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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Displays of Authenticity (11)—Tebow Shuffle

[a] TIm T15 RF
Everyone is talking about Tim Tebow these days. I couldn't help thinking about the Denver Broncos quarterback in terms of authenticity. You see, the various "lenses" used to view Mr. Tebow have been partial and inadequate—Tebow the Christian, Tebow the college football icon, Tebow the unpolished NFL quarterback, Tebow the game-winner, Tebow the role model. Some adore him. Some despise him. Some of us like a good story. A small number of us don't have strong feelings, but can't look away from a narrative that just keeps chugging along. Fans and the press can't seem to get enough.

I am not going to rehash the story here. I'll leave that to "the sources." Take a look at various portrayals, and then we'll get to the key question of "authenticity." You see, almost every "lens" at one point or another gets right down to the question of Tim Tebow as authentic...or inauthentic. Check out the sources first. Any analysis of the "authenticity" question requires a little background at this point. If you've never heard of Tim Tebow, you owe it to yourself to learn a little more about the relationship between individual, society, and culture in this little historical slice of American sports. Go ahead. It'll be good for you.
[b] Classic RF
There is some serious identification going on here, and not only among Christians. Football fans are deeply divided. There is a kind of NFL purist who cannot stand to look at the way Tim Tebow throws a football (his passes have been compared to the flights of wounded ducks) and runs at the first sign of defensive pressure. The classic NFL quarterback (a prototype is Tebow's "boss," Denver vice president of football operations John Elway) stands in the pocket, examining the field. The great ones—from Sammy Baugh and Y.A. Tittle to the whole Manning Family—hold the field, fate, and future steadily in place as chaos erupts around them.

Not Tim Tebow. When the behemoths from the Land of Defense swarm...he runs. Fast. Long. Often for scores. This infuriates most defensive behemoths and more than a few football purists. A "proper" (i.e. "authentic") quarterback stands in the pocket and throws laser-dart passes in the milliseconds before he is pummeled by a quarter ton or more of thigh and abdomen. Proper quarterbacks have knee replacements and neck surgery, but they stay in the pocket. Not Tim Tebow; he runs. Like the wind.

[c] The bow RF
And then there is "Tebowing"—a kneeling prayer (helmet off) of thanks and commitment. Tebow's bow is, and always has been, as earnest as can be. I wonder if he had any idea as a young buck at the University of Florida that Tebowing would go viral. If he hopes to spread the message, he is doing a damned (sorry) good job of it. Sincere and seemingly selfless, he has a little bit going for him here.

So all of this got me thinking. This isn't just religion or football (which are often conflated in American thought, in any case). Admirers in the pews ("he's authentic; he's the real deal") and "deprecators" in the stands ("he is inauthentic; he is a joke of a quarterback") miss the point.

This is the stuff of mythology.

Football and faith merge in this tale of last-second victory. Say what you will, NFL purists. Many of his passes flutter in the sky like wayward balloons, but, when needed (as in overtime last week against Pittsburgh), they seem to strike as though they came from the very hand of the creator...
[d] Handy creation RF
...of the forward pass.

At the risk of offending a few literalists (or just plain ol' Broncos fans), I am including here two critiques of Tebow's merging of religiosity and football. The first comes from the great Minnesota Vikings quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, who writes that, as the son of a Pentecostal minister in the 1950s, he was charismatic Christian before charismatic Christianity was cool. Still, he questions why religion has anything to do with football. In the second link, Jimmy Fallon asks the same question, albeit with a good deal less subtlety.

Yes, this is mythology, and I will add my own bit of cultural and historical "research" to the mix. I have discovered a long lost (since 1977) telling of the Tebow legend. Although the singer of tales has clearly gotten some details confused (he has a tendency to pronounce "Tebow" as "Lido" for some reason), I have annotated the text and included a live telling of the myth by its leading interpreter, a chieftain with the totemic name of Boss Stag...or something like that.

The Myth of the Tebow Shuffle
Lido missed the boat that day he left the shack  (The Swamp; Florida Gators)
But that was all he missed and he ain't comin' back (NCAA rules: eligible four years)
A tombstone bar in a jukejoint car, he made a stop (all details refer to the NFL)
Just long enough to grab a handle off the top (first round draft pick)
Next stop Chi town, Lido put the money down and let it roll 
(Scribal error: Mile High Town)
These peculiar opening lines show the manner in which the young shaman named Tebow ("Lido") left the womb of contentment of his safe home in the Swamp ("shack") to enter the confused and dangerous world of tombstone bars and jukejoints (sometimes called "the NFL"). He and his people wanted him to stay, but the young journeyman knew that fate would take him far from his homeland ("he ain't comin' back"). Eventually, he ends up in Mile High Town, puts down the money (first-round draft pick salary) and starts to work his wonders.
He said one more job ought to get it
One last shot 'fore we quit it
One more for the road
Starting his apprenticeship far from home, this healer of football woe is ridiculed by "proper" football people who find him inauthentic and out of his element. Tebow is unapologetic. Just give me a chance, he seems to say.
Lido, whoa-oh-oh-oh
He's for the money, he's for the show (money="wins"; show refers to starting QB)
Lido's waitin' for the go (backup QB, waiting to "go")
Lido, whoa-oh-oh-oh
He said one more job ought to get it (job=excellent practice showing)
One last shot 'fore we quit it
One more for the road
These lines stablize the tale just as it is about to make its greatest transition. "Tebow" is the backup quarterback. Young, sincere, and industrious, he works for his opportunity, staying late at practice and honing his skills for the day he is needed.
Lido be runnin', havin' great big fun, until he got the note
(John Elway: "he's 'inauthentic'")
Sayin' toe the line or blow, and that was all she wrote (act like a classic QB...or else)
*He be makin' like a beeline, headin' for the borderline (Tebow runs and ducks harder)
Goin' for broke (never giving up, even in the face of mockery)
It gets worse before it gets better for our mythic hero. He is mocked by the "note" he receives (in the form of an ESPN interview with the VP of the Denver Broncos) saying that "Tebow" isn't very good, and the organization will be moving in a new direction next year--after they have used him to get by. This (*) is the key transitional point in the narrative, a point that Clod Lévity-Snouts notes as climactic in his study of NFL poetics (The Tackled and the Thrown, Harper and Row, 1966).
Sayin' one more hit ought to do it
This joint ain't nothin to it (this starting QB stuff ain't so tough)
One more for the road (Tebow wins at home and on the road now)
Tebow is now the starting quarterback, and carries his team from improbable victory to even more improbable victory (along with a few losses). Even the villain (Elway) comes around, and Tebow is admired by all. Even his critics smile as he completes the classic rise from shack/swamp to Mile-High (Chi)-town, and outsider to insider. It is the classic heroic quest narrative. From Odysseus to the Monkey King and Tim Tebow, the hero overcomes obstacles and succeeds in the face of danger, outwitting enemies such as the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.

The refrain reinforces the heroic quest narrative. Oh, whoa, wo, wo....Tebow. 

Enjoy the Bataille royale (Broncos-Patriots) tonight.
[f] Bataille field RF

P.S. Tom 45:10. See you next NY-town.

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