Tim Tebow faces another big football test this weekend with a Sunday game against New England. The quarterback has seen the ranks of off-field followers soar, as ‘Tebowing’ in prayer (real or pretended) goes global.
If you were part of an alien reconnaissance team visiting Earth this December, you'd be forgiven for thinking the world is ruled by someone named Tim Tebow.
But as quarterback for the Denver Broncos, let's just say Mr. Tebow wields some impressive power over the collective consciousness – an influence that extends well beyond the Mile High City.
For the record, he's led the Broncos to victory in seven out of eight games since taking over as QB following the team's rough start this year. He's made a specialty of come-from-behind dramas that elicit the word "miracle" even from some commentators who don't share Tebow's passion for bended-knee Christian prayer.
On Sunday, Tebow and the Broncos face one of the toughest tests of strength, a matchup against the New England Patriots. The game will be played in front of a home crowd in Denver.
In addition to boasting their own star quarterback, Tom Brady, the Patriots will pit their high-powered defense against a team that has often struggled to do much scoring, even since Tebow started calling plays.
Yet, judging by the things that have gone Denver's way lately, it might be foolish to make predictions about this game.
An homage-to-Tebow music video, titled "All He Does Is Win," has gathered more than a million viewers on Youtube.com. (The video is a DJ's mash up that draws its lyrics from sportscaster sound bites.)
The Bronco's 7-1 record belies the music video's title. Tebow has one 2011 loss under his belt already. But the basic idea rings true enough.
For now at least, the season is moving toward playoff time with Tebow at center stage.
More important, as a cultural phenomenon, is that "Tebowing" (assuming his sideline prayer posture) has taken off as a global trend.
The website Tebowing.com, launched this fall by a Denver fan, claims to have coined the term and defines the practice as "to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different."
The site serves as a host for photos, uploaded spontaneously by people all over the world, of people Tebowing in various circumstances and stages of life. Toddlers are doing it. People at Stonehenge are doing it. A wedding party is doing it. One man shows off the right pose in mid air, while about to land in a swimming pool.
“The rapid rise of the word has seldom been equaled,” the Global Language Monitor said in a statement this week, as it granted official status to the word.
This past week, two students at a New York high school made news by being suspended for organizing a Tebowing group. (School officials said the events were blocking the hallway.)
Tebow has taken the attention and copycatting in stride, welcoming it (if the practice "gives him encouragement to pray, that's completely awesome," he said in one instance) while also acknowledging that some of the Tebowing isn't meant in solidarity (as when members of opposing teams have done it after a sack).
After the New York school incident, he made a statement about the importance of following rules and heeding propriety.
But Tebow comes off as anything but uptight about his life and his faith.
On his Twitter account, he sometimes comments about Bible verses, sometimes about his charity (the Tim Tebow Foundation), and only rarely about his football successes. At Easter time he wrote:
"It's time to celebrate the greatest victory of all... He is risen! Have a wonderful Easter everyone! 1 Peter 1:3."
More typical are friendly words to people like ESPN's Skip Bayless:
"Nothing but love for @RealSkipBayless but I will challenge him to a round of golf to see who's more clutch haha."
Lots of Denver fans, and Tebow fans, will be hoping for a clutch performance Sunday.