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FENNO: Tim Tebow, the third-stringer we can’t seem to shake
The Quarterback Who Shall Not Be Named (unless you're trolling for clicks, in which case Tim Tebow! Tim Tebow! Tim Tebow!) is 25 years old. He's never been arrested. Never been in a bar fight. Never been busted for the NFL's drug du jour Adderall. Never even tweeted his way into a silly controversy over a wedding registry.
Yet we're fascinated.
The little-used backup quarterback threw eight passes when he wasn't holding a clipboard last season, and is known for a ball that's more wobble than spiral.
Yet we can't turn away.
The Quarterback is among the most unusual of America's obsessions, non-Justin Bieber division. He's mocked and deified and, no matter what happens in his limited excursions on the field, can't seem to escape the tractor beam of relentless attention.
"The mannerisms that he embodies for a lot of people point toward being the all-American boy, basically," said Edward Hirt, a psychology professor at Indiana University. "People have to resonate with things that are much more fundamental to us as human beings. He's an epitome, or somebody who represents that for us."
Take this spring's goings-on. A limp-armed reserve quarterback changing teams is as remarkable as oatmeal in the NFL. Unless The Quarterback is involved. When the Jets released him April 29 after a less-than-inspiring season with the team, he tweeted two Bible verses. No commentary. No explanations. No pictures of the "Tebow Time" T-shirts that welcomed his ill-fated stay in New York. The verses were retweeted 12,754 times and favorited by 6,870 others.
That shouldn't be surprising. The Quarterback is the third-most followed NFL player on Twitter behind recently incarcerated Chad Ochocinco and one-time Heisman winner Reggie Bush, and holds trademarks to both his name (yes, that's Tim Tebow with a ™) and the since-fizzled fad of "Tebowing."
He doesn't shy from espousing his Christian faith or stances on issues of political and social significance, far from the first athlete to use their day job as a platform to do so. Do you know — or even care — what church your team's backup quarterback speaks to? There are multiple books with his face plastered out front, DVDs, action figures and endorsement deals with companies from Nike to Jockey. He's everywhere. Well, including the sideline.
None of that fell from the sky. The Quarterback collected a Heisman Trophy at Florida, where he built a national following that even tracked which Bible verse he put on his eye black before games, then moved on to a charmed playoff run in his rookie season with the Broncos.
That early success is one critical connection point, psychologists will tell you. Another is The Quarterback's aw-shucks, team-first image (and even dealing with public failure) that the average person can relate to.
"One of the main factors that predicts attraction is similarity," said Christian End, an associate psychology professor at Xavier University. "People who find similarities in athletes may be attracted to them more than anyone else."
Last week, of course, The Quarterback found work. Maybe you missed it if, for instance, you had removed all connections to the outside world in a desperate attempt to avoid the National Security Agency's inquisitive ways. Otherwise, The Quarterback was everywhere. After all, the Patriots gave him a two-year contract (without one dollar guaranteed) and designated him as one of two "star" players who only have to meet with the media once each week during the season. All that for the third quarterback on a roster that includes All-Pro Tom Brady and cannon-armed youngster Ryan Mallett.
If you didn't follow football, you'd think something of actual significance occurred. Minute after breathless minute on ESPN. Top of the Drudge Report, never mind Prism, drones, Syria and the tumult of an unraveling world. The Quarterback signed!
Even Robert Griffin III invested six sentences of his weekly press gathering answering a question about The Quarterback's job prospects.
President Obama seemed to be the only person who didn't weigh in on the NFL's traveling circus.
"There's a saturation effect, in a way," End said. "When the lead story is 'Tebow signs with a team' instead of the NBA Finals, people are going to say, 'I hate this Tebow guy, taking away from the limelight our teams deserve.' ... If it seems like every third day something that scrolls across the bottom of your ESPN channel is Tebow, you could see how that'd get annoying."
Added Hirt: "He's polarizing, too. There's people who think he's goody-goody, not that talented, who find that religion thing a turnoff, who don't like that he gets so much attention and isn't so good."
The backlash resembled a hurricane, as out of proportion to The Quarterback's perceived flaws as the incessant adulation is to his strengths.
He's a third-string quarterback with a Heisman Trophy who transcended his ability and, for better or worse, the game he plays.
"We're very select processors of information," Hirt said. "There's people whose whole career have been made by a few moments. ... It'll be interesting to see how long this can last."
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