(Photo: AP Images / Lynne Sladky)
NCAA football star Tim Tebow helped bring the spotlight to his team and his faith Thursday night, leading No. 1 Florida to a 24-14 win over No. 2 Oklahoma for the BCS championship.
The Gators quarterback ran 22 times for 109 yards and completed 18 of 30 passes for 231 yards.
Other numbers for that night? 3 and 16.
John 3:16, that is.
As he has done throughout the season, Tebow used his black under-eye markings Thursday night to share Scripture, this time donning the most popular Bible verse in America.
For many, the reference was simply a personal form of self-expression, no different another athlete’s lucky gloves or gold-colored shoes.
“Tebow's religious expression has been a big part of the wholesome image we see described in every single feature written about him,” wrote sports columnist Tom Herrera in the NCAA Football Fanhouse.
“If Tebow wants to put his Christian faith on a pedestal, so be it – it doesn't distract me in the slightest,” he added.
For some, however, it was no different from someone touting “There is no God.”
“I just want to watch a football game; I don’t want to be prosetylized (sic) to,” commented William Lobdell, author of Losing My Religion, in his blog Friday.
Though the evangelical-turned-atheist said he understood why Tebow would make such a move, given his strong Christian beliefs, he suggested that anti-God messages would likely not have been allowed by Florida’s coaches and NCAA officials.
“I imagine that these personal slogans will soon be banned,” he wrote.
Despite the controversy, Tebow remains one of the most popular and respected players in NCAA football, having been the first college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy and the first college football player to both rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season.
Aside from his achievements on the field, Tebow has also been highlighted for his evangelistic outreach and overseas charity works. The son of missionaries frequently visits the Philippines, where he was born, and helps orphans and even performs surgeries with the help of an assistant. He has also preached at several venues, including a prison, where he told inmates that he has found “true satisfaction, true happiness.”
“[A]nd it is not by having your name in a newspaper, it is not by winning trophies, and it is not by winning championships,” Tebow told inmates last April at the Lancaster Correctional Institution in Trenton, Fla.
“It is by having a relationship with Jesus Christ," he said before encouraging the inmates to step on to the stage to accept Christ.
Tebow is also one of the most prominent fruits of the homeschooling movement, which has grown 77 percent over the past eight years, according to recently released estimates from National Center of Education Statistics (NCES).
Tebow began his football career after legislation was passed in Florida in 1996 that allowed homeschooled students to compete in local high school sporting events. He and his siblings were all homeschooled by their mother, who worked to instill the family’s deep Christian beliefs along the way.
According to reports, Tebow figures to soon decide whether he'll return to Florida for his senior season or enter the NFL draft.