In a recent Football Freakonomics video about Tim Tebow, I made a connection between his faith and performance:
Tebow is hardly the first NFL quarterback to be demonstrative about his religious faith. But he’s very demonstrative – and it’s worth considering how that faith may affect his play. By definition, faith often translates into a kind of fearlessness. Tim Tebow doesn’t seem to be familiar with the phenomenon known as “fear of failure.” His belief – in himself, and in success – may be the intangible that lifts not only his own play, but of those around him.
What I hadn’t thought about at the time was exactly what Tebow prays for on the field or the sidelines. I assumed he prayed for personal strength, or guidance, or safety. Not, however, for the Broncos to win or the opponents to lose.
That assumption was strengthened the other day when I read a really interesting Wall Street Journal op-ed by former quarterback great Fran Tarkenton, headlined “Does God Care Who Wins Football Games?” He makes clear that in the NFL, at least during his era, it was okay to pray for health and strength but not for victory.
But then I happened to read Ben McGrath‘s excellent New Yorker article (gated!) about Don Bosco Preparatory School, a Catholic football powerhouse in Ramsey, New Jersey. In this case, praying for victory is part of the game:
Father Manny Gallo, a thirty-one-year-old theology teacher with a shaved head and a goatee, addressed the players—there were more than a hundred—before a recitation of the Hail Mary. He began by apologizing for the fact that, “because I’m a priest,” he wouldn’t be able to say certain inspirational words. “Jesus Christ will teach you two things today,” he said. “The first thing is, when Jesus was carrying that Cross, defeat was not on his mind. Victory was on his mind!” The boys listened solemnly. “The second thing, gentlemen, that Jesus Christ can teach us is that weakness was not in his heart. So when you feel pain, when you feel like vomiting, when you feel nervous, when you feel that you can’t no more, think about that.”
And that’s what made me want to know what, exactly, Tim Tebow prays for. Turns out my assumption was totally wrong. Here’s a Dan Wetzel column about a dramatic Broncos win in November.
“That was a huge play,” Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow said. Yes, there was the rookie linebacker making a clutch, overtime tackle of San Diego Chargers running back Mike Tolbert for a four-yard loss. The play forced the Chargers into a just-too-long 53-yard overtime field goal attempt that wound up off course.
Not that Tebow saw either play.
“I can’t say I saw too much of it,” Tebow said. “I was praying.”
Praying for a miss?
“I might have said that,” Tebow laughed. “Or maybe a block. Maybe all of it.”