I’m not a God-fearing man, nor am I someone who responds particularly well to messianic figures who charge through their work with a manly sense of purpose, as if all of life were an Old Spice commercial in which irony had shriveled up and died. Having split my childhood between hip-hop and the neurotic narrators of modern novels, I prefer my athletes to be loud, hell-bent, and “interesting,” whatever that might mean. As such, if I were to build my ideal Frankenstein’s quarterback, I would take the GZA in 1999 and graft on Vick’s legs, Levin’s morose attachment to duty, and Jeff George’s left arm and tortured entitlement.
And yet, I find myself rooting for Tim Tebow, who never talks about anything that is interesting to me, who travels to the Pacific to circumcise babies, who does not make cameos in rap videos, and who, without blinking, eyes up the zeitgeist, smiles, and says a prayer for its soul.
The NFL is a notoriously difficult sport to write about — outside of insider reporting about who is hurt and who is not, who is starting fights in locker rooms and drunk driving all over Cincinnati, there just isn’t much outside the lines to discuss. The game is usually enough. Twenty-two men put on helmets on Sunday, and although millions of people watch them do their jobs, we don’t really know 20 of those men, and for the most part we don’t really care. Clinton Portis tried for years to make us care about him, but his Bootsy Collins act never became anything more than what SportsCenter would talk about when there were no other storylines. Wide receivers became interesting for a while, but only because of Terrell Owens, whose never-ending dramas were camera-friendly and buzzwordable. When T.O. finally got his own reality show and began dropping passes, the interest in Ochocinco, Steve Smith, and their acolytes evaporated.