Monday, December 22, 2014 · 4:21 p.m.

Tebow mixes faith and football with no apologies

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Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow prays in the end zone before the start of a game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday in Denver. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Gospel and the gridiron are inextricably intertwined in Tim Tebow's world.

The scrambling quarterback and devout Christian draws as much scrutiny for mixing faith with football as he does for his unconventional winning ways.

With all eyes on the quirky QB who has led the Denver Broncos' remarkable resurgence, Tebow isn't shy about publicly professing his religious beliefs, often ending interviews with a hardy "God Bless!"

He inspired a viral phenomenon known as "Tebowing" when he dropped to a knee in prayerful reflection as his teammates celebrated around him in Miami after the first in a string of six outrageous comebacks.

Raised by missionary parents, Tebow wore Bible verses on his eye black at Florida and still preaches to villagers in the Philippines and inspires inmates during jailhouse talks.

And he's sharing his religious beliefs with his teammates as enthusiastically as he yells the cadence at the line of scrimmage on Sundays.

Coach John Fox asked Tebow to give the weekly address to the team on the eve of a game against at San Diego last month, and nobody was surprised when Tebow shared Proverbs 27:17 — "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," something Tebow deemed appropriate as offense, defense and special teams feed off one another in what NFL junkies call "complementary football."

Another time, Tebow approached defensive players before a home game against the New York Jets and told them not to fret, God's got this.

"I like his passion," Fox said. "I think in today's world with all that's going on in sport and our society, I think it's wonderful."

Others cringe.

Former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said he likes Tebow but would like him a lot more if he would quit reminding everybody how much he loves Jesus Christ.

No way, Tebow said, insisting he isn't "just a Christian or a believer at church."

Many an athlete has used his platform as a pulpit.

Chap Clark, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school based in California, said Tebow's unorthodox route to success, after so many predicted he would fail as a quarterback, has set him and his faith apart, even from the many other athletes who talk about their religious principles.

"Tim has this ferocity as a competitor, but it's still a game to him. He is consistently saying that football is not the center of life," Clark said. "His great strength is that even people who don't agree with his faith at all play their best around him."

Tebow recently told The Associated Press that he knows his openness about his religion can be divisive but he feels compelled to share his story of salvation regardless of the sensitivity of the subject, and he relayed one of his favorite quotes: "I don't know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future," in showing how leans on his faith so he can focus on football unencumbered by others' opinions.

"To get me through? Without a doubt, 100 percent," Tebow said. "And 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 part of who you are, as a person, as a player, in your life and everything."

Teammate Brian Dawkins, who's equally enthusiastic about sharing his Christianity, said he can't fathom why anyone would have a problem with somebody invoking his right to free speech or freedom of religion.

"He doesn't pull up a pulpit in the middle of the locker room and say, 'Hey, everybody, gather 'round, let me tell you something.' That's not how this thing works," Dawkins said. "It's individual. If someone asks a question, we'll share our faith and our testimony.

"I don't understand why it's such a big deal. Tebow, he's not the first one, Reggie White, Irving Fryar, there are many guys who have lived their lives with outside faith. But for whatever reason, Tim gets so much grief now. To this day, I don't understand it.

"Football is what we do, not who we are."

Amen to that, Tebow said.

The scrambler, who sometimes sings hymns as he runs onto the football field to stay calm in crunch time, said he can't compartmentalize his faith because it's such an integral part of who he is.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people do, but what I feel is living your faith and being genuine is in everything you do and that's football, that's life," Tebow said.

So, he's not going to stop praying on the field or praising God in public even if some find it offensive.

Whether or not his teammates share in his tenets, there's no denying he's inspiring them.

"He had everybody listening" when he spoke about the Proverbs, linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "Just to see him get up there and talk and believe in himself, that's something that spreads throughout the whole team. He believes in himself, so we believe in him."

Before a game against the Jets last month, Tebow approached Woodyard and cornerback Champ Bailey, among others, to share his faith.

"He said God just came and told him to just make sure that he spreads the word and tell everybody, don't worry about a thing and at the end of the day give credit to God," Woodyard recounted.

"Probably if anything I said, 'Don't worry. There's a plan for whatever. Let's go and give our heart out and be the same no matter what. Let's give God the glory win or lose and go lay our hearts on the line,'" Tebow said. "That's usually what I most often say, something like that."

It's not like Tebow is proselytizing, inducing others to convert to his faith, his teammates say.

"The thing about Tim, I respect him, because he's never pushed his religion off on anybody," Woodyard said. "He just goes out there and believes in God himself and shows it every day."

Randall Cunningham, also a mobile quarterback who regularly expressed his religious views during his playing career, said many people criticize Christians for being hypocrites and maybe expect Tebow to fall from grace.

"But I'm going to tell you something, that kid is not a hypocrite," Cunningham said. "... I watch him. He cares about his team, he cares about the fans, he cares about the game, he cares about success and he knows that he can do all things through Christ and that's what he does and that's why he wins."

Indeed, Cunningham said he thinks the Broncos wouldn't have won seven of eight under another quarterback.

"God's hand is on him. Because he's trusting God, I believe that God honors his faith," Cunningham said.

"The Bible says that God chose the lowly things of this world, that's what everybody says about him, that he's not a good quarterback, he's not this and he's not that. And then what does God do? He proves everybody wrong. Through this young, 24-year-old kid, in front of the world, God uses him. That is a powerful, powerful man of God right there."

___

AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.

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