In Jan. 1986, several high school classmates and I huddled around a small TV in a Colorado hotel room watching the Denver Broncos battle the Cleveland Browns for the AFC Championship. We were at a wrestling tournament, but no one was thinking about wrestling because our Broncos, trailing by seven points, had the ball on their own two-yard line with 5:32 left in regulation.
Eric, our wrestling team captain, slapped a twenty-dollar bill on the dresser. "We're gonna win!" he proclaimed. Several students took him up on the bet. (Shhh, don't tell coach.)
Over the next four minutes, Denver quarterback John Elway spearheaded one of the greatest drives ever, which ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson with only 37 seconds remaining. Rich Karlis, the barefoot kicker, added the extra point to tie the game at 20-20. Sudden-death overtime!
Eric slapped another twenty on the dresser and money flew across the room. After a brilliant 60-yard drive by Elway, Karlis strolled out onto the frozen Ohio turf and kicked a winning 33-yard field goal. The Broncos were headed to the Super Bowl!
I remember the thrill of that Broncos impossible-to-win-overtime-comeback as if it were just the other day.
Oh, wait. It was just the other day, except this time it was Tim Tebow instead of Elway, and Matt Prater instead of Karlis. In fact, it was the fifth Tebow-led, fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win this season, including three victories in overtime.
Tebow, a 2010 first-round draft pick out of the University of Florida, has fascinated the media for years with his public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. He repeatedly credits God for his success by pointing heavenward after a good play and opens media interviews with, "First and foremost, I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
On Sunday, the Broncos trailed the Chicago Bears 10-0 with 4:34 left in regulation. Tebow then led a 63-yard drive capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas and a Prater extra point. With 53 seconds remaining, the Broncos regained possession and quickly moved downfield, and with eight seconds left, Prater tied the game with a 59-yard field goal, tying his career-best distance. Sudden-death overtime!
Chicago had the ball first but fumbled it away in Denver territory. Tebow then powered the Broncos 33 yards downfield, and Prater kicked a 51-yard field goal for the win. It was Denver's sixth-straight win with Tebow at the helm. And since he took over at quarterback, the team has gone from having the worst record in the AFC West (1-4) to standing alone at the top (8-5).
Fans have dubbed this uncanny ability for the Broncos to win against all odds "Tebow Time." "My teammates made me look a lot better than I am," said Tebow during a postgame interview. "I don't think it's Tebow Time," he added. "I just think it's Bronco Time, and the team steps up."
Sports commentators are baffled as they debate what the unprecedented winning streak by a newly minted and supposedly mediocre quarterback means. Is it just good luck? Could it be God-ordained?
Sports journalist Steven Smith tweeted on Sunday: "I'm sick to my stomach. You can't fight Divine Intervention. Clearly-with Tebow-that's what is at work here. I give up!"
I don't know if God is a Broncos fan, but one thing is for sure: Tebow's unabashed witness has inspired many people to be more open about their own faith. I now hear people talking about their religious beliefs everywhere here in Colorado: radio personalities, folks in the checkout lane, and teenagers hanging out in my basement. Even Broncos coach John Fox acknowledged God: "I want to thank the good Lord for those guys and that staff."
Perhaps this Tebow-induced openness is an opportunity for Christians to talk to their neighbors about something really important: the fate of their souls.
Back in 1986 my friend Eric won more than $100 by trusting in young John Elway's comeback ability. But let's not forget-the Broncos didn't win the Super Bowl that time. Or the next. Or the next. It wasn't until Elway's fourth attempt that the Broncos came home with Super Bowl rings.
So when Tebow Time runs out-will Bronco's fans keep the faith? Will Tim Tebow? I hope so, because that will surely give neighbors something to talk about.