Tim Tebow, Bill Maher and me

Bill Maher and Tim Tebow. Photos: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello and AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

In a bifurcated, dichotomized, split-down-the-middle, red-blue America, is it possible to be a fan of both Tim Tebow and Bill Maher?

I say yes.

Tebow, of course, is the God-fearing quarterback of the really-fun-to-watch (in the fourth quarter, at least) Denver Broncos. Earlier this season he used his legs and his guts to lead his team to an unlikely string of dramatic comebacks that almost overshadowed his trademark move: the on-field kneeling in prayer known as “Tebowing.” Maher, of course, is the atheist comedian who hosts the HBO show, “Real Time With Bill Maher.” His act frequently includes scathing jokes about religion that are the antithesis of Tebow’s public demonstrations of his faith.

Or are they?

You’ve heard the story by now. “Wow, Jesus just f*#@$d Tim Tebow bad,” Maher tweeted after the Broncos took a clobbering at the hands of the near-hapless Buffalo Bills on Christmas Eve. The Maher-haters responded with force. Reliably, a Fox anchor called him “disgusting, vile trash” in a tweet. The Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins hit him much harder, in the only spot that really hurts a comic: She said he’s not funny.

But for my money, saying Bill Maher isn’t funny is like saying what the Tebow-haters – among them “expert” commentators and even some NFL players and executives — have been saying for a good part of this season: that he isn’t a good quarterback. For example in early November, a Yahoo writer quoted a Detroit Lions player calling Tebow a “joke,” and others around the league describing him as “atrocious,” “terrible” and “completely exposed.”

Were the critics allowing their annoyance with his Tebowing to influence their evaluation of his football abilities?  God – or nobody, depending on your point of view – knows. Part of the criticism, surely, came from his detractors being unable to see past Tebow’s unorthodox style, which includes a bruising manner of running more characteristic of a linebacker than a quarterback, and, more damning, his being an awkward and often ineffective passer. But, to pull up a comparison from back in the day, when Joe Kapp led the Minnesota Vikings to Super Bowl IV, his bullish running and lousy passing were seen not as evidence of his being a bad player, but of the kind of grittiness and toughness that defines a winner. But in Tebow, those same scrappy traits are seen as evidence that he’s unfit for his job.

By far the most intelligent thing I’ve seen in print about Tebow was written by the fantasy football writer Chris Liss. Fantasy football (as many of you know, and just as many of you probably couldn’t care less about knowing) is a competition among fans who choose players to make up imaginary teams, and then compete against each by compiling those players’ statistics. It’s a cold, hard game of numbers, with no room for emotion or home-team rooting if you want to be good at it. In a post called “Long Live Tim Tebow,” Liss noted the Tebow criticism I cited above, and wrote:

I’m rooting for the guy, both because he’s an exciting player to watch with a unique style of play and because I like seeing the apologists for the conventional wisdom proven wrong yet again. And who cares what his religious beliefs are?

Not me. When Tebow scores a touchdown and the Tebowing ensues, it’s just part of the show. Just as when Bill Maher mocks Tebow in the most (well, probably not the most) coarse way possible, that’s just part of his show. Mahering, if you will.

The Post’s Jenkins asks whether or not the comedian would have made the same comments about Tebow had the quarterback been a Muslim. If you watch “Real Time,” you know the answer is that yes, he would have.  You’d also know that Bill Maher is funny. Just as if you watch football, you know that Tim Tebow is a good quarterback. I say thank God – or don’t, as you please – for them both.

Tom Casciato is the senior features producer for Need to Know.