Exploring Tebow Mania

Tonight’s the Pro Bowl, so most people blogging about football are probably writing about that or next week’s Super Bowl.  But I’m still wondering exactly what it was that had me standing up screaming, “Run, Baby, Run!” in my living room during Tim Tebow‘s 80 yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas in the first play of OT to win over the Pittsburgh Steelers a few weeks ago.  I’m not even a Broncos fan!  My response surprised me so much, I tweeted, “I must have caught Tebow fever; was actually standing up screaming (like I used to do for the Cowboys)! #amazingwin.”

It’s been a while since football made me stand up and scream in my living room.  Originally a Bills fan (from Rochester), my ex-husband converted me to the Cowboys.  I also have a soft spot for teams representing the cities I’ve lived in and New Orleans due to Katrina and the Gulf oil spill.  So when asked, I say, “I’m a Cowboys fan, but also root for Buffalo, Seattle, San Diego, Tampa and New Orleans.”  Yes, 20% of the NFL. 🙂  If you asked most people, they’d tell you they’re either a fan of a team close to home, or that someone very close to them liked, or a story about some connection with a player that made them root for that team.  Bottom line:  there’s an emotional connection somewhere between the fan and the team.

When NFL on Fox reported that Tim Tebow is the favorite athlete in America according to a December ESPN poll, I thought, ‘How is that even possible after basically one season of football?’  After talking and thinking about it, here’s my analysis:

1.  America loves the underdog:  Whether it’s a movie like ‘Rocky’ or ‘Erin Brockovich,’ Americans love the David vs. Goliath story.  I know it’s true for me; if I’m not invested in either team in a game, I always root for the underdog.  Not sure why, just do.

2.  America loves doing the impossible:  Media and NFL analysts everywhere kept questioning whether Tebow’s “college style of play” would be successful in the NFL; if he could win in that arena.  He answered that question this season.

3.  America loves youth and innocence:  He’s got plenty of both.

4.  America responds to authenticity and humility:  Tim Tebow bows on bended knee to thank God because of his deep faith; it’s not a stunt.  He always credits his team mates.  He brings sick people to games to bring them joy and to keep perspective.  People respond to his unabashed honesty about who he is.

Tim Tebow didn’t ask people to start “Tebowing” everywhere from the beach to the Eiffel Tower to the pyramids.  He didn’t ask for the media storm.  So to say he has emotionally connected with people, for whatever reason, is an understatement.

The highest honors and respect in the NFL go to those who have Super Bowl rings, just like it goes to those with a “C” in their title in business or those with a PhD in higher education.  So I’m sure Tom Brady felt a bit like ‘Who is this kid getting all the attention?  I’m the one with three Super Bowl rings (and killer stats)!’  And the Pats trounced the Broncos 45 – 10.

The following Monday John Elway announced that Tebow will be the starter for training camp next year.  They’d be downright crazy not to start him.  Why?  Because of something my friend Angela reminded me of the day before.  She’d invited me over to watch the Packers v. Giants game with her family.  I’d forgotten she grew up in Wisconsin.  Since the Pack were 15 – 1, all of “my teams” were done, and the NFC East had been a mess this year, I assumed it would be a rather cut and dry game.  As we watched the Giants’ surprising win over the Packers, while Angela tried to will them to win, she talked about growing up in Wisconsin, where everyone loves, supports and watches the Packers *whether they win or lose.*  That’s what fills stadiums people.

Last summer, as it got dangerously close to football season and the lock-out wasn’t over, I tweeted something like, ‘Never fear.  There will be football this year.  It’s billions of dollars; the powers that be won’t let those billions go.’  Teams need to be built around people who will keep their stadiums full …. clearly if Tim Tebow can be named America’s favorite athlete after a season, he can keep Mile High Stadium full!  Football is big business.  But out of 32 teams, only 2 make it to the Super Bowl and only 1 wins.  That leaves 30 other teams each year that need a steady fan base to keep them going.

This Super Bowl, I’ll be rooting for the NY Football Giants.  They’re my home team and represent the NFC East.  But really it’s because I don’t like Belichick (SNL captured him accurately in their Tebow piece); he’s always scowling on the sidelines and ever since the videotaping / spying incident, I haven’t been a fan (don’t care much for cheaters or liars).  While I know Brady has an outstanding record and I respect him for it, there’s something inaccessible about him.  Eli got beat up by the 49ers and still won … he’s got the kid out in the back yard scrappiness … or maybe it’s just because he’s the underdog:)

The more I consider the phenomenon of Tim Tebow, the more I land on the importance of emotional connection to football fans.  Denver would be CRAZY not to start him.  He can revitalize the franchise and fan base and has already begun to do so, selling more jerseys in 2011 than anyone but Aaron Rodgers.  For players with more impressive stats than Tebow’s who aren’t feeling the love, he’s an important reminder.  My ex used to say, “Football is a game of emotion.”  Clearly fans want to feel that connection with players.

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Football Fracas as Metaphor

On October 16, Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, strode mid-field to shake the hand of Jim Schwartz, head coach of the Detroit Lions, after a very close game in which the 49ers finished victorious.  After a vigorous hand shake, Jim Harbaugh slapped Schwartz’s back in a very dismissive manner.  Jim Schwartz did not take kindly to ‘being dissed’ and went running after him.  It didn’t take long for the controversy to swirl; Fox’s OT show and Football Night in America both discussed it later that day.  And there were a ton of blog posts and articles about it the next day and all through the week. 

The next day I tweeted, “What part do decorum & respect play in leadership? If it’s OK for coaches to fight on field, OK for politicians to make another a bullseye?”  To which @bball28 replied, “I think it was uncalled for, but I don’t normally compare football coaches to leaders of country..”  Tweet reply, “Leadership is leadership. Agree scope & influence different; point was diminishing: business, politics, sports.”

Last Sunday, the Fox Sports pre-game show stated the NFL had decided not to fine either coach.  That surprised me.  But what didn’t surprise me was the story that came after of how Rex Ryan, NY Jets coach, then called out Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers coach, that week saying, “If I’d been hired as coach in San Diego, I’d have two rings by now!”  Forcing Norv to defend himself with, “Where’s your hardware Rex?”  Jimmy Johnson, former Cowboys coach, said on the show, “Whatever happened to the respect shown to the coaches’ fraternity?”  I agree with Jimmy, and think it’s representative of a larger issue.  But there have been many blog posts whose message was:  “What’s the big deal?  It’s a game of emotion.  Boys will be boys.  Let’s move on.”

It’s hard to use the Internet these days without seeing news articles of craziness in high schools across the country, both on the sports field and between teachers and students, parents abusing/neglecting/killing their kids, the abysmal state of the working class, and politicians insulting or targeting each other (one even used a bullseye to target others last year).  It’s not only indicative of a complete lack of respect, but it shows a real dearth of understanding about what it means to be a role model in any leadership position; teacher, NFL coach, business owner or political leader.  We’ve seen so many people fall from grace in the past decade – from businessmen who’ve embezzled millions (in some cases ripping off the pensions of thirty year employees), corrupt politicians, beloved sports figures … it’s easy to list names like Madoff or Weiner (you can probably think of many more) and you instantly know what I’m talking about.

If twenty years is one generation, then it was only three generations ago that most men became adults by enlisting in the military.  What was taught there?  Discipline, duty, respect and teamwork among other things.  Sports have always espoused the same intentions; to build character, instill discipline, foster teamwork and teach respect for self and others.

So is this it?  Is this our new America?  For the 9 yr old kid who loves football and watches his team play every Sunday, should he expect to see coaches fighting on the field?  Is that what he should expect to happen when he plays in HS or college?  Is that what he should do?  Why wait?  Might as well start bullying people in middle school.

Some may say these topics are unrelated.  I believe each microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm.  Can you recall a situation in business, a school, a sports team or politics where someone in a leadership position behaved illegally, immorally, unethically or in some other way unfitting of a leader in the past year?  The past six months?  The past month?

Without sounding way too (insert your adjective of choice here), it seems our country is having a real crisis of character, discipline, ethics, respect and leadership at all levels:  business, politics, schools and sports.

So for me, this incident reflects a lot more than just “a game of emotion.”  What do you think?  Am I ‘just being a hypersensitive female’ (hackle raising intended) who doesn’t understand football?