Tim Tebow is used to being a lightning rod. While he was the quarterback at the University of Florida, he drew a lot of attention. And we mean a lot.
He won the Heisman Trophy (the only sophomore to ever win the award), and his team won two NCAA football titles. Plus, he was very public about his Christian faith. He wore Bible verses on his eye black. He invoked God frequently at news conferences.
No one doubted that Tebow was a great college quarterback and a good kid. But all the media attention made some people weary of the name. He's good, they said, but he's no messiah.
Being a great college quarterback doesn't always translate into being a good pro quarterback and, let's be honest, there are more than a few people taking great glee from the second-year player's recent struggles with the Denver Broncos.
And even some of Tebow's better moments on the field are sewing controversy. During an October 23 contest against the winless Miami Dolphins, the Broncos trailed until a last-minute touchdown and two-point conversion by Tebow tied the score. Denver won in overtime.
Afterward, Jared Kleinstein, a Denver-born Broncos fan who was watching the game from New York, noticed that Tebow had knelt in prayer, alone on the sidelines, while his teammates celebrated on the field.
Kleinstein decided to take a picture outside the New York bar where he had gathered with friends. Six of them knelt on their knees with their balled-up right fists to their faces, Tebow-style.
Kleinstein started a website, www.tebowing.com, defining Tebow as a verb: "To get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different." His photo was the first one posted.
More photos came in from around the world. People Tebowed from the Philippines, the Vatican, Iraq, even in front of the Great Pyramid. They Tebowed at the airport, at the hospital, even at an "Occupy Chicago" protest. As of Tuesday, Kleinstein had posted more than 600 photos on his site.
Tebow, for his part, approves. "Love it," he wrote on Twitter.
"He was celebrating and having fun with his teammates. I don't take offense to that," Tebow said during a session with the media last week.
Tebow, who has started three games for the 3-5 Broncos, does not shy away from criticism of his quarterbacking - or of his faith. The son of missionaries, he embraces his spotlight to draw attention to his Christianity. He and his mother appeared in a Focus on the Family anti-abortion ad that appeared during the Super Bowl in February.
That kind of faith-based boldness separates Tebow from other religious sports figures. His more public displays hearten supporters and enrage detractors.
Some commentators, like ESPN.com writer Jemele Hill, think making sport of Tebow's beliefs is offensive. She writes of Tulloch's Tebowing pose:
"Prayer is a sacred component of any religion. Making fun of someone else's spiritual connection is on par with ridiculing them about their family. You don't have to be a Christian to get that, just someone who understands the concept of respect."
Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, a Christian, says there is some jealousy of Tebow among other NFL players. But he doubts the Lions were making fun of the quarterback, even though another player Tebowed after scoring a touchdown during the same game against Denver, a 45-10 rout.
"I don't believe people are saying, 'I am going to mock his faith,'" Dungy said on his website, All Pro Dad.
Former NFL quarterback Phil Simms isn't surprised that other players want a piece of a player who is new to the league and whom the media obsesses over.
"They want to see you [succeed] on the field first," Simms said in a video on Sports Illustrated's website.
Tebow acknowledges that some who have sent their pictures into the Tebowing website are making fun of him and some are mocking religion. But he told the Denver Post he prefers not to judge anyone. He told reporter Lindsay H. Jones:
"It's not my job to see people's reasons behind it, but I know (of a kid) with cancer that tweeted me, 'Tebowing while I'm chemoing' -- how cool is that? That's worth it right now. If that gives him any encouragement or puts a smile on his face, or gives him encouragement to pray, that's completely awesome."