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Angels in the Backfield: Can Tebow's Faith Explain His Success?

Tim Tebow, better known in some circles as God’s son, last night led the Denver Broncos to an improbable and crushing last-minute victory over the New York Jets. In trying to reckon with Tebow’s improbable 4-1 record this season, there are two salient factors to consider. One, he runs far better than he throws—normally an impediment to success at the quarterback position (his completion percentage is at a historically low, NFL-worst 44.8 percent). Two, he is intensely spiritual: Aping “The Thinker,” Tebow periodically drops to one knee and begins praying during games. It’s this mystical aura that regularly reduces broadcasters to blubber and seems to have won over skeptical teammates. “I trust him. I trust him with everything,” said teammate Von Miller. “No matter how many interceptions he throws, how many touchdowns he throws, I’m going to ride with him to the end.” Blind faith in Tebow seems to have paid off thus far for the Broncos. Is Tebow’s on-field success related to his own religiosity?

If you believe this 2000 study from the Journal of Sport Behavior, yes. The study culled about fifty amateur athletes—mostly from Division III schools—to test how spiritual they considered themselves (“Spirituality in Sports Test”) and how “in the zone” they were during games (the “Zone Test”, which assesses their feeling of being “able to move around, between, or through my opponents”). (Appropriately, participants were rewarded for their participation either with a bottle of Gatorade or a Power Bar.) The study concluded that there was a significant correlation between participants who scored high on the Zone Test and those who scored high on the Spirituality test. The authors admit its methods measured only the correlative relationship between the two: “For example, spirituality may lead to more experiences in the zone, or experiences in the zone may lead to more experiences of spirituality, or a third variable like propensity to altered states of consciousness…may account for this relationship.” Whatever the merits of this study, it may help Tebow’s fallen opponents cope with their inability to bring him down to earth.