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Though both men play with confidence — shoulder pad-lowering abandon from Tebow; big shot swag from Lin — neither projects off-field arrogance. Nor do they engage in now-commonplace theatrical grandiosity, what former New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson once called “the magnitude of me.”

Then there’s Mr. Santorum. According to Time magazine, he has no pollster. Not only is he uncomfortable with birth control pills, he’s also comfortable making a campaign issue out of said discomfort, which plugs him squarely into the political zeitgeist of … 1951.

While speaking on the stump, Mr. Romney dresses like the guy already sipping a cocktail and checking his portfolio in his first-class seat while the rest of us board the airplane — wrinkle-free oxford, expensive jeans, anchorman hair never out of place — Mr. Santorum’s campaign attire brings to mind a chain restaurant middle manager. Did we mention the sweater vests?

Fittingly, the Three Squares share another trait: In the case of each man, the public was presented with a superficially hipper alternative — a Cinnamon Dolce Latte, if you will — and instead chose a cup of Sanka.

Take Tebow. He’s no Cam Newton, the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers who was the top pick in last year’s National Football League draft. Tall, handsome and confident, he oozes 21st century sports cool. An athletic marvel, Newton carried a lousy team on his back; beyond being an adept runner, he is much, much better than Tebow at throwing a football. Both statistically and on highlight reels, Newton’s rookie season was one for the ages. And also a relative blip, nearly forgotten in a tidal wave of Tebow coverage.

Similarly, the young point guard buzz in the National Basketball Association involved Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Ricky Rubio. A cross between Pistol Pete Maravich and a shaggy-haired, doe-eyed teen idol torn from the pages of Tiger Beat — albeit one whose facial scrub appears drawn in with Mascara — Rubio is an electric passer, a deft playmaker, a Spanish import who has helped make the woebegotten Timberwolves watchable. Thanks to Lin, however, he’s already old news.

Much like Newt Gingrich.

Dumper of sick wives. Enlivener of debates. Gleeful tosser of Molotov cocktail sound bites. Gushing fire hose of half-baked policy prescriptions. Mr. Gingrich is the Whitmanesque song-singer of the GOP primary field. He contains multitudes. Plus, he wants to build a moon base. For all his flaws, Mr. Gingrich is seldom dull or inside a box; despite his unchanging Phil Donahue haircut, he is definitely not a square.

He’s also not the guy threatening Mr. Romney — the erstwhile GOP Candidate of Inevitability — in Michigan.

Men of the (cultural) moment

Why are we embracing the Three Squares?

The simplest explanation is that America loves an underdog story. Especially one with a Disney-style reversal of fortune.

Tebow was a Heisman-winning campus demigod at the University of Florida — but thanks to his awkward, shot put-ish throwing motion, he also was considered a better professional prospect at tight end than at quarterback. Lin has been overlooked since high school: unrecruited by big-time college hoops powerhouses, undrafted after a standout career at Harvard, cut by multiple NBA teams. Just last month, Mr. Santorum’s campaign was so lightly regarded that his aides reportedly asked a reporter to forward around an invitation to travel with the candidate.

Religious piety also plays a part in the Square Surge. Lin attributes his success to a “miracle from God”; he and Knicks teammate Landry Fields have devised a pre-game handshake ritual that involves pantomiming reading the Bible. Tebow is openly, enthusiastically evangelical, the eponymous popularizer of a signature praying posture that swept the nation like a popular dance craze. Mr. Santorum’s Catholicism is more or less his unofficial running mate. Bringing religion into the public square often courts controversy — but in a largely Christian country, it also engenders identification and admiration.

It would be easy to see squares as fellow travelers in pop culture’s complete and utter co-optation by all things Nerd: computer geeks and high school musicals, comic books (excuse us, graphic novels) and Wall Street/”Moneyball” quants. But that would be a mistake. A square is not a nerd. A nerd wears a pocket protector because he doesn’t realize it’s unhip; a square wears pleated khakis and a cellphone holster because that’s what he always has worn, and besides, it’s comfy.

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