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Tebowmania: Why Is The Quarterback So Popular?

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Every so often, an NFL player transcends the game. Think William "Refrigerator" Perry or Bo Jackson.

Tim Tebow, the quarterback who'll lead the Denver Broncos against the powerful New England Patriots on Sunday, has become a household name, thanks to his improbable come-from-behind victories combined with his prominent expressions of faith.

How does he do it? The Bears, Chargers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jets, Raiders and Vikings would like to know.

Time For A Comeback

Tebow is a proper noun. Tebow is a verb meaning to genuflect.

And after Thursday night's Republican debate, one candidate tried to turn it into a bumper sticker

"I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses," Rick Perry said.

So far Tim Tebow has avoided being the Rick Perry of the NFL. In fact, he's wildly exceeded expectations, which were that his greatness as a college player wouldn't translate into the pros.

Earlier this season — his second in the NFL — Tebow orchestrated a stunning comeback in the first game he started. But he played so miserably in the second game that a Denver Post columnist wrote, "Right now, Tebow is the worst quarterback in the NFL."

Tebow decided it was time for a comeback. That led to six consecutive victories as a starter.

In these wins, Tebow usually plays awful for a half or more, and then pulls off a comeback.

Brian Burke, a former Navy pilot who runs advancednflstats.com, says the Broncos' great defense is the biggest explanation for their success, and luck might be second, but this Tebow guy is intriguing.

"If you ask a stats guy like me, we are cynics, we're gonna say, 'This can't continue,' and we've been saying that for weeks now and we keep eating our words," Burke says. "So, I've given up. I'm just watching and enjoying."

Good Fortune?

Some people are amused, others bemused. How can a player who is so consistently bad for the majority of most games wind up a winner?

"Tim Tebow, at this point in his career, is a below-average NFL passer, and there are throws that he's not going to make, and he's certainly not going to make them consistently," says Gregg Cosell, senior producer for NFL Films.

Cosell says he would still find it hard to recommend Tebow as a first-round pick, but he does offer some explanations. First, Tebow is a very good runner, and he rarely throws interceptions. Also, teams that have success for three or more quarters against Tebow subtly change their defense at the end of games, which hurts them.

But Cosell suggests a huge factor in Tebow's run — and occasional toss — into the national consciousness has been good fortune.

"Denver's won seven of eight games with Tebow. Five of those wins they did not score more than 18 points," he says. "I think history suggests that you are not likely to do that over time."

His Holy Arm?

And there have been other explanations.

A Denver-area pastor with ties to Tebow's family says: "It's not luck. It's favor. God's favor."

For the record , Las Vegas, not God, favors the Patriots by a touchdown on Sunday.

And the Bible itself offers a rebuttal for those who have suggested that Tebow might be more than merely the instrument of God. Psalms 98:1 says, "Sing unto the Lord a new song; for he has done marvelous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, has gotten him the victory."

But everyone knows Tim Tebow is a lefty.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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