|Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow reacts after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011, in Denver. Denver won 17-13. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)|
Those close to Tim Tebow say he's the real deal
ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—By now, everybody knows Tim Tebow, the quirky quarterback. Hardworking work in progress, imperfect passer getting by on more will than skill, bigger on moxie than mechanics.
Then there's Tim Tebow, the person. Popular and polarizing, more like a politician than NFL player. Galvanizes backers and backbiters alike. People love him or loathe him.
There he is on TV, professing his faith and talking about how he was more excited to build a children's hospital in the Philippines than he was in leading the Denver Broncos to an improbable last-minute win over the New York Jets.
Even though the Broncos were 1-4 without him and 4-1 with him, including two fourth-quarter comebacks, Tebow's detractors call him a phony, fake and scripted, a goody two-shoes. This, despite guiding the Broncos back to relevancy at 5-5, a game behind front-running Oakland in the AFC West.
Yet his teammates and coaches, who see him when the cameras and recorders aren't around, say he's a sincere, aw-shucks, praise-the-Lord-and-pass-the-football (at least try) kind of guy, with the world at his feet and his head nowhere near the clouds.
"He really is genuine and the emotion and the passion that you see him out there playing with, he has the same passion off the field with those type of things, the charity things and the missionary things," receiver Eddie Royal said. "He just lives that way. Like I said, there's nothing fake about Tim Tebow."
"He's real," coach John Fox agreed. "He walks the walk. A guy like that in today's society, in my mind, ought to be celebrated, not scrutinized to the level that he is."
Royal said Tebow should be hailed a hero by more than just the Tebowmaniacs who have been in his corner since he starred at the University of Florida.
"He represents the game of football the right way, by his play, by his emotion, by his enthusiasm," Royal said. "He's the perfect example of the type of guy that you want to be off the field."
Still, for a guy who was raised on a farm, homeschooled and listens to Sinatra to pump himself up before games, Tebow has plenty of detractors.
"The only reason I would think people wouldn't like him is because they don't believe that he's really all that he is," Royal said. "But to tell you the truth, he really is, being around him every day. What you see is what you get with him. There's nothing fake about him."
Champ Bailey has the same take on Tebow.
"You know the thing is, there are reasons that people could dislike other athletes," Bailey said. "Like, say for instance, a lot of people could love T.O. But there are reasons for people not to like him, and you can understand why people don't like him. But when people don't like Tim, you try to understand why, you don't."
Some people have a problem with Tebow wearing his religion on his sleeve.
For example, former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer told KGME-AM in Phoenix this week: "I think he's a winner and I respect that about him. I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I'll like him a little better. I don't hate him because of that. I just would rather not have to hear that every time he takes a good snap or makes a good hand-off."
To which Tebow replies: a man needn't express his love for his wife only on their wedding day, but all the time. That's the way he feels about his relationship with his Lord.
"That's the thing about my faith: It's not just something that happens when you're at church or happens when you're praying or reading the Scripture. It's a part of who you are, as a person, as a player, in your life and everything," Tebow said. "And it should be who you are because you're not just a Christian or a believer at church. That's who you are everywhere and it shouldn't matter what situation or what setting you are in. Hopefully, you're the same guy everywhere."
Tebow was born in the Philippines, to parents who were missionaries and taught him never to shy away from professing his faith. Like Reggie White and Kurt Warner before him, he feels compelled to share his story of salvation regardless of the sensitivity of the subject.
"People may think he's faking or he's not telling the truth, but that man walks the walk and talks the talk," Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. "Look at the guy. He's not a guy who's out clubbing and doing this and that."
In his autobiography, "Through My Eyes," Tebow wrote: "It's not always the easiest thing to be the center of attention of so much spilled ink. You read glowing things, and it doesn't feel deserved. You read things that are critical and it cuts you to the bone."
He also talks about growing up "farmer strong" -- lifting hay bales, chopping wood, chasing down cows -- and the lessons learned from his mother, who homeschooled her five children in Jacksonville, Fla.
He writes about growing up dyslexic and being a kinesthetic learner, meaning he learns best by doing, not reading. He talks about how his best sport was baseball, how he doesn't like soft drinks or have time to date and how religion was always a priority in his life.
"For as long as I can remember, this was instilled in me: to have fun, love Jesus and others, and tell them about Him," he wrote.
Punter Britton Colquitt suggested schadenfreude -- pleasure derived from the misfortune of others -- was at work when it comes to Tebow.
"It's a shame that all people want to do is see people screw up and not portray good. But that's just the world we live in, I feel like," Colquitt said. "It's an evil world now, but he's a good guy.
"People like to see people fail because it makes other people feel good. He does a really good job with that and he keeps himself out of situations where he could stumble," he said.
One surprising thing that several teammates mentioned is Tebow's sense of humor, something he doesn't usually share with the public.
"He knows a lot of jokes," Royal said, laughing.
None of them off-color, to be sure.
"No, no, he always keeps it clean but it's a good laugh," Royal said. "He has a lot of funny stories and a lot of, like, jokes, like standup comedy-type stuff. And that catches you, but it's all in a playful manner. It never catches you the wrong way. It's all in fun."
Said Colquitt: "He's got a different sense of humor but ... you wouldn't say like, `Oh, that guy's kind of square' and stuff like that. I mean, he definitely wants to have a good time."
For Tebow, that means spending his day off taking his year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, "Bronco," to the dog park.
Talk about the dog and the breed, which has roots in South Africa, and Tebow's eyes light up.
Though his type is known for bravery, Bronco shies away from others at the park and plants himself between Tebow's legs. Other times, he's on a leash and accompanies Tebow while he rides his bike in his neighborhood.
Moore said he sometimes senses that Tebow gets uncomfortable with all the attention.
"To be honest with you, he doesn't like it sometimes," he said. "One time we were talking and I went to the grocery store and he said he didn't remember the last time he went to the grocery store, you know? He can't go. I mean that's not fun. He can't go get his own cereal, his favorite cereal."
Still, Royal says Tebow does a good job of just being himself.
"He doesn't try to be anything more than what he is," he said. "And he walks around here and he's comfortable in his own skin, and you can tell that. Like I said, there's nothing fake about him. He's not trying to be something that he's not. And he's just being himself."
Tebow says he tries to keep it all in perspective -- taking all the applause and boos in stride.
"You're going to have people that praise you and people that criticize you and everything in between," he said. "If I listened to everything that you all say, my world would be so up and down. I'm grounded upon my faith, my family. Football is what I do for a living and what I do for fun. If I rode the roller coaster of what everybody says about me then my life would be a lot more hectic than what it is."
And with that approach, he's free to focus on football.
"Ultimately, it's about winning games," Tebow said. "So, I don't really care how it looks or what we do as long as we win. Plain and simple, whatever we have to do to get into the end zone and win football games."
Reach out to AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton