In 1983, the Baltimore Colts selected John Elway with the first pick in that year’s NFL draft. Elway had no interest in playing for the Colts, and said he would play professional baseball if they took him. So the Colts traded Elway to the Broncos for two players and a first-round pick in the 1984 draft. The rest is history.
Since then, Broncos drafts have been pretty ordinary. No big headlines, no huge stories.
Until this year.
The Broncos’ selection of Tim Tebow with the 24th pick in this year’s draft has been, if anything, bigger news than the Elway pick. Tebow, a University of Florida quarterback with a Heisman Trophy on his resume, is by all accounts one of the best college quarterbacks of all time. But there’s no consensus after that.
Critics question whether he can successfully make the transition to the pro game. But it’s not just Tebow’s arm that has folks talking. Tebow’s off-the-field life has been of more interest even than his athletic talent.
Raised by Christian missionaries, Tebow was home-schooled (partly because of Tebow, in 1996 the Florida legislature adopted a law allowing home-schoolers to play sports in local public high schools). He’s done mission work overseas himself, and his faith is clearly central to how he defines himself. But those beliefs have also put him in the crosshairs of critics, especially after he and his mother starred in a Focus on the Family advertisement during the Super Bowl celebrating the value of life.
At times, commentary on Tebow has been downright venomous. One USA Today columnist criticized Tebow’s missionary trips in Asia because they were done under the auspices of “far-right theology.” Another took issue with Tebow’s prominent faith, arguing that “religion — except for the ‘Hail Mary’ pass — has no place in sports.” More recently, a caller to a local sports radio show warned Coloradans to beware Tebow and his evangelical fans.
In response to such criticism, Denver Post columnist Woody Paige wrote that it isn’t fair to attack Tebow for his faith. He “should be judged as a man and as a player,” Paige argues.
I have a slightly different view. A quarterback for the Denver Broncos is arguably the highest visibility person in Colorado, especially for kids. And yes, he is a role model — whether he wants that job or not. Tebow may or may not be a great pro quarterback, and he may or may not win the Super Bowl. But he will be a part of this community for the foreseeable future, and his presence will be a part of the lives of tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of Colorado kids, including mine.
So here’s what it all means. The highest profile athlete in this community does mission work overseas, isn’t obsessed with the almighty dollar, respects the women in his life, gives his time and money to the poor, celebrates the virtue of selflessness and acknowledges a power higher than himself.
As a dad, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I kind of like it.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care).”