Tebow mania is spreading with every Denver Broncos win, one knee at a time.
Tim Tebow, a quarterback in his second season who combines football and faith on the field, has a 5-1 record as the Broncos’ starter, including three fourth-quarter comebacks. Replicas of his jersey are among the National Football League’s best-selling, and he has spawned a fad known as “Tebowing” through his kneel-and-pray pose after victories.
The Broncos’ offense is geared to Tebow’s strength as a runner while masking his weakness as a passer. The style has been criticized, with even Broncos coach John Fox saying, “If we were trying to run a regular offense, he’d be screwed.”
“We’re seeing something very unconventional,” Joe Theismann, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Washington Redskins who’s now an analyst for the NFL Network, said in a telephone interview. “For the traditionalists, you can sit there in denial all you want, but it’s happening right in front of you. And it’s fun.”
The Broncos are 6-5 after a 1-4 start to the season and trail the Oakland Raiders by one game in the American Football Conference West. They are on the road against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend.
Tebow’s No. 15 jersey is the second-best seller over the past two weeks at NFLShop.com, behind Aaron Rodgers of the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers. Tebow, 24, also has the sixth-best selling jersey this year, even though he started the season on the bench. The jersey prices range from about $85 to $115.
Marty Garafalo, the chief operating officer of Game Day Merchandising, estimated that half of sales at his three Broncos team stores are Tebow-related. The proportion is higher for children’s and women’s apparel, he said.
“There hasn’t been this much excitement for a player from a merchandise standpoint since John Elway retired,” Garafalo said in a telephone interview, referring to the Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles. “He’s pretty much taken this town now and he’s made believers out of a lot of people. Winning is a magic word.”
Tebow, who will be on the cover of the first edition of NFL Magazine on Dec. 13, was born in the Philippines while his parents were Baptist missionaries, and he readily shares his religious beliefs during interviews. After wins, he gets down on one knee with his head bowed in prayer.
The practice has given rise to imitators and a website that defines “Tebowing” as a verb meaning, “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.” It includes photos of people on one knee similar to Tebow in unlikely places: during the bridal dance at a wedding, in front of the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and on the kitchen floor in front of the Thanksgiving turkey in the oven. T-shirts with “Tebowing” and a silhouette of the quarterback are for sale on the site in Broncos’ blue and orange.
‘Tebowing’ on Ice
At New York’s Madison Square Garden, Boston University hockey player Ross Gaudet knelt on the ice in a Tebow-style pose after his overtime goal gave the Terriers a 2-1 victory against Cornell University on Nov. 26.
“What I thought about is that Tim Tebow is a winner, but it might not always be pretty the way he gets it done,” Gaudet said by telephone. “That’s kind of similar to myself. This year he definitely has turned me into a pretty big fan.”
Denver’s success isn’t a surprise to Tebow, who won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player at the University of Florida.
“We’re just believing, and it’s such a positive atmosphere,” Tebow told reporters this week. “It’s a special team when you got a bunch of guys that aren’t going good. We get closer instead of pulling apart.”
Tebow ranks 399th among more than 2,900 people in terms of endorsement appeal, on par with movie director George Lucas, golfer Phil Mickelson and television personality Stephen Colbert, according to the Dallas-based Marketing Arm, which compiles the Davie Brown Index that measures celebrity status in the U.S.
In terms of appeal, 80 percent of consumers like Tebow to some degree, said Chris Anderson of the Marketing Arm. The figure would be higher, Anderson, except that Tebow is “such a polarizing figure.”
Kurt Warner, who stressed his Christian faith during an NFL quarterback career that included a Super Bowl title, told the Arizona Republic last week that he’d advise Tebow to tone down the religious rhetoric so people don’t become calloused toward him.
Theismann said he questions how long Tebow’s on-field success can continue, pointing to previous unorthodox offensive and defensive systems that had initial success before opposing teams figured out a way to stop them.
The Broncos incorporate a so-called read-option offense with Tebow, a run-based system usually seen at the high school or college levels. In the Broncos’ most recent win, on Nov. 27 at San Diego, Tebow rushed for 67 yards on 22 carries, the most runs by an NFL quarterback since at least 1950, when the league started tracking the statistic.
Tebow’s passing accuracy is 45.5 percent this season, the worst in the NFL, while Rodgers of the Packers and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints have completed more than 70 percent of their passes. Yet Tebow has thrown only one interception in 143 passes -- the lowest rate in the NFL -- and has lost one fumble.
Fewer Points Scored
The Broncos are one of three teams with a winning record to have scored fewer points than they’ve allowed this season, along with the Oakland Raiders and the New York Giants. When scoring fewer than 20 points, the Broncos have a 4-2 record, while the NFL’s other 31 teams are a combined 20-111.
Theismann, who will be part of the NFL Network’s “Playbook” special on Tebow mania this weekend, said he appreciates the excitement and novelty appeal generated by the Broncos’ quarterback.
“We need to be a lot more open-minded,” Theismann said. “The circus is coming to town. Buy a ticket and go and enjoy it.”