If you follow professional football at all, you recognize the names of the two people in the title of this post: Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning. The connection between them is that they are the previous and current quarterbacks for the Denver Broncos, which is of particular interest to me since I live here and have a front row seat to notice how each quarterback has been perceived in these parts. Another connection between them, one less obvious, is that both are men of faith–though they both have very different ways of expressing that faith, and interestingly, have seen different outcomes in their lives.
I actually wrote a blog post two years ago about Tim Tebow’s public faith, back when he was in the limelight, leading the Broncos into the playoffs after what looked to be a doomed season (a lot of people have forgotten that). So I won’t go into huge amount of detail rehashing the points made there. But I have to say that I think it is more than Tebow’s inconsistencies as a player that have caused him to be shifted around teams since the Broncos traded him for Manning, ultimately finding himself unemployable as a quarterback. Such a big deal was made of his faith, and he made such a public deal of it, that he became something of a caricature, where fans and pundits alike were so consumed with “Tebowing” that not enough attention could be paid to the actual playing of football. In short–no one wanted to touch Tebow because his celebrity made him a distraction, and despite his best efforts and good attitude in trying to learn to harness his own talent, I think his celebrity got in the way of his own development as an athlete. And let’s face it–most of his celebrity stemmed from being a handsome, virgin Christian who talked about God every time someone gave him a platform.
It sounds good on paper. I grew up within the church with that exact same mentality, that you should use any platform you were given to share your faith. But look at the fruit. Tebow is currently exiled from the only thing he wants to do for a living, much of it due to his oversized public image; and that’s an absolute shame, because he is definitely talented, and if he could be properly mentored he could still be honed into one of the great quarterbacks of our time.
Now let’s look at the other guy–the current Denver quarterback who will be aiming next weekend for his second Super Bowl win.
Before I had ever read anything about this, I had a feeling that Peyton Manning was a Christian. He just exudes a quiet calm and grace, even when he’s annoyed. He seems to be a person of character. He’s a consummate professional. I think beyond his skills, the Broncos really needed this kind of quiet-but-focused personality after the chaos of Tebow-mania. Manning doesn’t say much about his faith, but he acts like a believer.
As it turns out, there have been some articles posted this week that have once again highlighted this not-often-discussed aspect of Peyton Manning’s life. In 2001, Peyton published a book called Manning with his father. In it, he talks about his conversion experience and his faith in Christ, which he considers to be the highest priority in his life, although he rarely mentions it. (Faith, family, friends and football are what he calls his priorities, in that order.)
In the book, he says this: “Some players get more vocal about it – the Reggie Whites, for example – and some point to Heaven after scoring a touchdown and praise God after games. I have no problem with that. But I don’t do it, and don’t think it makes me any less a Christian. I just want my actions to speak louder, and I don’t want to be more of a target for criticism than I already am.”
Here’s another key quote from the book: “Dad says it can take twenty years to make a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. I want my reputation to be able to make it through whatever five-minute crises I run into. And I’m a lot more comfortable knowing where my help is.”
So once again, let’s look at the fruit. Peyton Manning is one of the most respected men in the game of football. He has the unwavering loyalty of his team. One of the words most often used to describe him is “professional.” He is cited as an inspiration by many quarterbacks past and present, and has a profound influence on people. And after beating back a career-threatening neck injury that got him cut from the Indianapolis Colts (giving Denver the chance to snag him), Manning has come back to have a banner year. One of the oldest quarterbacks in the game has spent this entire season smashing one record after the other. And every time he does, he quietly waves, goes off the field, and instead of reveling in his success or kneeling in public, studies charts for the next plays.
For the record, I am not suggesting that Manning’s success this year has been because God is rewarding him for his faith, or even for his understated expression of it. I do believe, however, that by allowing his faith to guide his core decisions rather than displaying it as a trophy, Peyton Manning has been able to stay focused on his goals. And I do believe his wisdom in this approach has enabled him to exert more of a positive influence on a culture that has long been weary of the in-your-face approach to the gospel.
I don’t think Peyton Manning is ashamed of his faith. And I don’t think Tim Tebow should be. I think, rather, that Tebow and Manning give us the rare opportunity to look at two men of faith in the same profession, with two very distinct ways of expressing their faith. And we can look at the fruit and see realistically which approach has had the greater impact on our postmodern culture.
And if I can be so bold–go Broncos.