Tim Tebow goes to Nineveh or Babylon or ...

Well, here's a pair of sentences that I did not expect to write anytime soon. Amidst the barrage of Tim Tebow goes to the New York Jets coverage, The New York Times turned out a very interesting news feature on the controversial quarterback that actually broke new ground (at least in the national press, as opposed to coverage years ago in Florida) and offered some unconventional insights. That's sentence No. 1.

The key is that this story focused on Tebow's roots -- especially his play at Nease High School -- and the patterns that can easily be seen throughout the different stages of his amazing football career.

The second sentence that I didn't expect to write goes like this: The Times story includes key religious themes (imagine writing about Tebow while ignoring faith issues), but did not pound them into the ground in a hostile manner. Amazing! Miraculous!

Here's the thesis statement in this article, which has a Jacksonville, Fla., dateline:

Perhaps that is why few here seem to doubt what will happen to Tebow with the Jets. For all the breathless predictions from fans and analysts about Tebow’s future in New York, those who watched him from the beginning -- before the narrative was honed with the Gators and the Broncos -- already know the three key points that inevitably surface whenever Tebow moves to a new locale. To them, this is just Tebowmania IV.

How sure are they? On Monday night, as replays of Tebow’s first news conference with the Jets played on screens throughout a restaurant, Ryan Ellis, one of Tebow’s top wide receivers at Nease, laughed as he dug into a basket of chicken tenders.

“Everyone on TV keeps talking about: ‘Is it going to work with Tebow? What’s going to happen?’ ” Ellis said. “All I keep thinking is, How do they not already know?”

With Tebow, the beginning is always the same. At Florida, Tebow spent a season as a backup quarterback (to Chris Leak), then became a starter and a star. In Denver, he spent a season as a backup quarterback (to Kyle Orton), then became a starter and a star.

In high school Tebow was never a backup quarterback, but initially he might have been even more invisible: he spent his freshman season as a defensive lineman at Trinity Christian, a private school in Jacksonville where his older brothers played linebacker. Trinity Christian had a quarterback, so Tebow played tight end and nose guard. It was, in many ways, his last season in relative anonymity.

That winter, Tebow’s father, Bob, began looking for a school where Tebow could play quarterback.

This leads readers into the matrix of the "Tim Tebow" law controversies, which pivoted on whether homeschoolers must be allowed to take part in public-school athletics programs. Ironically, Tebow was rejected by one famous private school.

The key question: Would this guy fit in? Would he be TOO different from the crowd? Then there was the whole missionary-kid thing, which centers on the fact that preachers' kids can face rough sledding in any high school. In the end, I was impressed that the faith element in the story was handled calmly, with lots of factual detail and human voices.

This is a modest, low-key story. That's a compliment.

In the fall of 2003 ... when he was starting his first season with Nease, there were the murmurs about the intensity of the Tebows’ faith. Bob Tebow made no secret of his family’s belief that educating the children at home was an important part of giving them a Christian upbringing, and that prompted mixed reactions.

To the Tebows, this was nothing new. At the family’s home, there are Bible verses on the doors to rooms. Ken Murrah, who spent significant time with the family while producing an ESPN documentary on Tebow’s senior season in high school, said the house was warm but purposely modest. Bob Tebow always had his children do significant work on the farm, whether it was building fences or baling hay, to instill dedication and humility.

“He was direct about what he believed in and did not hide it,” Murrah said. “Bob was never trying to win any popularity contests with how he raised his kids, I can tell you that. But the whole family lived that way. It was genuine.”

Still, though home schooling is not as rare in Florida as it is in other states, even Tebow’s teammates were initially wary.

“I remember some guys being like, ‘Will he know a lot of words? Will he speak like us?’ ” Ellis said. “It was different.”

In high school, Tebow was not overtly vocal about his Christianity to other players, Ellis said, but he did kneel and pray before games -- though no one called it Tebowing then.

Yes, this feature story touches on earlier controversies about Tebow's virginity. Yes, it describes the quarterback's skills as a designated driver for teammates who tipped back a few too many drinks -- while Tebow abstained.

It's a fine piece. Let's hope that reporters at the New York tabloids read it. It touches the familiar bases, but does not stomp on them. That's another compliment.

Meanwhile, op-ed columnist Ross Douthat of the Times recently offered a precise description of the logic that is at the heart of the media phenomenon that could be called Hurricane Tebow. Check it out, especially this part:

... (L)et’s be unsophisticated for a moment. Why is Tim Tebow such a fascinating and polarizing figure? Not just because he claims to be religious; that claim is commonplace among football stars and ordinary Americans alike. Rather, it’s because his conduct -- kind, charitable, chaste, guileless -- seems to actually vindicate his claim to be in possession of a life-altering truth.

Nothing discredits religion quite like the gap that often yawns between what believers profess and how they live. With Tebow, that gap seems so narrow as to be invisible. (“There’s not an ounce of artifice or phoniness or Hollywood in this kid Tebow,” ESPN’s Rick Reilly wrote last year of the quarterback’s charitable works, “and I’ve looked everywhere for it.”) He fascinates, in part, because he behaves -- at least in public, and at least for now -- the way one would expect more Christians to behave if their faith were really true.

Stay tuned. I predict that Tebow's life in New York City will draw a modest amount of coverage. Will he lay hands on Jeremy Lin's knee and pray for healing?

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