Dan Shanoff gives himself the quote of the day on Tebow (he wrote it for Tebow's graduation):
Tebow is unlike any player in the history of college football -- no player has ever come close to combining mythic on-field performance with mythic off-field performance in the way Tebow has.
It all starts with what he does on the field -- there are plenty of athletes devoted to community service. Few of them are considered among the best of all time in their sport. At the same time, there have been plenty of superstar athletes; few of them -- if any -- are as visibly committed to community service as Tebow is.
Because of Tebow's success on the field, his prolific off-field work gets increased attention. Then it becomes a virtuous cycle.
Part of it is that Tebow's off-field accomplishments are so neatly captured for today's media age: "He ministers to prisoners!" "He performs circumcisions on orphans!" "He is ambushed by TMZ.com and leaves them wishing humanity happy holidays!" All of these things can be passed around endlessly via YouTube, sports blogs and TV. Small details quickly become defining mythologies.
But part of it is that his transparent life resonates with people -- even non-fans -- who constantly battle with what we see as inauthenticity all around us. Tebow walks the talk. The same week Tiger Woods is busted for allegedly having multiple mistresses, Tim Tebow is crying on the sidelines after a devastating loss.
It isn't just people who share his religious values, either -- although that is a large part of his core constituency. His secular appeal is that he puts others first, whether he is taking 15 minutes to sign autographs for fans who stop him on campus or helping the Powder Puff group raise money for a new Shands pediatric unit.
But it's not just a single example of those things. It is constant, everyday and part of who he is as a person. It is additive and self-reinforcing. And fans are attracted to that kind of consistency of values in the same way they were attracted to his on-field cheerleading theatrics. Because we feel that's who he really is.
Ultimately, Tebow is such an obvious example of who the rest of us would like to be that he makes fans feel better about themselves for rooting for him. Partly, people want to cheer for a highlight-spinning, game-winning football hero. But what sets Tebow apart is that we want to cheer for the convict-ministering, baby-circumcising humanist, too.
Photo: Gainesville Sun