss an opportunity to hear Tebow speak.
"I love that boy ... he's like my third son ... everything about this young man's extraordinary life is special," she told the Associated Press.
Mike Benaglio, in attendance with his wife, Debbie, was succinct and correct about the ways in which most people have taken Tebow as a symbol. It is most certainly not about his throwing motion or completion percentage. Tebow has decided to take his NFL platform and use it in a certain way, and whether you like it or not, he has been wildly successful in doing so.
"I'm a fan of any pro athlete who stands up for his faith," he said. "We're thrilled to be part of this. It's not about football. Whatever gets more people over to the cross, I'm in favor of."
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