Tim Tebow isn't the only Christian on the field

By now almost everyone has seen THE PASS that ended the NFL playoff game last Sunday between the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the final play of the game—and the first play in Overtime—Denver quarterback Tim Tebow threw a laser forty yards downfield to a streaking Demaryius Thomas who ran the remaining distance to the winning touchdown in the blink of an eye.

Pandemonium erupted as Tebow added one more unbelievable chapter to the miraculous story of this season. From being discounted as a washed-up quarterback, Tebow resurrected his career with five fourth quarter come-from-behind victories culminating in Sunday’s victory over the heavily-favored Steelers. Each week he seemed to accomplish some new athletic miracle. So much so that Tebow Time has become part of the language.

What makes it all so remarkable is of course Tebow’s faith. His authentic and plain-spoken evangelical faith is the most endearing—and for skeptics, the most exasperating part of the whole story. The young quarterback never fails to give credit to God for everything that happens to him on the field. To the extent that, following Sunday’s game, Slate writer Daniel Engber says he’s now questioning his own atheism. He’s not the only one. When Tebow’s stats were tallied up from this last game, it turned out that he threw for precisely 316 yards, the biblical reference to his favorite Bible verse, John 3:16.

But while Tebow was the talk of the day, he wasn’t the only follower of Jesus on the field on Sunday. Serious Christians abound in the NFL and one of the most authentic ones was actually playing on the opposite team on Sunday. Troy Polamalu, the All-Star safety for the Steelers is as genuine in his Christian faith as is Tebow but with a much lower profile. His story is as compelling as Tebow’s.

Polamalu, 30, and his wife Theodora converted to Orthodox Christianity six years ago as the ending of a spiritual journey they’d been involved in for several years. “Orthodoxy is like an abyss of beauty that’s just endless,” he said recently when explaining his faith. “I have read the Bible many times. But after fasting, and being baptized Orthodox, it’s like reading a whole new Bible. You see the depth behind the words so much more clearly.”

Polamalu is an active part of a parish and engaged in charity work in a host of different venues. He takes his faith as seriously as Tebow. What separates the two of them isn’t their faith in Jesus but the way the media treats each of them. Tebow is articulate, direct and forthcoming about his faith, which is the way evangelicals are in general. And the media loves that because they find it easy to ridicule. Of course, that’s harder to do the more Tebow wins games.

Polamalu’s faith is harder to pin down. On the one hand, he doesn’t particularly like to talk about it. Not because he’s embarrassed by it but because he seems to follow St. Francis’ admonition to “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” On the other hand, Orthodoxy itself is not widely understood in western culture and so defies the sound-bytes most people resort to in describing religion.

In any event, watching the two of them play ball last Sunday was a real treat. And as Tebow continues to win ball games, who knows how many people may come around to faith?