New England football fans unable to stomach watching the 8-8 Chargers and 9-7 Cardinals win home playoff games while their 11-5 Pats hit the golf course might find themselves turning this week to College Football and its endangered (if Obama has anything to say about it) championship bowl game on Thursday night, pitting Florida against Oklahoma. College football may lack the pro game’s Wall Street-like obsession with deregulated, high-stakes trades and wanton, hand-over-fist capitalism. But the university game is far from pure. There’s the elitist, pre-rationalist, anti-meritocratic bowl-game racket, which may end up higher on the incoming President’s agenda than, say, health care. There’s also the issue of exploiting amateur athletes -- as universities, television networks, and head coaches rake in billions on the backs of fine young academic prospects who just happen to know their way around a gridiron. (See Lance Gould’s cover story this week for 20 Ways to improve sports – starting with college football.)
But for all that, in these early hours of 2009 you can sum up everything that’s wrong with college football in two words: Tim Tebow.
Simply put, the hoopla surrounding Tebow is insufferable. The 6-foot-3, 240 pound University of Florida quarterback is the game’s most high-profile player and perhaps its most talented. As a freshman he helped his team to a national championship. In 2007, as a sophomore starter, he won the Heisman and became the first college QB to pass and rush for 20 touchdowns in the same season. This year he narrowly lost the Heisman (to Oklahoma’s QB, Sam Bradford – how’s that for a grudge match?), and on Thursday he can lead the Gators to a second national championship in three years. His girlfriend has knockers the size of opposing linemen. And there is talk that Tebow may do something as rash as returning for a senior year – by which point he could very well be regarded as the greatest college football player of all time.
This is perhaps not surprising, since Tebow – as he and his family never tire of telling the television cameras – has Jesus Christ on his side.
It’s become a cliché to complain about athletes who turn the “take us through that last play when you scored the game-winning touchdown” question into a personal bro-down with God. (To hear your average athlete tell it, hard work and smart coaching are merely weak substitutes for the favor of their Supreme Being of Choice.)
And yet Tebow takes this stuff to the next level. He can’t get through a sentence without “testifying.” Accepting the Heisman last year, Tebow opened and closed his speech by thanking his Lord and savior Jesus Christ. He does the same, religiously, at every press conference. (Off the field, he’s made bizarre-world headlines for being as handy with the foreskin as he is with the pigskin.) It must be heartening for the faithful in his audience to know that while all kinds of horrible shit goes on in the world, God is taking special care to make sure Tim Tebow becomes the greatest football player ever.
The mainstream sports media, unbelievably, eats this shit up. The other day, ESPN.com’s Pat Forde gushed, “If you think [Tebow] hits linebackers hard on fourth-and-1, that’s nothing compared to the way he tackles his higher calling to spread the word. In this one instance, what looks too good to be true really is true.” That’s a stern reproach compared to the way ESPN’s “College Gameday” crew -- Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso – takes turns fellating Tebow on nearly every broadcast. (Fowler has called him “too good to be true.” Herbstreit: “I don’t know if you’re going to find a better guy than Tim Tebow.” Corso, not to be outdone: “I don’t know if we’ll ever find a better winner in college football and life than Tim Tebow.”) If you think it’s bad listening to broadcasters turn Brett Farve’s increasingly mundane performances into the stuff of supposed legend, then Tebow is your worst nightmare. As CBS’s Gary Danielson recently exclaimed, after Tebow completed a five-yard slant for a touchdown, “You just can’t do this stuff!”
Perhaps we’d be able to sweep all of this under the rug – chalk it up to the zeitgeist, celebrity, sports radio, etc – if it weren’t for ESPN inundating us with (and implicitly validating?) the Tebow family’s myth-making, anti-abortion message about Tebow’s “miracle birth”:
-- Rob Dixon
(Rob Dixon is a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Alabama. Some people in these parts may still remember him as the singer-guitarist in the Boston rock band Quintaine Americana.)