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On Chuck Klosterman on Tim Tebow

Today on Grantland, Chuck Klosterman weighs in on Tebowmania.  I like Klosterman (at least I like Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and IV), but I’m not really sure what he’s doing here.  Or, rather, I know what he’s doing but I don’t understand why he’s doing it.  What he’s doing, essentially, is arguing that Tim Tebow’s (and NOT the Denver Broncos’) recent success is making some people uncomfortable because it calls into question the validity of their belief systems.  In other words, because somebody who doesn’t appear to have the physical skillset necessary to be a successful quarterback (but who looooves Jesus Christ) manages to nonetheless “win games,” it makes the skeptics (whether skeptical of his religious beliefs or skeptical of his long-term viability as a QB or skeptical of traditional scouting systems, probability, critical thinking, etc.) wonder if maybe everything they think they know is wrong.

To this I offer the most immature response I can muster: “balls.”  I thought about tweeting as much at @CKlosterman, but refrained.  I did ultimately tweet some reactions in his general direction and then I realized two things:

  1. Reaching out to him in this fashion is the nerd/hipster equivalent of dumb people tweeting dumb things to athletes and I should therefore be embarassed to have done so.
  2. I have a personal blog that is literally purpose built for those sorts of reactions, except without the reader’s benefit of a 140 character limit.

Let’s follow Mr. Klosterman through his reasoning.  Fair warning: this will be by leaps and bounds the longest piece on this blog (due mostly to the length of Klosterman’s piece).  TL;DR version = I think that people are sick of Tebow because 1) they’re sick of the constant evangelizing and 2) he’s given an inordinate amount of credit for the Broncos success.  For the 6,000+ word version, hit the jump.  All quoted passages are from the Grantland article.

I’ve just watched the Denver Broncos defeat the Minnesota Vikings, 35-32. Tebow was awful in the first half, passing for just 13 yards. He was quite good in the second half, finishing 10-of-15 for the game and completing three passes of more than 20 yards, a minor achievement he hadn’t accomplished all year.

If by “quite good,” you mean he didn’t throw any interceptions, then you’re right.  This is pretty much the greatest quantifiable contribution Tebow makes to the team (and it’s by no means unimportant).  Although that’s a pretty low bar by which to measure a professional quarterback.  Still, you can win in the NFL with a mediocre quarterback as long as he doesn’t turn the ball over.

The Broncos won by intercepting a pass in the final minute and kicking an easy field goal, so it would be misleading and reactionary and inaccurate to say that Tebow won them the game. But Tebow won them the game.

I get that this sort of contradiction is a rhetorical device used to set up the rest of your article, but this is the sort of thing that bugs me about a lot of the writing on Grantland: making a statement that alludes to some sort of underlying principle/truth and then not addressing it (see here for my least favorite example).  Tebow wasn’t a factor on that last drive whatsoever, except for his -2 yard rush on the Minnesota 3 yard line right before they kicked a game winning field goal.  If we give QBs 100% credit for passing touchdowns, then Tebow himself was responsible for only 14 (6×2 for two TDs, 2×1 for his 2 pt conversion run) out of the 35 points his team scored in four quarters of football.  Hard to argue that Tebow won the game based on those numbers, so I’m really looking for some backup to Klosterman’s statement.  He doesn’t provide any (because it’s not true).

When the score was deadlocked at 32 and the Broncos were kicking off with 1:33 remaining, FOX idiotically broke away from the tie in Minneapolis to show us the opening kickoff of the Giants-Packers game.

Yes, how idiotic for Klosterman’s local FOX affiliate (he lives in NYC) to break away from a game featuring two weak teams without significant national followings and replace it with the scheduled game between local favorites the New York Giants and still-perfect super team the Green Bay Packers.  God, it’s almost like FOX is concerned with ratings, or quality football, or showing the game that people tuning in were expecting to see or something, when they should really be concerned with the outcome of an essentially meaningless game, except for any meaning one can derive from parsing the semiotics of a mediocre game manager more notable for his ostentatious religiosity than his quarterbacking ability.

When the score was deadlocked at 32 and the Broncos were kicking off with 1:33 remaining, FOX idiotically broke away from the tie in Minneapolis to show us the opening kickoff of the Giants-Packers game. Since I couldn’t see what was transpiring in Minnesota, I just had to sit in my chair and wonder what would happen next. Did I believe Denver would win? I shouldn’t have. Minnesota was getting the ball with multiple timeouts. It’d been the better team for most of the afternoon. Chris Ponder had outplayed Tebow, and the best athlete on the field was Percy Harvin. The worst-case scenario for the Vikings should have been heading into overtime with a home-field advantage. Yet I believed Denver would win.

My reasoning?

I had no reasoning. And I did not like how that felt, even though I’m trying to convince myself that it felt good.

You didn’t like how it felt because you believed something even though the odds suggested the opposite.  In other words, you recognized that your instinctual reaction to a situation was akin to taking the dumb side of a bet.  You’re trying to convince yourself that it felt good because otherwise there’s no positive takeaway to your instincts running counter to logic and reason.

Klosterman next creates a story of a hypothetical murder investigation, which is, as far as I can tell, supposed to be an allegory for faith (i.e. belief in a phenomenon without supporting empirical evidence).  Here it is, without interruption:

Imagine that you’re a detective, assigned to investigate a murder in a community of 1,000 people. There’s no established motive for this crime, and no one saw it happen. By the time you arrive, the body has already been cremated. There are no clues. There is no forensic evidence. You can’t find anything that sheds any light whatsoever on who committed this murder. But because there are only 1,000 people in town, you have the opportunity to interview everyone who lives there. And that process generates a bizarre consensus: Almost 800 of the 1,000 citizens believe the murderer is a local man named Timothy.

Over and over again, you hear different versions of the same sentiment: “Timothy did it.” No one saw him do it, and no one can provide a framework for how he might have been successful. But 784 people are certain it was Timothy. A few interviewees provide sophisticated, nuanced theories as to why they’re so convinced of his guilt. Others simply say, “I can just tell it was him. I know it.” Most testimonies fall somewhere in between those extremes, but no one has any tangible proof. You knock on Timothy’s door and ask if you can talk to him about the crime. He agrees. He does not seem nervous or distraught. You ask what he was doing the evening of the murder. He says, “I was reading a book and watching a movie.” He shows you the book. You check the TV listings from the night of the murder, and the film he referenced had aired on television. You say, “Many people in this town think you are responsible for the killing.” Timothy says, “I have no idea why they would think that.” You ask if he knew the man who died. “Yes,” he replies. “I know everyone in town.” You ask if he disliked the victim. “I didn’t like him or dislike him,” he says. “I knew him. That was the extent of our relationship.”

After six months of investigating, you return to your home office. Your supervisor asks what you unearthed. “Nothing,” you say. “I have no evidence of anything. I did not find a single clue.” The supervisor is flummoxed. He asks, “Well, do you have any leads?” You say, “Sort of. For reasons I cannot comprehend, 784 of the citizens believe the killer is a man named Timothy. But that’s all they have — their belief that Timothy is guilty.”

“That seems meaningful,” says your supervisor. “In the face of no evidence, the fact that 78.4 percent of the town strongly believes something seems like our best case. We can’t arrest him, but we can’t ignore that level of accord. It’s beyond a coincidence. Let’s keep the case open. I feel like we should continue investigating this Timothy fellow, even if our only reason for suspicion is the suspicion of other people.”

Do you agree with your supervisor’s argument?

Assuming I believed that I had conducted a fulsome investigation and turned up no evidence whatsoever, then no, I don’t, because it has all the appearances of a massive waste of time. The unsubstantiated beliefs of masses of people are hardly enough to motivate me to continue an investigation that has turned up no evidence beyond hearsay.  Maybe years later, after completing my metamorphosis into a jaded and alcoholic cop who was haunted by this perfectly executed crime, I would reinvestigate, but for now, I’m outie.  Life’s too short.

A survey by the Pew Forum on religious and public life suggests the 78.4 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians.

I see what you did there.  I could be pedantic, though, and point out that “Christian” can mean a number of things, least of all degree of seriousness of belief.  Which is to say nothing of the fact that, in general, Christianity cannot, as a rule, be empirically proven or disproven, whereas Tim’s guilt or innocence can be, at least theoretically.  More specifically, for the true believer, a plausible alternative explanation to the Creation myth is literally inconceivable.  Unlike with non-falsifiable faith systems, we can point to Tim Tebow’s limited abilities as a passer and conclude that he’s not a great quarterback.  We can point to the fact that the Broncos didn’t call a single passing play on that last drive and conclude that his coaches don’t seem to think Tebow can single-handedly win games either.

I’m not interested in forwarding a pro-Tebow or anti-Tebow argument. I have my own feelings, but I don’t think they’re particularly relevant. What I’m interested in is why he’s so fascinating to other people.

He’s fascinating because he’s a QB of mediocre (for a professional QB) talent who is nonetheless credited for his team’s victories despite the fact that there’s a lot else going on out there.  He’s fascinating because he unapologetically wears his Christian faith on his sleeve like it’s a captain’s armband.  He makes a spectacle out of being a Christian athlete.  He’s like the Christian Rock version of Chad Ochocinco.

The nature of sports lends itself to the polarization of celebrity athletes.

Not true.  For instance, I am completely ambivalent about Dwayne Wade, despite the fact that he’s a talented player on a Knicks rival team.  I’m sure millions of people are similarly completely ambivalent about Tim Tebow.  It’s the nature of the sports media, not sports itself, to represent and consider athletes in such polarizing terms.  After all, nobody’s going to read a Grantland article about the blandness of Tyler Palko.  Although if the Chiefs bizarrely started winning and the sports media were to discuss Tyler Palko over and over again, despite his still being a mediocre quarterback, then people might get fascinated in him, too.

In 1996, when Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to face the flag during the national anthem, it was easy to understand why certain people were outraged (and why others saw that outrage as hypocritical). It was predictably polarizing. There are certain (crazy) things about human nature that everyone accepts, and Abdul-Rauf’s controversy fit into that understanding.  But this “Tebow Thing” is different.

Is it not predictable that people would think a quarterback who gets a gold star from journalists any time he completes a pass of 20 yards is overrated and maybe getting too much of a pass from analysts?  Is it not predictable that a healthy portion of the country would roll their eyes at a guy who insists on praising God when asked about what he thinks of his performance?

On one pole, you have people who hate him because he’s too much of an in-your-face good person, which makes very little sense

It makes very little sense because it’s not true.  People don’t “hate him” (if anybody besides non-UF SEC fans truly “hates” him) because he’s too good of a person, whatever that means.  People “hate him” because they find his constant evangelism obnoxious.  People are sick of hearing about him because they don’t believe that he’s the reason the Broncos are winning, despite what the media keeps repeating.

at the other pole, you have people who love him because he succeeds at his job while being uniquely unskilled at its traditional requirements, which seems almost as weird.

Really?  I would be very surprised if there was anyone out there who liked Tebow specifically because he wasn’t suited to his position but was doing well anyway.  Maybe it “seems almost as weird” because it’s not true.  Based on what I can see from my Facebook news feed every Sunday in the wake of a Denver win, there are two main reasons to like Tebow:

  1. He’s a Christian and Christians view his success as either incontrovertible proof of the accuracy of their religious beliefs or a pleasant F.U. to atheists
  2. You appreciate the good trolling power he has over his critics (in fact, Denver winning with Tebow is the 2nd best troll of the year.  The best, of course, is that Jerry Sandusky’s memoirs were titled “Touched.”)

Obviously, religion plays a role in this (we live in a Christian nation, Tebow is a Christian warrior, non-Christians see themselves as ostracized, and Christians see themselves as eternally persecuted). But the real reason this “Tebow Thing” feels new is because it’s a God issue that transcends God, assuming it’s possible for any issue to transcend what’s already transcendent. I’m starting to think it has something to do with the natural human discomfort with faith — and not just faith in Christ, but faith in anything that might (eventually) make us look ridiculous.

Is there a natural human discomfort with faith?  I thought ~80% of the townsfolk were cool with believing Tim murdered that guy despite having no evidence to suggest this?  And given the fact that religious faith has manifested itself in just about every single culture in the history of mankind, I think it’s a pretty tough argument to make that humans are naturally uncomfortable with faith.  I guess it would have made young women on Salem stakes a bit uncomfortable, but it seems like everyone else is pretty down with the idea.

As for a “God issue that transcends God…” what?  I agree that it’s all sort of a God issue because people’s like or dislike for Tebow correlates roughly to their belief or disbelief in the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, but going on to argue that it’s really all about our discomfort with faith doesn’t mean we’re “transcending God” so much as “talking about something else completely that’s, if anything, subordinate to the existence of God.”

Just because a bunch of people believe something does not make it true. This is obvious, even to a child. People once thought the earth was flat.  But here’s a more complex scenario: If you were living in Greece during the sixth century, and there was no way to deduce what the true shape of the earth was, and there was no way to validate or contradict the preexisting, relatively universal belief that the world was shaped like a flat disc … wouldn’t disagreeing with that theory be less reasonable than accepting it? And if so, wouldn’t that mean the only sixth-century people who were ultimately correct about world geography were unreasonable and insane?

Trust the insane!

Ignoring the fact that the Greeks were measuring the circumference of the (round) earth before Tebow’s messiah was a babe in a manger, what does “reasonability” have to do with any of this?  Saying it’s reasonable to assume the sun orbits a flat earth because that’s what perception tells you is a far cry from saying it’s reasonable to assume that the Broncos are winning thanks to Tim Tebow because WE CAN WATCH HIM PLAY AND WE KNOW THAT THIS ISN’T TRUE.  We can see the awful mechanics, the short passes, the conservative playcalling and the sacks and we can interpret all of this information to mean that Tebow isn’t that talented, but that alone isn’t enough to lose football games.  Making an assumption about the physical workings of the universe based on your interpretation of physical phenomenon is very different from magical sports thinking.

Tebow is a faithful person. He’s full of faith — filled to the top and oozing over the side. It’s central to every part of him. When someone suggested that he mentions God too frequently (and that this repetition is what annoys his critics), Tebow said, “If you’re married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only tell your wife that you love her on the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and have the opportunity? That’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ.” This is probably the smartest retort I’ve ever heard an athlete give to a theological question. What possible follow-up could the reporter have asked that would not have seemed anti-wife?

I don’t believe that Klosterman actually thinks that’s the smartest retort he’s ever heard on the subject.  Not just because tons of athletes have offered intelligent statements about their faith, but because Tebow’s metaphor is retarded.

Let’s say your friend tells you that he tells his wife every day that he loves her.  You think to yourself “that’s sweet” or whatever.  You decide that you’re going to do the same from now on with your wife, because you think she’ll appreciate it and because if you love somebody, maybe you should let them know every single day (then again, I think most people would get pretty sick of the clinginess).

Now imagine that in addition to that, your friend and his wife make out in front of you like a pair of 9th graders whenever you guys hang out.

Now imagine that your friend is Tebow, his wife is Jesus Christ and you are me.  Does that help you understand why it’s annoying to some of us?  It’s not annoying that Tebow whispers sweet nothings to Jesus, it’s annoying that he tells us all about it all the time.

And this, I think, is what makes Tebow so maddening to those who hate him: He refuses to say anything that would validate the suspicion that he’s fake (or naïve or self-righteous or dumb).

Personally, I think that just about any statement rooted in Christianity is at best naïve, but whatever.  As for “the suspicion that he’s fake,” I’m not even aware of this phenomenon.  Unless you mean the suspicion that he’s a fake NFL quarterback, which isn’t so much a suspicion as a conclusion drawn from the fact that his team runs the option.  Or that this was the first game all year where he completed more than 50% of his passes.

Could I complete 50% of my passes in an NFL game?  No, of course not.  But then again, I’m not an NFL quarterback.

My guess is that Ryan Fitzpatrick or Aaron Rodgers would blow him away on the GRE, but Tebow has profound social intelligence, at least when he speaks in public.  It’s not that he usually says the right things; he only says the right things, all the time.

Only the right things?  Profound social intelligence?  Who are you and what have you done with Chuck Klosterman?  Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in Godless New York, but I don’t see how praising God at all times and saying “God bless you” to national reporters demonstrates a ”profound social intelligence.”  Don’t get me wrong: based on how he presents himself in post-game interviews, he seems like a pleasant, humble young man and I doubt his “god bless yous” are even one bit cynical.

But being humble and self-effacing in interviews isn’t an indicator of profound social intelligence – it’s simply the hallmark of any professional football player who isn’t a WR, Ndamokung Suh or other sort of basket case.  Seriously, watch just about any player interview, post-game or otherwise, and note how BORING it is.  All of these guys say only “the right things” because they’re trained by media handlers.

As for Tebow himself, his interviews seem to play out exactly how I’d expect any interview with an evangelical Christian to play out.  He says that he doesn’t judge anybody and that at all times he’s trying to glorify God.  I don’t know why this warrants special praise.

As a result, he fuels a quasi-tautological reality that makes his supporters ecstatic, even if they don’t accept it as wholly valid. This reality is as follows:

        1. Tebow is a good person who loves God
        2. Tebow throws many incompletions and makes curious, unorthodox decisions
        3. The Broncos’ defense keeps every game tight. Underrated RB Willis McGahee eats the clock
        4. The Broncos inevitably win in the closing minutes
        5. Tebow humbly thanks God for this achievement (and for all achievements), thereby crediting God for what just happened (and for what happens to everyone on earth)
        6. Tebow connects God to life
      7. Tebow is a good person who loves God.

Well gee whiz, Chuck, sounds to me like saying the “right thing” would have been to thank his Defense and McGahee for making up for his shortcomings.

I doubt many Christians believe that God is unfairly helping Tebow win games in the AFC West. I’m sure a few hardcores might, but not many. However, I get the impression that especially antagonistic secularists assume this assumption infiltrates every aspect of Tebow’s celebrity, and that explains why he’s so beloved by strangers they cannot relate to.

That might be true, I can’t say for sure.  However, I think what “secularists” (I assume he means “atheists”) assume is that Tebow wouldn’t be nearly as popular (or, for that matter, unpopular…or, come to think of it, even playing at all) if he didn’t advertise his religion so frequently.

Their negative belief is that penitent, conservative Americans look at Tebow and see a man being “rewarded” for his faith, which validates the idea that believing in something abstract is more important than understanding something real.

Are you suggesting that penitent, conservative Americans don’t look at Tebow and see a man being rewarded for his faith?  I don’t have the stats to back it up, but I’m faithful that this is precisely what happens.  Regardless, whether or not this happens or not does not in any way whatsoever “[validate] the idea that believing in something abstract is more important than understanding something real.”

And this makes them worried about the future, because they see that thinking everywhere. It seems like the thinking that ran this country into the ground.

Well, yes, our irrational belief that home prices would grow forever did run this country into the ground.  Jeez, before I thought that magical thinking would only serve to hurt some football teams in the long run, but now I’m reminded that magical thinking can ruin nations.

It’s difficult to take an “anti-faith” position.

It is not even remotely difficult to take an “anti-faith” position.  Come on.

There’s no pejorative connotation of the word faithful.

Not without context, at least.  For instance “he’s faithful to his wife” has no pejorative connotation, unless the rest of us know that his wife isn’t faithful to him, in which case he’s a sucker who would benefit from opening his eyes.  Likewise, “he’s a faithful Christian” has no perjorative connotation, per se, until we also say “who just cast the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade,” in which case he’s kind of an asshole whose faith is going to endanger women’s lives.

The only time “faith” seems negative is when it’s prefaced by the word “blind.”

See above.

But blind faith is the only kind of faith there is.

…so “faith” always seems negative/pejorative?

In order for someone’s faith to be meaningful, it has to be blind. Anyone can believe a hard fact that everyone already accepts. That’s easy. If you can see something, you don’t need faith. Faith in the seeable is meaningless.

That depends on your epistemological standards.  Logical positivists assert that we cannot claim knowledge of anything unless we can demonstrate it empirically.  For instance, the claim that “all swans are white” is rejected by the logical positivist standard, because we cannot demonstrate empirically that there does not exist a black swan (besides Mila Kunis).  Such a standard is likely too rigorous, though, so we can take it on faith that (based on our observations of numerous swans in the wild all being white) all swans are white.

But meaningful faith is dangerous.

Ugh.  I submit that this sentence must be among the worst Chuck has ever written.  I can’t know that for sure, though; I’ll just take it on faith…meaningful faith.

It simplifies things that aren’t simple. Throughout the 20th century, there were only two presidents who won reelection with a bad economy and high unemployment: FDR in 1936 and Reagan in 1984. In both cases, the incumbent presidents were able to argue that their preexisting plans for jump-starting the economy were better than the hypothetical plans of their opponents (Alf Landon and Walter Mondale, respectively). Both incumbents made a better case for what they intended to do, and both enjoyed decisive victories. In 2012, Barack Obama will face a similar situation. But what will happen if his ultimate opponent provides no plan for him to refute? What if his opponent merely says, “Have faith in me. Have faith that I will figure everything out and that I can fix the economy, because I have faith in the American people. Together, we have faith in each other.”

I think that the President would be licking his chops if the Republican nominee came out and simply said “have faith in me” about the single biggest issue in the election.  That will probably be good enough for hardcore Republican voters, who will vote for anyone running, but I doubt that’s going to motivate moderates.  In fact, I think with respect to just about any claim except for the claims of religion, offering “just because” or “have faith” instead of hard evidence is grounds for eviscerating laughter.

How do you refute the non-argument of meaningful faith?

You (usually) don’t. You (usually) lose.

Well, sure, if you’re trying to logically or empirically disprove the basis of somebody’s religious faith, you can’t, because that faith exists outside the realm of logic and empiricism.  But refuting “have faith in me” in the absence of supporting evidence is really just a matter of comprehensive dismissal.

Although, now that I think about it, “have faith in me” colored a lot of Obama’s 2008 rhetoric.  So while “have faith in me (on the economy)” will likely get the Republican nominee laughed into the history books, “have faith in me (as secular messiah)” seems to have been a winning play.

Since Tebow was installed as the Broncos’ starter, they are 6-1.

Trust the insane?

…or credit the defense, which has 6 interceptions and 6 forced fumbles in the past 7 games.  Or McGahee (who missed the Detroit game, which the Broncos lost).  Or the soft schedule, the weather, or any number of factors.  Or say that Tebow is good enough for the Broncos to win when the coaching staff plans the offense around his particular abilities and when he protects the football.

The 2007 Dolphins were 1-15.  The 2008 Dolphins were 11-5.  OMG A MIRACLE.  In the Dolphins’ case, everyone was quick to recognize that their year-over-year change had just about everything to do with the Wildcat offense, which caught defenses offguard and allowed the Dolphins to win their (then Brady-less) division.  When the next season started, DCs had time to figure out the Wildcat and, as a result, the Dolphins went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.  In that situation, analysts did their job and analyzed what was happening on the field and made an appropriate, football-based conclusion.

But for some reason with Tebow, people are content to say things like “He just wins!”  This is lazy and stupid (and the cause of a lot of frustration among Tebow non-apologists).  The fact is that the Broncos are winning against weak competition with a stingy defense and an offense geared around minimizing the mistakes of their quarterback.  But ESPN says things like “Tebow just wins!” because ESPN, being a smart organization that runs tons of analytics on user engagement, knows that such statements are the best way to get engagement from fans, whether they love or hate Tim Tebow.

 But try to imagine Tebow as a jerk. Let’s say his performance on the field was unchanged, but his off-the-field personality was totally different. Let’s say he was alleged to have sexually assaulted a few coeds and electrocuted a few dogs and fired an unlicensed handgun in a nightclub. If all this were true, he would not be polarizing; he would just be unpopular, particularly with the people who currently adore him. Sales of his jerseys would fall through the floor. But what would happen after he guts out an ugly 17-13 win against the Jets? What would be the perception? The perception would be that his victory was due to his toughness.

I didn’t quote the parts above this paragraph about Roethlisberger being perceived as tough because I don’t have anything to say about them.  I disagree with Klosterman here, though, when he says that if Tebow was a jerk, the Broncos victory over the Jets would be understood through the lens of Tebow’s perceived toughness/grittiness.  This is almost certainly not true.  For starters, if Tebow was a jerk, there wouldn’t be a veritable cottage industry dedicated to understanding his victories.  People would just say things like “man, I can’t believe the Broncos won.  Sanchez sucks” and then go back to talking about how their fantasy teams would be “so awesome” if only they could have drafted it completely differently.

But that’s even assuming that Tebow the Jerk is starting in that game.  Assuming Tebow was a jerk (and had always been a jerk), then there’s almost no chance he’s starting in that game.  That’s because after McDaniels is fired, Elway and Fox never give a chance to the guy whom they hated in training camp.  They roll with Orton or Brady Quinn and draft their QB of the future in the QB-heavy 2012 Draft.  There is no fanbase clamoring for Tebow to be started, because a mediocre jerk doesn’t have anyone in his corner.

Which also assumes that McDaniels even bothered to draft Tebow at all, let alone in the first round.  Scouts weren’t sold on Tebow ahead of the draft, despite the fact that he had won a Heisman and had led Florida to two national championships.  But perhaps Tebow the Jerk never even gets a chance to do any of that.

Given all that, now that I think about it, maybe Tebow does owe it all to God.

Right now, whenever Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway gets asked about Tebow, he effectively says, “We have no choice but to play him. He wins games.” It’s not really a compliment. It’s almost a criticism. But if Tebow did all this with a prison record, Elway would say the same thing in reverse order: “He wins games. We have no choice but to play him.” Which is similar, but not the same.

It’s exactly the same, but it doesn’t matter because that’s not what Elway has said.  What he said was, “Offensively, especially in the second half, we came out and did some play action, which really helped us, and receivers did a heck of a job getting open, and Tim did a good job of getting them the ball.”  The italics are mine, but the implicit emphasis is Elway’s. Play action really helped because OF COURSE people are going to bite on Tim Tebow play action.

Elway has no choice but to play Tebow because the team is winning, there’s literally nobody else and the fans want it (not necessarily in that order).  It’s notable that despite the team’s 6-1 record, Elway won’t come out and say that Tebow is the QB of the future.  He won’t even lie about it to shut people up (but perhaps the whole God thing has a role in that).

The reason for this is simple: Elway isn’t convinced that the Broncos will always be able to win with Tebow.  Elway looks at Tebow like he’s got a personal injury lawyer’s disclaimer written in his eyeblack: “prior results are no guarantee of similar outcomes in the future.”

There are quantifiable aspects of Tebow’s game that get ignored, mostly because everything else about him is so uncanny. His proficiency as a short-yardage bulldozer on third-and-3 compensates for his defects as an intermediate passer on third-and-8. The fact that Tebow only runs selectively gives Denver a psychological edge (for example, they seem to believe he simply can’t be stopped on two-point conversions). More than anything else, he’s very hard to tackle. All of these qualities are significant in the Broncos’ success. But they’re not revelatory, and I don’t think they have a big impact on why people feel so passionately about this person.

Actually, they have an enormous impact on why people (at least detractors) feel so passionately about this person.  Tebow’s ability as a short yardage rusher and the difficulty in tackling all speak to how he would likely be a useful Fullback in the long term.  It’s laughable that one would suggest that a QB’s Fullback skills compensate for his QB shortcomings.  And maybe Tebow can’t be stopped on two-point conversions, but without a significant sample size of other Fullbacks running a QB sneak, it’s hard to know what to make of that.

The crux here, the issue driving this whole “Tebow Thing,” is the matter of faith. It’s the ongoing choice between embracing a warm feeling that makes no sense or a cold pragmatism that’s probably true. And with Tebow, that illogical warm feeling keeps working out. It pays off.

Stay away from craps.

The upside to secular thinking is that — in theory — your skepticism will prove correct.

No, the upside to secular thinking (i.e. the opposite of faith-based thinking) is that it provides you a framework with which to interact with the world in such a way as to maximize your outcome.  But Tebow, who is effectively restricted by his coaches from airing the ball out because his coaching staff has no “faith” in him, isn’t the best example of the faith-based QB.  That would be Brett Favre.

Brett Favre, with all of his gunslinging and low probability decision making, was the epitome of the faith-based QB and the media reaction to him is instructive.  Without a doubt, Favre was a talented QB.  He’s the all-time yards leader and the all-time passing TD leader.  But as people often point out, he’s also the all time interception leader.  Part of this is due to scale: he had a career the length of Methuselah’s life and attempted more passes than any other QB in history.  Favre had a cannon of an arm and he liked to take chances, always putting faith in his own natural talents.  And I remember thanking him for that as he launched one right into Corey Webster’s arms in January 2008.

That recap barely mentions the interception, which led to a Giants FG drive.  Maybe that’s because sports journalism doesn’t like to focus on the times players come up short (unless they’re talking about Alex Rodriguez or Lebron James).  But if Favre completes that pass?  You’d better believe there are five paragraphs about his miraculous throw.

Your rightness might be emotionally unsatisfying, but it confirms a stable understanding of the universe.

When I win at blackjack because I played the odds correctly, I promise you that it is no less satisfying.  On the other hand, do I get a rush if I land a 21 on a bad hit against a dealer 15?  Yeah, sure, but the other 90% of the time I hit in that situation, I feel like an asshole as the dealer looks at me sideways and takes my chips.  And the rest of the table will yell at me whether such a move works out or not.

Sports fans who love statistics fall into this camp. People who reject cognitive dissonance build this camp and find the firewood. But Tebow wrecks all that, because he makes blind faith a viable option.

Again, no he doesn’t.  What Tebow does is demonstrate that with proper execution and decent players in the other positions, someone with mean QB talents can beat mediocre teams.  Given enough time, he may demonstrate that the things we now value most in QBs (arm strength, mechanics, vision, reads, reaction time) don’t really matter as long as you can account for such deficiencies elsewhere on the field.  But we already knew that.

His faith in God, his followers’ faith in him — it all defies modernity. This is why people care so much. He is making people wonder if they should try to believe things they don’t actually believe.

It defies modernity?  You said above that nearly 4 out of 5 Americans identifies as Christian.  Add in all the Jews, Muslims and other theists in the population and that number is likely well over 80%.

But that last sentence is what ultimately really gets me.  Tim Tebow is not making people (not me, at least) wonder if we should “try to believe things they don’t actually believe.”  I mean really, if all it takes for an erstwhile atheist/agnostic to start believing in the presence of an omnipotent deity who influences the outcome of human events is the success of a professional football team whose QB doesn’t throw for 300 yards a game, then it’s no wonder 80% of Americans are Christian.

I can only speak for myself, but the reason I’m so fascinated with “this whole Tebow thing” is that it is amazing to me that people (other than Mr. Elway) are unable to analyze the situation critically.  People see the Broncos’ success and despite the fact that the defense has forced twelve turnovers in the last seven games, despite the fact that Willis McGahee has rushed for 502 yards in the last six (recall he was injured for the DET game) and despite the fact that Tebow has only thrown for 975 yards in those 7 games, those people say “Tim Tebow wins games!”

People often credit QBs with victories because the QB’s ability to make big passing plays puts a disproportionate amount of control over the score in his hands.  Indeed, Peyton Manning’s injury this season has led people to comment just how critical the position can be, as the Colts have opened their first season without the future hall of famer at 0-12.  But last season, with Peyton, the Colts were 6-6 through twelve games.  Now obviously that’s still a pretty big difference and several of those 2010 losses were close, but it’s not like the Colts were lights out just because they had Peyton Manning under center.  There’s still defense, special teams and the rest of the offense to think about.

But that narrative, the narrative of a 56-man roster and similarly large coaching staff working together to perform complex operations with imperfect information at lightning speed, is too unwieldy to write and too complicated to digest.  The Broncos are 6-1 since Tim Tebow has started at QB, so of course they say he won those games.  It’s a more succinct explanation and it plays into our bias toward honoring the quarterback on the winning team.  And, Klosterman says, if that means that everything we thought we knew about quarterbacking and the nature of the divine is wrong, then so be it.

But Tim Tebow didn’t win those games: the Broncos did.

Which is similar, but not the same.

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