America’s prayers answered as Tebow inspires a nation

THE HEADLINES ebb and flow but this last week in American sport gushed in an entertaining torrent of confusion. It didn’t matter if the moment was glorious, seedy, violent or downright miraculous, skill and common sense ranked low and we, the humble onlookers, were all the better for it.

It begins and ends with Tim Tebow but I’ll get back to him.

Last Thursday, Los Angeles woke up to surprising news. Or to be more specific, the much-maligned Orange County in the south of that lopsided neck of the woods and whose City of Anaheim hosts the relatively nondescript Anaheim Angels, a team that has, apart from the 2002 World Series, generally plodded along as a Major League Baseball team.

While the Manchester City of baseball, the Miami Marlins tried to offer the world to prominent free-agent slugger, Albert Pujols, and while the team with whom he had just won the World Series a month and a half ago, the St Louis Cardinals tried to keep him, the Angels waited sneakily in the wings before lobbing a 10-year $254m (€192,050,950) spanner into the works. He agreed, unsurprisingly, and stands to earn about €365,000 a week until long after the world may or may not have ended.

The Angels weren’t finished there — they caused more tremors by nabbing high-profile pitcher CJ Wilson — but nor was Los Angeles. That Thursday afternoon, one of the NBA’s highest-profile soon-to-be free agents, Chris Paul, was on his way to the Lakers. Much like football players, basketballers can force their teams to act before they head off for nothing. But where this story differs from football is that Paul’s team, the New Orleans Hornets, is owned by the NBA due to the financial mismanagement of a previous owner.

The rest of the league didn’t like this move. Owners of the smaller teams wrote to Commissioner David Stern asking him to block the deal. And, madly, wonderfully, he did. Chris Paul’s dream was destroyed and to make matters worse, other players involved in the exchange became collateral damage, sent back to a team which clearly didn’t want them. The sorry tale wanders on at the time of writing. A deal that should have sent Paul to LA’s other NBA team, the Clippers, has fallen through.

But it wasn’t all misery on the hardwood — the college version of the game was on hand to re-ignite the romantics on Saturday when a memorable win for Indiana was gained at the expense of the nation’s erstwhile number one team Kentucky who were felled by a buzzer beater that led to outpourings of joy in the hoops hinterland.

The roller-coaster was back on the downslope within minutes of that drama though. The news broke that one of baseball’s most popular stars, Ryan Braun, had reportedly failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs. He’s appealing. Ballparks everywhere are shuddering.

As if Saturday didn’t have enough to offer, it ended with one of the best fights of the year, Amir Khan’s tough split decision loss against Lamont Peterson.

As gripping as the fight itself was in the early and latter rounds, the abiding memory is the murmur of joy which caused Khan to glance to his left, appear to receive reassurance and then wink to the crowd and kiss his finger. He had it, Oscar De La Hoya was convinced of it. So was Freddie Roach. Alas, he flew home with a significantly lighter carry-on bag.

Then came Sunday and football and Tim Tebow. I’ve tried hard up until now to avoid the Denver Broncos quarterback. But he keeps flashing in the pan. Over and over again, he finds a way to dominate the league’s psyche. Over and over again, the US media tries to find new ways of distilling his hold on the hearts and minds of fans across the nation.

A brief potted history is necessary and don’t worry I’ll skip right past the Books of Genesis and Deuteronomy. Tebow has been a hero of the Christian right since his days at the University of Florida where, while he was winning national titles and individual awards, he was asked to stop making reference to the Bible on his eye black, the dark grease ironically which is intended to reduce glare.

Throw into that volatile mix an apparent unsuitability to the professional game (he can’t throw and often doesn’t) and it came as a surprise to nobody that when he started to inspire his mediocre Broncos towards the play-offs with seven wins in eight games, he divided opinion like no player in the recent history of the game.

Throughout it all, he has retained an absurd level of dignity.

After Sunday’s loss in Denver, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher described Tebow as a great running back, a backhanded compliment if ever there was one.

Tebow’s measured response? “Coming from a really good player, that means a lot.”

Now, if only he could run the NBA.

* Contact: john.w.riordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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