Continued from page 1

In a sports season filled with unsavory stories _ NFL and NBA labor wars, child sex abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse, and a baseball MVP accused of using steroids _ Tebow is seen by many as a sports star who really could be a role model, contrary to what Charles Barkley or anyone else might say.

But the Tebow angst still exists, in large part because there is seemingly no way to analyze what he does on a football field without religion seeping into at least some part of that analysis.

Opine about his unorthodox throwing motion _ widely derided by scouts and coaches and seemingly more suited for tossing a boomerang than a football _ and the quick assumption becomes that you might not like him because of his religious beliefs.

Defend him as a winner who cares less about conventionality and depends more on moxie than mechanics _ well, then you must be drinking the Kool-Aid, a Tebow fan because you’re in line with his Christian beliefs.

“I still have doubts about him as a long-term answer, as I think most reasonable people do,” said radio host Sandy Clough, who has been manning Denver’s sports talk shows for more than 30 years. “Does one game, if he plays well, not only invalidate his play from the other (bad) games but anything anyone’s ever said about it? Well, no it doesn’t. It’s all part of the mix. It’s a fascinating mix. He’s the toughest player I’ve ever had to analyze, because there are all these extraneous factors you have to bring in.”

Sensing the excitement and loving his message, Tebow is also being courted by Republican presidential candidates. The quarterback recently told The Associated Press he’s been asked by more than one of the contenders for his support. He wouldn’t name names, but did say he’d declined the offer.

“I think you have to have so much trust in who you support, just from product endorsements to endorsing a candidate because if that person or company does something (bad), it reflects on you,” said Tebow, who’s a pitchman for Nike, Jockey and FRS energy drink.

Tebow has, however, placed himself in the political realm before _ two Super Bowls ago when he starred in a Focus on the Family commercial with his mother sharing the story of how she gave birth to him in the Philippines in 1987 after spurning a doctor’s advice to have an abortion for medical reasons. After being criticized for that ad, he didn’t do an encore and instead tries to toe the line of showing his religion without shoving it down people’s throats.

That hasn’t stopped people from mocking him _ and worse.

After Tebow was particularly bad in an ugly loss to Buffalo on Dec. 24, comedian and talk show host Bill Maher sent out a tweet that basked in the QB’s misfortune, blaming Jesus for the loss. “And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler `Hey, Buffalo’s killing them,’” Maher tweeted.

Maher, in turn, was roundly ripped for the post.

Less toxic was the recent skit on “Saturday Night Live,” where “Jesus” materializes in the locker room with an actor portraying Tebow, admits he is pulling some strings during these Bronco games, then after being told the New England Patriots are next on the schedule, suggests Tebow substitute his playbook, “the holy Bible,” for one with some Xs and Os.

The “SNL” Jesus also concedes that he, personally, prays to the Broncos place-kicker, Matt Prater, whose excellence has defined what the Tebow sensation has been about for most of this season: a bunch of teammates, motivated by a less-than-perfect leader who never gives up, coming together and picking each other up when the going gets tough.

A great story line that has held most of the year.

The twist on Sunday, though, was that for the first time this season, it could reasonably be argued that Tebow was a one-man show. In the win over Pittsburgh, he completed five passes of 30 yards or more. And with his defense struggling, he threw a perfect strike for the game-winner to receiver Demaryius Thomas, who didn’t have to change his stride and, thus, ran untouched into the end zone.

Story Continues →