Tim Tebow. Those two words have created more contentious viewpoints than Meatless Monday. With the NFL draft tonight, no man has generated more vitriol, worship, and uninformed opinions over the course of the past 24 hours. Even my completely sports-illiterate neuroscientist mother had an opinion. “The (Jacksonville) Jaguars are going to buy him, right?” she asked. Besides getting the buying/drafting part of the verb use wrong, even my mom was insinuating that homeboy had to get drafted by the Jags — if for no other reason than her remembering that my friend played on his Little League team. (That’s right — I knew Tim Tebow through a friend!)
Then come the questions. Will he succeed at the next level? What position will he play? Will he switch to H-back? Tight-end? Towel boy? As I was watching ESPN’s draft coverage and digesting their googolplex of mock drafts, I was constantly on head-explosion patrol. I made a point of DVRing (mentally, of course; there’s no way my parents would pay for something so detrimental to my GPA) every sports show in sight just in case any expert’s head actually spontaneously mushroomed from pure banana split.
Look, the fact of the matter is that nobody knows how Tim Tebow will perform in the NFL. He could be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He could be so bad that even Ryan Leaf sends Tebow portions of his government unemployment checks. But despite all these unknowns about the man, the legend, the deity, Timothy Richard “Tim” Tebow (his full Wikipedia name), one thing is for certain: I will always love him. Uh … root for him.
And that brought me to a very introspective question (no, it has nothing to do with my sexuality — ladies, continue to MySpace me): to what extent do I, as a sports fan, root for one individual rather than a team? What happens if the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers, fresh off Ben Roethlisberger’s debauchery, just says, “Eff this, we’re going for the super Christian, grounded, on-track-to-be-a-saint Tim Tebow.”
I hate the Steelers. They’ve always irked me because whenever we (the Jacksonville Jaguars) play the Steelers, there’s almost more Steeler fans in the crowd than Jaguar fans. Where did they come from? Where did they get so many yellow towels in Jacksonville? Does Bed Bath & Beyond just run out of yellow towel inventory whenever they come into town? What’s the profit and loss of Bed Bath & — OK, sorry, I’ll cut off the consulting lingo there. But the point is, I hate the Steelers, hate their fans, and hate how they’re always taking over my stadium.
What if Tim Tebow suited up in the yellow and black? Does my personal love for him as a player trump my love for the hometown Jaguars? Does it override my hate for the Steelers? Who said sports fans didn’t have to make decisions?!?
Thinking through all this stuff, I realized that it really has to do with your connection to your community. For most of us, our rooting interests all have to do with our community links. People root passionately for their college teams most likely because they either went there or had some kind of connection there that defined them in some way. People root for their hometown teams because they grew up rooting for them, had parents who were crazy about them, or — like the young, naïve, virginally-sports-uninitiated John Song — just (literally) drank the team’s Kool-Aid from a free cup at the local supermarket.
But when it comes to the homegrown heroes like Tim Tebow, it all has to do with the relationship of the people to the player and the player to the people. When Reggie Miller was drafted by the Indiana Pacers instead of hometown product Steve Alford, fans booed the selection. Then Miller embraced the city, brought them swagger against the big bad New York Knicks, and became the most accomplished long-distance marksman in NBA history. The boos turned into cheers.
In a way, if Tim Tebow is drafted by any team other than the Jaguars, he can definitely pull the reverse-Reggie Miller. Instead of being a foreigner who captured a local team’s hearts, he could be the hometown son who continued to love his community despite playing for a different team. He could form great grassroots programs, donate up the wazzoo, and make a lasting impression with the people of Jacksonville — all without actually playing for the Jaguars.
But how will the fans take it? Ask rap genius Lil Wayne, who was apparently rooting for the Minnesota Vikings in this year’s NFC Championship despite being from New Orleans. Why? Because he’s been a Brett Favre fan all his life and has signed memorabilia from his favorite quarterback. He turned his back on the city that he grew up in because of one man. (If you don’t believe me, Google “Lil Wayne” and “Minnesota Vikings.”)
But there are examples on the other end of the spectrum. In an informal poll of one person conducted yesterday, I asked my friend Mike (a die-hard Washington Capitals hockey fan and willing donor to fund medical research in order to carry Alexander Ovechkin’s unborn children) if he would root for Ovechkin even if he no longer played for the Caps. Sure, he said, before noting that Ovechkin has literally 10 years left on his contract and, hence, that would be impossible. I then asked Mike to choose a side whenever Ovechkin rolled into town. Without any hesitation, Mike went with his hometown team, the Caps.
But it’s interesting to note here that Mike felt an unnatural connection to the Caps. After studying abroad in Egypt last year, he felt that the only consistent connection he had to America was the Caps. He started reading all their blogs, following their statistical analytics, and even waking up in the wee hours of the night to stream grainy games on his laptop. Even though he wasn’t a die-hard fan before, his experience in Egypt made the Caps a part of who he was.
And that’s the answer to my question of who to root for. It’s easy to say that, obviously, you root for whichever one you’re more attached to. But for the true, die-hard, can’t-live-without-you sports fan, it’s a matter of realizing which side, the team or the player, is more inherently tied to your oneness. Your zen. Your very essence as a human being.
Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but I truly feel that the institutions of sports, fandom, and sports-team loyalty have contributed unfathomable amounts to who I am as a person. The first thing I think about in the morning is how my teams did. The last thing I check before bed is ESPN. I eat, live, and breathe sports.
When I first set out to write this column, I (egomaniacally) thought that it would just be a great forum for me to spread all of my wonderful ideas about sports to the Yale community and/or world. But after writing a couple columns (and realizing that nobody actually read what I was writing), it became much more than self-publicity. It was a way for me to get to know myself and introspect about my root feelings for something that I loved. This is my last article for the year, and while I don’t know if I will continue to write next year, I can’t describe how much this column has enlightened me on … me. I know that I’m not nearly talented enough to ever get to do this for a living, but this experience — of walking down the street and meeting random people who had a glimpse of my article and loved it, of late nights writing on Wednesday, of hanging out at the News’ headquarters on a regular basis — will stay with me forever.
And after writing this article, I know that something else will stay with me forever: Tim Tebow. He has simply been too much a part of my life. Returning to the idea of rooting for your community, I realized that Tim Tebow WAS my sports community. When I made the pact with the Fates and said that if the Florida Gators had somehow won the football national championship, I would get into Yale, Tim Tebow seemed tangentially responsible for my shining little acceptance packet. Did that make sense? No. Timmy T had as much to do with me getting into Yale as Snooki’s SAT score had to do with her catapulting into national prominence.
But some spiritual, unrelenting and irrational part of me still feels that, to this day, I’m here at Yale because of his jump pass. As a junior who’s about to start the last leg of his Yale experience, I feel like Tim’s career and I have been linked together. His touchdowns are a part of me as much as my lack of luck with the ladies. And I’m not about to depart from either one any time soon.
So who am I choosing? Tim Tebow — I will always root for you. But can you do me a favor? Please ask your BFFL upstairs to get you on the Jacksonville Jaguars? Kthanxbye.
John Song is a junior in Berkeley College.