What Does Tim Tebow Pray For?

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.

(Photo: Jeffrey Beall)

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.”

 

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  1. jonathan says:

    How about this: Tebow is a highly competent option quarterback who plays for a coach known for developing straight-forward offensive and defensive schemes his players are able to implement. The team has a very good defense – though, as a note, it did not perform particularly well against the few high-powered offenses it played. In other words, they’re a pretty good team that was lucky enough to play in a weak division. In the playoff game last week, they were lucky the opponent took their abilities lightly: the Steelers would often have 10 or even 11 men up on the line. One can argue it wasn’t Tebow’s faith but his demonstrated problems with throwing that led the Steelers to place foolish emphasis on making big plays against the run. They chose to risk big plays downfield and lost that bet. It certainly wasn’t faith which made the Pittsburgh game plan.

    As for will, without intending any comment on Tebow at all, remember “Triumph of the Will”? It is very easy to delude yourself into thinking you have a “chosen” leader. You then discard the rational reasons why you achieved in favor of blind faith.

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  2. Ezzie says:

    On an NFL.com video focusing on Tebow (a SoundFX video I believe), it seemed clear that he prays that he honor God and that everyone be safe and other similar things, not anything to do with victory.

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    • Dave P says:

      It’s been noted before that being mic’d up has a change both on what players say, when they say, and how they other players around them respond. Not to mention that anything offensive or even questionable will never see the light of day. If Tebow had asked God to smite the opposing linebackers we’d never hear about it. Not that I think he did…..

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  3. SurelyHeCantBeSerious says:

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      Sounded like he was being funny; not seriously praying for something bad to happen.

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  4. Quin says:

    Here’s an Atlantic article by an evangelical professor of theology on whether Tim’s God cares whether he wins or not:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/01/does-god-care-whether-tim-tebow-wins-on-saturday/251273/

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  5. Joshua says:

    I want to express my general belief that much of Tebow’s prayers are an act of humility, thanking God for successes he didn’t deserve (given the technical strength of his performance). Or also, perhaps, as an acknowledgement than any strength or skill he has comes from God’s grace.

    I want to defend the idea that we can pray for others to fail. This is only the flipside of praying for success, isn’t it? Praying to get hired on a strong job interview means, implicitly, all the other applicants get rejected. Praying to do well on your final (that you’d have that study the right things and remember them at the right time!) hurts those around you if your class is graded on a curve. I don’t think we would censure those who pray in any circumstance where it seems like a more-or-less zero sum game.

    Prayer is not an act of manipulation of God. If it were, maybe we could complain about praying for others to fail. Maybe we could complain about prayer time wasted on football games when it could be spent praying for food for starving children.

    If instead prayer is act of trust in the character of God, if it is an act of humility that our strength and success aren’t things we deserve but gifts from our hand and an acknowledgement that whatever our circumstances, God loves us and wants good things for us (though he often has us endure hard things) then what’s wrong for praying for success? Or, if your defense is on the field, praying for their offense to fail?

    If God is in fact omnipotent, we shouldn’t stress about whether football is trivial. Most of life (our accomplishments) are actually trivial, as they are all things God could accomplish with less effort than we hiccup. I think it’s only reasonable to conclude that prayer and what we do and how God acts has much more to do with us and how he relates to us and shapes who we are than *accomplishing important things.* So if God wants Tebow to win because he likes Tim Tebow and is responding to Tim Tebow according to his character, what’s wrong with that?

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    • nobody.really says:

      ” If instead prayer is act of trust in the character of God … then what’s wrong for praying for success?”

      Seems to me if you *really* trust the character of God, then you’d rely on His judgment, not yours, as a guide for outcomes. I clever guy once suggested that we pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done — not our own wills, or our own kingdoms.

      Just a thought.

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  6. Dave P says:

    This starts off with a false premise. Tebow is not VERY demonstrative. More so than me and perhaps you, but not in comparison to other players of his sport or sports in general. If you listen to interviews after games 80% begin with a thanks to God. We’ve all seen video of entire teams praying before big field goals or if a player gets seriously hurt on the field. Showy WRs point to the sky after scoring tds and wear $150,000 diamond encrusted crosses in the locker room after the game. Several players have been preachers at their church during their playing careers (Minister of Defense, anyone?)

    What’s different about Tebow is how the Media chooses to play up his religion. Well, and his virginity. That’s definitely different. But Tebow doesn’t mention God or his relationship with God any more than any other player in football. Football, by the way, seems to have a greater number of evangelist players than the other sports. Maybe because it’s more violent and each play carries a greater risk of career ending injury than the other sports? No atheists in foxholes or in huddles?

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  7. Caleb b says:

    Knowing the placebo effect is real, and knowing that there is indeed power in positive thinking, there is a very real possibility that Tebow’s beliefs help him to play better. Especially in crunch time when he needs the most help.

    Plus, if he declares to his teammates that God is on their side, they might also play better.

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    • Preemptive Placebo says:

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      • Mike B says:

        I don’t know, a football player is certainly no notary public…or a stevedore…or even an orthodontist.

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  8. AaronS says:

    While I do not propose that Christians should pray for victory in sports, I remember many times standing the outfield when I played Little League…. I would try to sing “spiritual songs” and so forth, NOT because I thought that made us win (though, come to think of it, almost all of my teams were great teams), but because I thought it would make us BETTER.

    But here’s the thing: IF IF IF there is a God, and IF IF IF He is as Christians suppose, then I don’t think He would be “offended” that we ask for victory. What about the Christians on the other team? Maybe sometimes God stays out of it…maybe sometimes we have an “Angels in the Outfield” sort of thing going…for those really good Christians.

    Lastly, if I were God, I have to tell you that I might be a bit more tilted toward the athlete that I think will give Me the best press. If there’s someone playing who is making me look good with their behavior and comments, yeah, I’d lend them a hand every now and then. I mean, God IS a Father, isn’t He? If I could do a little something (not cheating!) that would give my own children an edge in competition, would I? YES.

    Again, back in Little League, if a pitcher was really fast and good, I almost always said a little prayer. It might have been more about my safety than success at the plate, but either way, I didn’t do too poorly (though I was good enough for High School, etc.).

    One thing about it, when you TRULY BELIEVE that God love you, and that, win or lose, all will be well, you may play with a freedom you would not play with otherwise. And that may be the very edge that Tebow has.

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