Tim Tebow faces crucial test against Patriots

Tim Tebow celebrates his second quarter rushing touchdown
Tim Tebow (15) of the Denver Broncos celebrates his second quarter rushing touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Jan. 8, 2012 in Denver, Colo.
Getty Images/Doug Pensinger

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has Americans standing up and taking notice.

More than 42 million people watched Tebow's thrilling game-winning touchdown strike last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the highest-rated NFL wild card game in 18 years, and set a record for the most sports tweets - with more than 9,000 per second.

Tebow's the talk of the town, from Denver to "The Late Show with David Letterman" ("Top 10 little-known facts about Tim Tebow . . . Number 1: Can turn water into Gatorade").

With a series of improbable comeback wins this season, Tebow's devout (or devoted) fans have come to expect miracles. But Tebow's now well-known propensity for praising God has made many fans weary, preferring a separation of church and game.

Tebow's memoir, "Through My Eyes," is now 5th on The New York Times best seller list. But he's selling much more than books. Tebow already has endorsement deals with Jockey, Nike and FRD energy drinks.

Experts say his sudden marketing power for the future is almost unprecedented.

"He's a good looking guy, he's a great athlete, he's a good character person, he appeals to a large demographic," said Matt Delzell of The Marketing Arm.

A different side of Tim Tebow

But it's a commercial Tebow did for free that proved to be controversial. An ad which aired on Super Bowl Sunday in 2010, featured Tebow and his mother talking about her difficult pregnancy, advocating a pro-life position. Pro-choice groups lobbied to have the ad shelved.

"When there is such intense fervor of some fans for imitating the Tebow-ing, that becomes off-putting to ones who are not following in that line of faith," said pastor and Professor Joe Price, who has been teaching a college course on religion in sports for 25 years.

Tebow's success was anything but guaranteed. Despite two national championships and a Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida, Tebow's football critics didn't think his poor throwing mechanics and run-first style would work in the NFL.

But Tebow kept believing, and this year he help resurrect a Denver franchise kept out of the playoffs for the past five seasons.

His next test will be tonight, in a rematch against New England led by QB Tom Brady (a matchup that, according to a "Saturday Night Live" skit featuring Jesus Christ, pits Tebow against "God's nephew").

Tebow takes it all in stride. James Brown, host of "The NFL Today," sat down with Tebow for an interview (airing on CBS Saturday night, 7:30 p.m. ET, before the Broncos-Patriots game) and asked the quarterback how he keeps it in check:

"Number one, what my mom and dad preached to me as a kid. Just because you may have athletic ability and may be able to play a sport doesn't make you any more special than anybody else," Tebow said. "It doesn't mean that God loves you more than anybody else. We play a sport, and it's a game. At the end of the day, that's all it is, is a game."

Tim Tebow: God doesn't love athletes more

He's just trying to lead his team to the promised land - that's Indianapolis, for Super Bowl XLVI.

Appearing on "CBS This Morning: Saturday," Brown said that Tebow's marketing potential is big given his appeal: "We want to hear good stories, and he's a good story so far," Brown said. "

Of course, Tebow has to stay healthy, and win: "A huge test tonight - probably the biggest thing playing in the Patriots favor [is] all the attention to Tim Tebow today. It's interesting to see what happens. Eventually he has to win the Big One" to capitalize on his marketing potential, Brown said.