Updated at 7:30 p.m. June 17, 2012
Tim Tebow threw a Hail Mary on behalf of his faith Sunday morning at Qualcomm Stadium.
Calling himself “a Christian who happens to play football,” the New York Jets quarterback starred at a Father’s Day event sponsored by an El Cajon megachurch in which he called on dads to join him in sacrificing for their families and Jesus.
What matters, he said, is not “the promotions, the jobs, the touchdowns, the fans cheering—but the lives we impact for the Kingdom.”
Walking onto the field about 10:45 a.m. after a pop concert bilingual service put on by Shadow Mountain Community Church, Tebow said: “How great is it to be cheered at Qualcomm?”
In November, Tebow rallied the Broncos to a 16-13 overtime victory over the Chargers, which ultimately kept the home team from reaching the playoffs.
After shaking a few hands in the front row, he took the stage erected before a crowd of perhaps 15,000—less than a quarter of the 70,000-seat stadium was full.
Fans in “Swamp” [Florida football] and No. 15 shirts gathered to hear from the devout player whose 7-year-old pre- and postgame prayer routine—begun his senior year in high school—has become a cultural icon.
Chatting in TV talk-show fashion with pastor David Jeremiah of the church, the Heisman Trophy winner told of his own family, faith and career as a college and NFL star.
Tebow said he was blessed to have his own role model—his Baptist missionary father.
“For me, it was watching my Dad—how we treated my mom and four siblings,” Tebow said in a 43-minute chat with Jeremiah on raised chairs. “It wasn’t about what he said; it was about what [my father] did.”
He drew laughter when describing how, as a young Little League player, his coach had reminded players that the key was having fun.
“No, it’s not,” Tebow recalls saying. “It’s about winning.”
But as a nearly 25-year-old professional, with teammates and career responsibilities, Tebow said: “My dream and my passion is to be a great role model” for the younger generation. “There are a lot of role models—just not a lot of great ones.”
Jeremiah noted that he has seen Boston Celtics player Paul Pierce Tebowing—kneeling on one knee in prayerful pose, and Tebow said he even witnessed the gesture after he was sacked.
“Is that mocking me or praising me? It was crazy how it took off,” he said. “You could see it at the Oscars and the Grammys. At least praying is being talked about.”
With many in the crowd wearing his trademark eyeblack with “John” and “3:16” penned under their eyes, Tebow told how he started the tradition as a Florida player using a different verse from Philippians.
When he told his coach, Urban Meyer, that he had decided to alter the Bible citation for the national championship game, his routine-driven coach said: “You can’t change now!”
But Meyer eventually threw his support behind Tebow, and the Gators won the 2009 national BCS title by beating Oklahoma 24-14.
After the game, Tebow was told that 94 million people had Googled “John 3:16.”
“How did 94 million people not know John 3:16?” Tebow said, proceeding to quickly recite the verse from memory.
No longer a member of the hated Denver Broncos, Tebow was but one star in a galaxy of entertainers at the event called “Father's Day 2012—Encouraging Men to Live, Love and Lead.”
The University of Florida alumnus played two seasons for Denver, an AFC West rival of the Chargers. Then, the Broncos got quarterback Peyton Manning, an assured Hall of Famer, so Tebow moved on to the New York Jets.
He’ll begin his training with his new team next month.
Before the event, Pastor Jeremiah described Tebow as “the real deal” as an athlete, capable of taking over a game.
“But far more importantly, at the age of 24, he is the kind of man any young boy would do well to emulate,” Jeremiah said.
“Shadow Mountain officials wouldn’t say how much it cost to rent the city-owned stadium, and a mayoral spokesman didn’t respond to a request for information,” the U-T reported. “A church spokesman said Turning Point, Jeremiah’s broadcast ministry branch, covered the expense. Collection buckets were passed around the crowd.”
At the end of the service, Tebow prayed alongside Jeremiah as hundreds of men stepped down to the field in front of the stage while an eight-person pop choir sang Amazing Grace. They accepted Jesus as their savior.
Then Tebow spent 10 minutes signing autographs as huge amplifiers filled the stadium with music.
“I don’t know what my future holds,” Tebow said, “but I know who holds my future. Whether I’m a hero or a goat, I still serve a great God.”
—City News Service contributed to this report.