Tebowmania hits Aspen
December 18, 2011
ASPEN – Some say it’s an infectious spirit, and others simply think it’s a disease, but “Tebowmania” has taken root in the Aspen area.
Since Tim Tebow took over quarterbacking duties after a bye week in mid-October, the Denver Broncos have been hot, winning seven of their last eight games. Sunday they ride a six-game victory streak into a Mile High Stadium match-up with the New England Patriots, a contest few predicted would be competitive two months ago after the Broncos had limped to a 1-4 start.
All eyes will once again be on him, the athlete with the wounded-duck passes, an often-mocked prayerful pose and a knack for snatching late-game victories from the jaws of defeat. He’s turned casual fans into rabid game-watchers and has sparked countless Monday morning water-cooler conversations, not only in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout Colorado but across the nation.
Highlands Pizza west of Aspen will unveil a special menu item Sunday. Co-owner Ryan Sweeney said it will bear the 24-year-old quarterback’s name and that he plans to sell it only during what fans are calling “Tebow Time” – the fourth quarter of each game, when the polarizing Christian athlete tends to turn on his peculiar brand of football magic.
“It’ll be a football-shaped pizza sold by the slice. It’s a white pizza made with extra virgin olive oil, ‘extra virgin’ being the key part there,” he said, referencing Tebow’s public vow to remain celibate until marriage.
Toppings will include bacon, jalapenos, chicken and cheddar. There was no particular reason for choosing those ingredients, Sweeney said.
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“We just wanted to make a good pizza,” he said. “We tried tweeting Tim Tebow to find out what his favorite pizza was, but he didn’t get back to us. So we just kind of guessed.”
Though Aspen Highlands is now open to skiers, Sweeney said that during last Sunday’s game with the Chicago Bears many people took time off from the slopes to stay inside the eatery to watch another thrilling comeback engineered by The Chosen One.
Indeed, the Broncos of late can be credited with bringing an atmosphere of electricity to ordinary scenes. Such was the case after a recent Thursday night win over the New York Jets, when customers at Aspen’s New York Pizza chanted “Tebow! Tebow!” and kept asking employees to ring the Hyman Avenue restaurant’s cowbell in the player’s honor.
The mood that night was slightly sarcastic, given the fact that Tebow doesn’t possess the skills of pure passers in the league like Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints or Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers. But the sarcasm common in early November has faded with each successive, and some say strange, victory engineered by Tebow (with a lot of help from a stout Broncos defense and a solid field-goal kicker).
Rick Schultz, owner of the Autograph Source on East Hopkins Avenue, said Tebow memorabilia has become his hottest seller.
“They’re going through the roof, as you can imagine,” was how he described this year’s sales of autographed helmets and other items bearing Tebow’s signature. “Over the last three weeks, it’s gone ballistic.”
Most of the purchases through his shop are made online, but Schultz said he also has Tebow items available for walk-ins. Tebow – who donates proceeds from autograph sales to his namesake charity for children, the Tim Tebow Foundation – has been doing extra private autograph sessions to keep up with the high demand, Schultz said.
“I keep ordering stuff, selling out of it, ordering again, selling out of it again,” he said. The biggest sellers are miniature and full-size helmets, and at $349 and $789 respectively, they don’t come cheap.
“To give you a reference point, he’s more expensive than John Elway,” said Schultz, comparing the retail price of Tebow’s autograph to that of the former Broncos quarterback, a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Of course, not everyone is buying into the hype. As much as Tebow is praised by fans for his squeaky-clean image, competitive spirit and game-winning drives, he’s also been vilified by those who question the validity of his public persona and supporters of other teams who want the Broncos to lose.
Brent Girardi, a high-tech wiring specialist and diehard New Orleans Saints fan, was in Basalt recently on a job assignment. The Slidell, La., resident was squarely in the Tebow-hater camp until Nov. 27, the day he sat in a Glenwood Springs bar and watched the Broncos defeat the San Diego Chargers in overtime.
The next day, Girardi returned to south Louisiana with what he described as “Tebow fever.” He said some of his friends in the Bayou State also are on the bandwagon, mainly because the Broncos offer them another team to root for late on Sunday afternoons. The Saints typically start their Superdome home games at noon and are finished by 3:15 p.m. CDT.
“I never really cared for Tebow much, especially when he was a college player with the Florida Gators, and they were tearing up the Southeastern Conference,” Girardi said. “After watching that game with Broncos fans in Glenwood Springs, I’ve come around. I have to say that Tebow and the end of every Denver game might be the most exciting thing the NFL has to offer right now. I’m hoping for a Saints-Broncos Super Bowl.”
Of course, when an athlete becomes the talk of the nation, the media and private industry aren’t far behind in their attempts to capitalize on the hype.
Last week, a Denver Post article examined how Tebow’s lack of self-centeredness, positive attitude and team-oriented approach can serve as a model for a national business landscape plagued in recent years by the narcissistic style of management blamed for the economic collapse of 2008.
And Bonfire Brewing, an Eagle County beermaker, recently unveiled “Tebrew,” a barley wine high in alcohol content. It’s not widely available – the company is only selling it at its tasting room – but the beverage concept is spurring calls from around the country.
Aspenite Mike Nakagawa, a self-described “true Broncos fan” since age 6, tried to put “Tebowmania” in perspective.
He’s pulling for Tebow and his unorthodox way of winning games and said people should stop trying to compare the new Broncos quarterback with the legendary Elway, who is now the team’s vice president of football operations and Tebow’s boss.
“Unlike many so-called ‘fans,’ I’m realistic,” he said. “Just like there will never be another Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson or Mohammed Ali, there will never be another John Elway. I also understand that the Broncos are a team and not just one ‘Mile High messiah.'”
Nakagawa said many football fans put too much emphasis on statistics and skill, losing sight of what people truly love about sports: determination and will.
“Tebow has those qualities, and you cannot teach that,” he said. “In pro sports, there is nothing ‘unconventional’ about winning, no matter how it happens.”
Nakagawa, a local club spinner who goes by the name DJ Naka G, also suggested that critics who knock Tebow’s religious fervor are missing out on the fun.
“As far as his beliefs and religion go, who really cares?” he said. “So what if he wears his views on his sleeve? He’s not handing out Watchtower pamphlets to the fans in Mile High on Sundays.
“Love him or hate him, he does more off the field than many other athletes. No. 15 has my vote – go Tebow!”