CORTLAND, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The most important call of Tim Tebow’s day comes far away from the huddle.
It’s usually sometime at night, when football is the furthest thing on the Jets backup quarterback’s mind. That’s a rare moment these days for Tebow, particularly during training camp. But one of his closest friends — an “accountability partner,” as he describes him — is always a phone call away to keep his priorities in order.
For No. 15, that means God is No. 1.
Family comes second.
Football is a distant third.
“He’s someone I pray with,” Tebow said in a recent sit-down with The Associated Press, preferring to keep his friend’s identity private. “He’ll ask me: ‘Hey, did you get in the Word today? Were you praying today?’ I have him because I need someone who is always investing in me, you know?
“You don’t ever want to become complacent. That’s very easy to do because life gets in the way.”
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Especially when you’re one of the most popular people on the planet.
Tebow’s every move on the field is scrutinized, from how he throws to how he runs — or, as was the case early in camp, how he jogs shirtless through the rain after practice. Off the field, he’s easily recognized by even the most casual of football fans. Being on the cover of GQ magazine’s latest issue that hit newsstands Tuesday — the quarterback’s 25th birthday — with a photo of a bare-chested Tebow in a Jesus-like pose from a few years ago accompanying the story helps. It all makes things predictably tough when you’re just trying to be normal.
Deep down, he understands that he’s anything but.
That’s why Tebow, a devout Christian, leans on his faith constantly, even during the dog days of training camp when prayers and playbooks could get muddled in his mind.
“There’s football, wanting to get in an extra workout, wanting to go to an extra meeting,” said Tebow, who is expected to be used in a variety of ways by the Jets this season. “That’s when your priorities get jumbled, maybe for an hour, maybe for a day, maybe for a week or maybe for a year. I don’t want that to happen to me. It’s a constant battle. It’s non-stop. That’s why it’s always good to have people around you who hold you accountable.
“My friend doesn’t tell me what I want to hear. He tells me what I need to hear, and that’s important.”
Tebow works hard at maintaining his image as the guy he has always been, whether he’s talking about his role on the Jets (No. 17 in the AP Pro32) or speaking to a crowd of 15,000 — as he did on Easter Sunday at a church in Georgetown, Texas. He has a warm, infectious smile, looks you in the eye when he speaks and has morals that would make any parent proud. There’s also his extensive charitable efforts with the Tim Tebow Foundation, which helps needy children all over the world.
“Being able to score touchdowns and win games is a way to get that platform,” Tebow said, leaning back in a folding chair and tapping his fingers on a table. “But ultimately, if that’s what you do in your life and that’s what your life is based on, I don’t know, I feel like that’s a little bit of a meaningless life. But if you can take that and do something with it like a lot of athletes do, then you’re having a life of success, a life of meaning. It’s not about the games that you can win. It’s about the lives you can touch.”
He has a rock-star type of following, as evidenced by the countless fans who have shown up to training camp with signs dedicated to their favorite player. The chants of “Tee-boww!” are constant on some days, with wide-eyed fans just hoping the quarterback will glance in their direction.
Even people who don’t follow sports know all about “Tebowing,” the pose the quarterback made popular by praying on one knee on the sideline during big moments in games. The fact that many do it for laughs doesn’t offend Tebow. At least, he says, prayer is being talked about.
“Maybe beyond anything else in my life, I want to be a great role model,” Tebow said. “I don’t want someone to say they regret what they did because they followed me. If anything, I want them to say that I was someone who led them in the right direction, was a good role model and because they knew me or watched me, their life was better. That’s my goal.”
That approach is a big reason so many people love Tebow.
There are also plenty who dislike him. Some point to pure football reasons, like current WFAN radio host and former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason, who recently said he’d cut the backup quarterback.
But then there are the skeptics who say he’s too good to be true and his image merely a well-designed public relations touchdown.
“You just want them to meet those kids we help, you know?” Tebow said, his tone turning serious. “And you want to see how it makes them feel. Honestly, I can’t let people like that affect me or worry about them. Those are few and far between, and honestly, they should be more worried about something else other than why they’re mad at me for trying to help someone.”
There are constant questions and rumors about his sex life and who he’s dating, and people trying to play matchmaker. Going out in public is also a challenge, where having a quiet meal is preceded by scouting missions to find a restaurant with seating that’s more private than most.
He doesn’t complain about it. He accepts who he is, and what everyone expects him to be.
“It definitely can be tough, but at the same time, I don’t want to let the media or the world affect how I live,” he said. “I really feel like it hasn’t to this point, and I don’t want to let it start.”
Wide receiver Chaz Schilens drew the assignment of being Tebow’s dorm partner during training camp. For nearly three weeks, Schilens has gotten to see what being Tim Tebow entails.
“It amazes me,” Schilens said. “I asked him one day if he just ever stops and wants to get away, and he says, ‘Nah.’ He’s in a fortunate position in his life and I think he’s able to see beyond it, and see how what he does can help other people. I think he embraces it, and I don’t think it’s as much of a burden as it might seem to be to a lot of other people.”
That’s how Tebow approaches his faith, and he doesn’t proactively seek out teammates to push what he believes on them. Instead, he goes about his business and lets his teammates see what he’s all about.
“He’s a great guy and really just what you expect,” said defensive lineman Mike DeVito, also a devout Christian. “I have a lot of respect for him. I’ve gotten to know him and he definitely walks the walk.”
There are some who have their doubts about whether Tebow can maintain his lifestyle while playing in New York, a tantalizing city with bright lights and huge distractions. He laughs at that suggestion because, sure, New York is bigger than other cities he has lived and played in. But temptations are everywhere, he says, and his faith is strong enough to withstand every test that comes his way.
“When I became a Jet,” Tebow said, “I looked at it like, besides the fact I’m going to a great team with coaches that I like and players that I respect, I’m going to a city where I’m going to have a platform to hopefully do a lot of great things and maybe change a lot of people’s lives and put smiles on kids’ faces and brighten some days.
“When it comes down to it, that’s what it’s all about.”
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