Tebow's day not ruined by high-profile loss to Patriots

DENVER -- For the first time in seven days, each of which I spent in Denver because of Tim Tebow's polarizing impact on the NFL, the Broncos' quarterback and I finally had the chance to exchange more than the daily salutations I'd come to expect from the overbearing nature of Tebowmania.

We walked toward the exit -- among the last to leave the locker room after a 41-23 loss to the Patriots on Sunday -- as I began to ask the first of what I hoped would be a series of questions.

"How is the strength of your faith impacted after a loss?" I started.

"It puts things in perspective," Tebow said. "God is still God. I still have a relationship with Christ, and a loss doesn't change anything. Win or lose, everything is still the same. What matters is the girl I'm about to see, Kelly Faughnan. If I can inspire hope in someone, then it's still a good day."

And just like that, with a transition smooth enough to make a movie producer proud, Tebow crossed through the threshold of a doorway to the glowing face of a 22-year-old survivor of a brain tumor. After one question, the interview was over. A more important priority awaited him.

You might remember Faughnan. She's the woman who unexpectedly met Tebow on the eve of the 2009 College Football Awards, only to be asked by the quarterback to join him as his date on the red carpet the following night. Faughnan has recovered from her brain tumor, but she still deals with the hearing loss suffered at birth and a noticeable tremor that began when she was 12.

For 15 minutes Sunday, their arms wrapped around one another's back, Tebow and Faughnan stood together smiling without a camera in sight.

Earlier, Tebow's performance on the field wasn't solid enough to overcome three second-quarter turnovers. He made some nice throws, and he looks to be improving, but not even a fourth-quarter touchdown drive was enough to spark another win -- not with a high-powered offense like the Patriots' on the opposing sideline Sunday.

The loss wasn't enough to thwart a season, just like seven crazy wins shouldn't be enough to define a legacy. It instead keeps this conversation moving forward; hopefully in a healthier manner that will partly neutralize the pro-Tebow supporters just as his previous success helped to partly neutralize some of his football skeptics.

It will do nothing, however, to change the course of the conversation as it pertains to his religious faith. Tebow still thanked God to begin his news conference on Sunday. He still pointed to the sky after his first touchdown. He still took a knee after the loss for a postgame prayer with players from both teams.

After all, "God is still God." And this platform, the one that Tebow has turned into something bigger than sports has seen in decades, will continue to allow him to express his faith whether you agree with him or not.

Will it impact his play? Perhaps his faith breeds confidence. Will it help his teammates? His relentless attitude seems to still be rubbing off, a sentiment expressed to me when I asked Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey about it after the loss.

"It still felt like we had a chance at the end," Bailey said. "I think that's part of who we are. We've proven we will not quit until this thing is over."

But I believe there's something that matters more to Tebow. While football is important to him, I'm convinced he believes he was placed on this Earth to use his fame, however long it might last, to help inspire the people around him. And while many would appreciate a more muted approach, not everyone sees it that way.

While Tebow stood with Faughnan on Sunday evening, I stood several feet away with her father, Jim. Last week, Jim received a call from the Tim Tebow Foundation, which works in partnership with the Dreams Come True group to grant many Tebow-related wishes throughout the NFL season. Tebow wanted to catch up with Faughnan again, so he had his foundation reach out.

With his daughter glowing as Tebow engaged her and her family nearby, Jim spoke to me about Kelly's struggles -- a conversation that jolted me far from the analysis of a football game that finished an hour earlier. We talked about the tumor that invaded her brain. About the tremor that remains unexplained by doctors. About the hearing loss that resulted from a lack of oxygen at birth.

"I can't begin to tell you the impact he's had on my daughter," Jim said. "She's very positive, and she tries so hard, but she's had a struggle. Tim Tebow has built her self-confidence up so much -- taught her to believe in herself -- that when I see people criticize him, I'm just dumbfounded. I don't get it. It's almost incomprehensible to me. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to see an athlete use his position and platform to do good for people."

Over the last two months -- between conversations with friends, NFL players, media brethren and even some of Tebow's own teammates -- it is abundantly clear that Tebow's expression of faith wears on many. I've heard it all: What happens if he starts to lose? Does it mean God has abandoned him? What about when he wins? Is that to suggest God really dislikes Bears running back Marion Barber?

Heck, as I've explored this subject during my week in Denver, I've even thought similar things. But I continue to come back to the same thought; a line I recall from a poem called The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.

"Be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be."

Even if his NFL career ended tomorrow (it won't), even if Sunday's loss to the Patriots proved to be the beginning of the end for Tebow's NFL success (I doubt it), Tebow has clearly found his peace with his God. At the very minimum, he'd be able to reflect on a span of his life when he impacted thousands while continuing to work toward his cause in less prominent ways.

More likely, this ride is far from over for Tebow. The conversations, whether you are naïve enough to believe they are simply media-driven or not, aren't close to concluded. The debates about his abilities on the field will continue, and the arguments about his expression of faith will rage forward.

All the while, Tebow will keep smiling. And Kelly Faughnan will keep smiling right back.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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