Tim Tebow loves to win. Specifically, he loves the game of football. He’s passionate about it, willing to sacrifice for it with hard work, sweat, blood, time, effort – whatever it takes to be the best.
But there is something – some One – that he loves more.
“I think the greatest thing to do in life is play football, but at the end of the day, if that’s what I’m known for, my life would be a tragedy,” the Heisman Trophy winner told an audience of more than 1,800 at the 8th annual University of Mobile Leadership Banquet in April.
“When people talk about me when I’m gone, I hope they never mention football,” he said. “I hope they mention that I loved Jesus, and I loved others.”
Evening of Influence
University of Mobile President Dr. Mark Foley summed up the message of the annual fundraising banquet in one word: Influence.
“Tonight is about influence – the capacity or power of an individual to effect the actions, behavior and opinions of others,” Foley told the audience filling the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center on the waterfront in downtown Mobile on April 18.
Quarterback Tim Tebow, whose athletic success and outspoken Christian faith has made him “one of the most influential persons in American culture today,” captured the attention of a nation “by careful stewarding of his skill and talent as an athlete, and his unwavering conviction to honor God,” Foley said.
Performances by Voices of Mobile and the University of Mobile Jazz Band entertained the crowd while showcasing exceptionally talented students from the UMobile Center for Performing Arts. A video featuring University of Mobile alumni, posted online at www.umobile.edu/magazine, shared individual stories of the influence the university has had in the lives of graduates, and how they are using their influence by “Changing Lives to Change the World.”
The atmosphere was casual. Tim Tebow sat, relaxed, microphone in hand, on a sofa before the single largest crowd ever assembled for a fundraising event in the history of the University of Mobile. Sitting across from him in club chairs were the evening’s hosts, Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage and UMobile Director of Campus Life Neal Ledbetter. The duo asked questions, including some that had been tweeted earlier in the week by UMobile students.
Ledbetter’s “lightning round” of questions – that last year prompted former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to tell students that her iPod playlist included Brahms, Mozart, Led Zeppelin and Cream – had Tebow laughing so hard at one point that he couldn’t answer.
Ledbetter: “If you could be any superhero other than Tim Tebow or Jesus, who would it be?”
Eventually, Tebow was able to stop laughing long enough to respond that he guessed it would be Superman.
The last lightning round question elicited a more serious response.
Ledbetter: “Will we see ‘Tebow for President’ anytime soon?”
Tebow: “I don’t know what my future holds, but I am very ambitious – I have a lot of goals. Whatever I can do to impact the world, whether it’s politics or not, however I feel I can make an impact, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Phil Savage said Tebow is “one of the great champions of American sports. He has a singleness of purpose, he’s tough, he’s smart, and he has not nor will he ever give up.”
Asked what drives him so much, Tebow said his family has always been extremely competitive and, as the baby in a family of five siblings, “I had to win just to get food off the table from my brothers and sisters.”
One of the earliest examples of that competitive spirit came at his first organized sporting activity when he was 4 years old.
“I was playing for the White Sox on their t-ball team,” Tebow said. “I show up to the game, and I’m so excited; I can’t wait to play. Our coach gathers us all together and he says, ‘Okay guys, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s only about having fun.’
“I was so stunned. I went up to him and I pulled on his shirt and said, ‘Coach Langley, you’re wrong! It’s only about winning – that’s when you have fun.’”
Tebow said the coach walked over to the first base dugout, looked up in the stands, and called Tebow’s father down, saying, “Mr. Tebow, I think we have a problem with your son.”
“Dad’s like, ‘Oh really? What’s the problem,’” Tebow recalls. “The coach says, ‘He’s overly competitive.’
“My dad said, ‘Okay, I’ll go talk to him.’ And he walks down to first base. I’m standing on first base and he comes over and leans down and says, ‘Timmy, it’s okay. He just doesn’t understand,’” Tebow said.
Later in the outfield, he would catch balls and throw them to first base, where the first baseman would miss or drop them. So little Timmy started fielding the balls, then running to first base to tag the runner out.
By the third inning, Coach Langley called him over, told him he was doing great, but he needed to throw the ball to first base.
“I said, ‘Why? He can’t catch it,’” Tebow said, as the audience laughed.
Tebow said he looked forward to going to church on Sunday mornings as a child, particularly so he could ask people to guess how many home runs he had hit the Saturday before, or relate how well he had played. Even at age 4 or 5, it’s easy to become self-centered and proud, he said.
So each week, his mother had him memorize a Bible verse on humility.
“As I began to grow up, it started to take hold in my life and I started to understand. God didn’t give me athletic ability to brag about myself – He gave it to honor Him,” Tebow said. “He could take it away at any time. So yes, I’m competitive, I’m passionate, I love it – but it can be gone at any time.”
The intimate living-room setting on the platform set the stage for an evening filled with moments where Tebow seemed to be speaking personally to each individual in the room. Asked about being a leader and role model, he said he accepts that role as a “huge responsibility” to be a person who is far from perfect, but is trying to live his life the right way.
He wants to be a person that a parent can hold up as an example to their child as someone who loves the Lord and is trying to honor the Lord in everything he does.
“I’m also here to say that you’re a leader, you’re a role model,” he said, leaning forward to address the audience. “Why? Because there’s probably someone in your life that’s watching you. It may be a friend, it may be a co-worker, it may be a neighbor, it may be a family member – but someone’s watching you. That makes you a leader. That makes you a role model.
“The question is, where are you leading them and what type of role model are you?” he asked. “I think that’s a question we all have to ask ourselves, because there is someone that is watching all of us. So ask yourself, ‘Is that person’s life better because they know us, or is it worse because they know us?’”
The Real Winners
Shortly after winning the Heisman Trophy his sophomore year at the University of Florida, Tebow had the opportunity to travel to Thailand and speak to 400 missionaries serving in southeast Asia, including his sister. The son of missionaries who served in the Philippines, Tebow wondered on the flight over what he could share.
“I’m a 19- or 20-year-old playing a silly game called football. These are missionaries who are putting their lives on the line every single day for the Gospel, for the cause of Christ. What do I have to share with them?” he thought.
He recalled the verses his mother had made him memorize, specifically Matthew 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The missionaries were humbling themselves and serving, not so people would give them a pat on the back or say “good job,” but because they truly wanted to make a difference, he thought.
“I told them, ‘If the world could see you through God’s eyes, you would be the ones winning the Heisman Trophy, not me. Not me. I play a silly game called football, but you are pouring your life into what matters every single day, and that’s what makes you great.”
Tebow called making money and being famous “fake success.”
“If we really want to be great, we’re going to humble ourselves and serve those around us. I think that’s when you get the biggest blessing, when you’re serving those who can never do anything for you, who can never repay you.
“Every single day when I woke up when I was a boy, I said I wanted to be great. I never woke up and said, ‘I can’t wait to be average.’ What can you do to be great? Serve those around you, and you will be great,” he said.
A Little Courage, A Little Boldness
“Sometimes in life we do something very little to show a little courage, a little boldness – and it’s amazing what God can do with it,” Tebow said.
For him, that meant a decision in college to use a silver Sharpie marker to write Phil 4:13 on his eye black, referencing the verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
In the 2009 BCS Championship Game, he wrote John 3:16 on his eye black. He said God put it in his head and heart to use that verse, which is “the essence of our Christianity and our hope.”
The verse was the highest-ranked Google search term over the next 24 hours, generating over 94 million searches.
On the football field in college, as a professional football player with the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets, in everyday life, there is adversity. When faced with adversity, Tebow turns to Scripture.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know Who holds my future. Regardless of the obstacles, regardless of the tribulations, regardless of the trials, God’s not going to let me go, and He’s not going to let you go,” Tebow said.
“If there’s a lot on your plate – that’s good! It means He believes in you and He trusts you. He’s given you the strength to carry out that mission. So if you’re going through something tough, it’s okay, you’ll get through it, because God’s got your back.
“That’s how I get through it, having peace, having comfort, having hope, because I know God’s never going to leave me, and He always has a plan for you, a plan for welfare and not for calamity, a plan for a future and a hope,” he said.
A Life of Significance
Tebow said playing football is just a little part of the many things he would like to do with his life. Among those are helping children through the Tebow Foundation and the Tebow CURE Hospital in the Philippines, the nation in which he was born.
He said he wants to be an encouragement to others, just as more than 130 people were an encouragement to him moments before the banquet began.
“I probably had in that line the most people I’ve taken pictures with say they were praying for me. I want to let you know I really appreciate that. You never know what that can do for someone,” he said.
Tebow said loving what you do, being passionate about it, and being willing to sacrifice for it make all the difference in being successful.
What is it, he asks, that you love, are passionate about and willing to sacrifice for?
“How often do we give our lives to something that’s going to last forever? How often do we give our lives to something that’s eternal?” he asked.
“Impacting lives. Sharing the Gospel. Sharing your faith. When we love that, when we’re passionate about that, when we’re willing to sacrifice for that – because far beyond winning games, that’s what truly matters,” Tebow said.