Tebow: The man behind the mania

The 20-year-old former high school football player won't snag any touchdown throws from his hero Saturday at Gillette Stadium when the Denver Broncos' on-field miracle-worker challenges the New England Patriots in an AFC Divisional playoff game. But McLeod just may catch a pass — and more compassion and love than he ever imagined.
As kickoff approaches, Tebow will do what he always does at pressure-packed times — give of himself. The 24-year-old quarterback will spend a few moments with McLeod , who suffered a traumatic brain injury playing football in 2008. They plan to meet on the sidelines as part of the Tebow Foundation's Wish 15 program that grants requests for young people with serious medical issues.
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"When we told Zack (this week), he just screamed, 'Nooooo waaaay!' " says his father, Pat McLeod, who along with his wife, Tammy, work as Harvard University chaplains. " We are hoping Tim will throw him a pass. Zack still has great hands."
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One thing is for sure: Tebow will hug McLeod.

VIDEO: A Loveland, Colo., teen's wish comes true when she gets to meet Denver QB Tim Tebow.
The son of evangelical missionaries, Tebow — voted America's new favorite athlete in an ESPN Sports poll — says giving a warm embrace and words of encouragement to those in need "puts everything into perspective" before a game.
"We're playing a game, and you want to win, but you know that it's not the end of the world," Tebow says . "Even a bad loss on the football field is better than spending a day (recovering) in a hospital."
Tebow discussed a wide range of topics in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, including how he copes with fame.
The latest flashpoint came Sunday. The Broncos, stumbling into the playoffs with a three-game losing streak, shocked the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 29-23 wild-card victory in Denver. In an NFL-record 11 seconds, Tebow fired an 80-yard scoring dart that ended the overtime thriller and added to a season-long list of Tebow-engineered comeback exploits.
The can't-miss moment prompted the Internet to spasm with a flood of tweets.
"I don't have to live the roller coaster other people live with my life," Tebow says. "It's hard because people try to have an effect. I try to stay centered in my faith and my family and the close people around me."
Living a private life
Tebow's well-documented empathy and humanitarianism are easier to comprehend than Tebow the person, vastly more complex than Tebow the phenomenon. Attempting to uncover nuggets regarding his life beyond touchdown passes and charitable deeds is like trying to mine for gold in a dry Colorado creek bed. Corralling the otherwise-frisky Bronco to talk about himself can be a pleasant chore.
The cordial, media-savvy former Heisman Trophy winner surrenders very little regarding his personal life beyond perfunctory, sometimes well-rehearsed answers that reveal little. He is good-natured, polite as he scrambles from questions he prefers not to directly address.
"I think he's loosening up a bit," says Andrew Mason, editor and publisher of MaxDenver.com, which provides in-depth Broncos' coverage. "But I think we would all like to learn more about what makes him tick. For the moment, I see no reason not to believe this is who he is."
While many are willing to denigrate Tebow's fundamentals as a player — "I don't (read the internet); it's so hard because you hear so much (negative feedback)'' — and some are put off by his strong religious beliefs, there is little to criticize regarding his life off the field.
He often chats with a Florida-based pastor "to continually stay humble when it's going good and to stay confident when it's going bad," Tebow says. "Athletic ability can be taken away like that. It can all end in a heartbeat."
Tebow rarely discusses his frustrations with the sharper edges of fame and fortune, but the quarterback is a closet worrier. The cocoon-ish isolation of superstardom prompts him to conclude with a touch of melancholy, "It's hard to create new friendships outside sports."
Told that the public does not know much regarding his private life beyond his religious convictions, the hunky 6-3, 245-pounder — whose bare-chested advertisements have generated record sales for Jockey underwear — laughs nervously.
"I feel like I'm pretty open about stuff …if people look into it," he says a bit hesitantly. "Outside of football and training, I am somewhat of a homebody. Love hangin' out with my siblings and close friends. It is my favorite thing to do in the world. Love laughing — love tellin' jokes. I really try to enjoy life and have joy with what I do. I don't know, I guess that's a little inside look at me."
Simple pleasures for a somewhat-complicated young man, one who certainly is no off-the-field NFL throwback when it comes to the marquee position.
Back in a bawdier days of professional football, some wildly popular quarterbacks showed off their non-conformity, arrogance and pure, unadulterated bad-boy behavior.
The New York Jets' "Broadway Joe" Namath wore blondes on both arms in late-night haunts. Ken Stabler liked to say that he studied the Raiders' playbook by the light of the jukebox in Oakland honky-tonks. Jim McMahon, the Chicago Bears' chief iconoclast, mooned a helicopter during a Super Bowl practice.
Hard partying and all-nighters seemed the norm. More recently, the introduction of personal brand-building and greater image buffing, cell phone cameras and 24-hour instant-news disseminators, such as Twitter and Facebook, seem to reduce publicly outlandish naughtiness and foster greater circumspection.
John Elway knows what it is like to be a stud pro quarterback. The two-time Super Bowl-winner and Hall of Famer was the toast of Denver during his heyday, and he enjoyed the perks. Now the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations, Elway, 51, understands that the public, often jaded with the buffed public veneers of some athletes, might wonder about Tebow, despite his reputation for embodying Christian values.
"Is he too good to be true?" asks Elway .
Elway quickly answers his own query: "I think that's how the media represent it. But that is how we see him (as genuine). Tim is beyond his years" on and off the field.
"His maturity level with dealing with the pressures of what comes with playing the position (is enviable)," Elway says. "If you watch how he handles each press conference, that is truly who he is. It is not an act. It is a credit to his background and his parents. There is no question that, from where I sit, his priorities are different than those of most 24-year-olds."
More to life than football
Indeed. The young left-hander with the unorthodox playing style appears to lead a very orthodox, if generally secluded, lifestyle. Tebow's name rarely pops up in Denver society columns — and never with a whiff of scandal. He says he would rather serve others, including his desire to extend his foundation's plan to support orphans around the world and build a hospital in Davao City in the Philippines, which is scheduled to break ground in March.
"Tim believes there is more to life than football," says foundation executive director Erik Dellenback.
Tebow does not imbibe, display rivers of tattoo ink on his sculpted physique or hang out in nightclubs. Home-schooled on a 44-acre farm outside Jacksonville, he is serious about personal responsibility.
"The biggest reason I don't (consume alcohol) is because (if I have) a glass of wine, I don't want to be responsible for a kid looking up to me and saying, 'Hey, Tebow's doin' it — I am going to do it.' And then he makes a bad decision.
" Because, like it or not, it is serious," he says.
No vices?
"Nope," he says.
Tebow pauses, racking his snow-cap-covered head to come up with something.
"Love ice cream," he says. "I let myself have that about once a week. Vanilla."
Tebow giggles. OK, he admits, maybe occasionally he will take the pleasure of adding a brownie with his ice cream, which is a healthy version, he says, because it is homemade.
"There is a weird thing about me," he adds. "In the NFL, you know how people love going to fancy restaurants? I am not a fancy-restaurant guy. I am a good-tasting steak-and-potatoes guy."
Last summer, Tebow did enjoy the extravagance of N9NE, an upscale steak and seafood house at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, where he was working a promotion event for Nike. Along with running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, cornerback Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions, the foursome posed for a photograph with executive chef Barry Dakake.
However, Tebow finds social gatherings in public quite difficult for the same reason all celebrities cite: Lack of privacy. Hence, he prefers to limit his free time to intimate gatherings with family and long-time friends, a virtual prisoner of his own burgeoning popularity.
"Sometimes you want to go to dinner and hang with friends, but you don't want to sign (autographs) or take pictures the whole time," he says. "But I am just like anyone else; I like meeting new people."
Which naturally leads to the subject of much internet speculation — Tebow's romantic relationships . Or, he says, lack thereof.
Recently, the quarterback was linked to professional skier Lindsey Vonn after "Tebowing" — Vonn genuflected on one knee and prayed as Tebow does after a touchdown or a victory — following her first World Cup win on a U.S. slope last month.
Not true, he says. Vonn is a family friend. The Tebows met her at the ESPYs award show.
Tebow does not have a girlfriend because he says he is "too busy with football and life and …it's hard." He offers no elaboration, deftly and quickly re-routing an interview.
A few minutes later, Tebow, an acknowledged virgin, is asked if he is besieged with women trying to meet him through a variety of social-networking methods.
"Umm, good question,'' he says. "I am blessed to have a close-knit (group) around me. I'm not out there doing a lot of things. I guess it is one of the frustrating things where I am (in life). I love meeting and talking with people, socializing and hanging out. But people can read it the wrong way."
He says he always is "careful about leading girls on.''
"I always want to be very careful about that,'' he says. "That is one thing that's a little frustrating."
Helping others
Tebow does not allow that frustration to seep out. His unbridled joy and passion is evident when he surrounds himself with young admirers, particularly those suffering with physical limitations who could use an inspirational jolt .
Such was the case last weekend when he met Bailey Knaub, 16, after his foundation provided four tickets and other goodies for her family to attend the Steelers' game.
The Loveland, Colo., high school student suffers from a rare vascular disorder that has led to more than 70 surgeries the last decade — including the removal of her left lung in 2010.
Less than 15 minutes before kickoff, Tebow finished warming up and approached the girl on the sidelines, telling her, "Bailey, I've been looking forward to meeting you." He gave her a big hug and an autographed football.
"It was very emotional — we haven't seen her that happy in a long time," says her mother, Kathy. "You could tell by how he was talking to Bailey that he was not doing this for publicity or any other reason than he likes kids. He is an exceptional guy."
Bailey thinks so, too.
"My heart was going like a million miles an hour," she says.
"He was amazing — so sweet, kind and generous. He just made me feel so special.
"It was the best day of my life."

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