Tim Tebow, part-time icon, showed up last Sunday at the Easter service of Celebration Church in Georgetown, Texas, to answer a few questions on stage. More than 15,000 devotees showed up, too.
Without stepping on the field, the celebrated and debated New York Jets quarterback accomplished his goal. Tebow said in December he wanted to "make faith something cool," and his vision had come to life. As clear as ever, believing Jesus Christ as lord and savior was cool.
Tebow's impact in the world is already greater than most public figures. He already has a louder megaphone than any other athlete since Muhammad Ali.
That's why he should retire. Yes. Retire. At 24 years old. Onward and upward with an eye toward the world, not the field.
W.W.T.D.? No, it's more like, W.C.T.D.? As in, What Could Tebow Do in the world if he didn't have football to worry about?
"Anything he wanted to," said University of Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley, who counts among his blessings that he was able to know Tebow at UF for four years. "First of all, Tim has charisma off the charts, if he talked to 5,000 people or 100,000 people. When he speaks to you, he speaks the truth. One of his greatest attributes is his passion for whatever he does. If he left football and had passion for whatever -- I'm not going to even try to guess what he might do -- people would follow him. They take sides about his faith and everything. But he could be anything he wanted to be."
What if Tebow went from part-time producer of his message to full-time? Pick an issue, Tebow could raise awareness for it. The ability to influence people that public figures fight for, he has it. Already.
Forget his second career as a red-zone specialist and clipboard holder for Jets starter Mark Sanchez. Forget the big city circus and its propensity to turn serious businessmen into role players in a drama whose Emmy Award is the back pages of the New York Daily News and New York Post.
Forget anything that could jeopardize his standing as the most powerful athlete today. Remember, he could fail in New York. He could look more fallible than he does when trying to throw on rhythm from the pocket. He could change the perception of him by, well, losing. The Denver Broncos' miracle-laden playoff run also included Tebow completing 46.5 percent of his passes and stumbling in a woeful postseason undressing by the New England Patriots. Allow this to go on longer, take the field for enough snaps, and the world will realize the emperor has no clothes.
That's why Tebow needs to hang up his cleats, peel off his eye-black, put on a suit and begin his second career. As what, you ask?
"I'm sure if you ask enough people you'll get a bunch of opinions," his father Bob Tebow said. "I think he can do just about everything he sets his mind on. I think I know what he'd probably do, but I don't want to predict that."
The man who runs Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association was reticent to talk about his son, preferring not to be a cheerleader. But Tebow's former coach at Nease (Fla.) High had an idea.
"I think he'll run for public office once he's done playing football," said Craig Howard, who famously coached Tebow at Nease and is now coach at Southern Oregon University. "Look at the disillusionment our public has with our political candidates. He's a kid people trust."
President Tebow? Not quite. Tebow isn't 35 years old yet. (He was born in the Philippines, but because both parents were U.S. citizens, it appears he could, theoretically, become President.) Senator Tebow? Governor Tebow? What about Ambassador Tebow?
"Wouldn't that be something?" Howard said. "I always wonder what's going to be next for this guy. What's next for Timmy Tebow? I know it's going to be controversial. I know it'll have an impact. He's got his priorities in order and he has a system of values in his life. A lot of people my age are still searching for it, but this guy is grounded. He is a perfect role model for our young kids."
'Grandmas know Tebow'
Barring the improbable -- emerging as a full-time and consistent starter for the Jets -- Tebow's star on the field can only dim. How can it get any better than his breathtaking performance in Tebow Time? His star in the world, on the other hand, can only brighten. When he exited Florida as the most decorated college player in history, I privately thought he should give up a pro career because he could only ruin his standing. He had nowhere to go but down. I believe it moreso now.
After last year's star-crossed campaign, the fall could be epic. Anyway, he already has the stage he needs to make the difference he covets.
"He could be a worldwide figure like Muhammad Ali," Howard said. "He transcends football. Little grandmas who don't know if a football if stuffed or puffed, they know who Tim Tebow is. They don't know what SEC or NFL stands for, but they know Tim Tebow -- that good-looking young guy who believes in God and good values."
Howard has seen it ever since he turned the nose tackle into his star quarterback, then watched the sophomore become a regional phenomenon by beating rival St. Augustine High 52-35 to snap a decade-long stranglehold. He recalled how high school girls all over the county would leave other games early to line up for Tebow's autograph. "30-deep," he said.
Foley saw it in Gainesville, Fla., where Tebow earned two national titles. By the time he arrived, Tebow was already a national entity, and that simply grew.
"You saw the way people took to him, wanted to be around him," Foley said. "People wanted to follow him, people wanted to be around him, people wanted to learn from him, listen to him. He's got a unique, God-given ability to relate to people. He'll always have his message heard, in my opinion."
Broncos fans caught more than a glimpse of Tebowmania last year, as he went 7-4 as a starter in a stirring playoff run.
As popular as the Pope
In order to take his odd batch of skills and unparalleled passion to the NFL, it took effort. The number of hours Tebow has devoted to the sport he loves no doubt reaches well into the thousands. It is important. Football is important. Sports are important. But not that important. Not compared to the lives he can improve if he trades shoulder pads for healing pads.
Don't believe me? Ask Tebow.
"I have the opportunity to go build hospitals in the Philippines (and) do a lot more important things than football," Tebow said in December, while describing his wild ride. "I'm very thankful for that platform, so I wouldn't change it for anything."
His accomplishments off the field are already eye-popping. As a child, he spoke at prisons and schools in the Philippines, just like he was twice asked to address the Broncos last year. He's also used his foundation to begin building a hospital there. His mother's pro-life advertisement during the Super Bowl two years ago launched a national debate, the kind campaigning politicians cherish.
There exists in several states a "Tim Tebow Law" that allows students who are homeschooled to play for local high schools. He had pundits weighing the pros and cons of "Tebowing," which people used to call praying in public. His appearance in Texas last weekend was only the latest example of his impact.
The megachurch's pastor, Joe Champion, noted to the crowd that the two biggest figures in Christianity are Pope Benedict XVI and Tebow. "We didn't have enough room to handle the Pope," he said.
This is Tebow's reality now. For a fervent segment of the population, he ranks second in import only to His Holiness. There is a famous story about his mother's health issues at the time of his birth, and how she went against the wishes of doctors who wanted her to terminate the pregnancy. She prayed for another son and vowed, "We'll raise him to be a preacher."
That might not be big enough. Neither is being a football player.
"He knows what he wants to do outside the football field," Howard said.
Ask yourself this: What Could Tebow Do?