In a sports culture dominated by ironic humor, the Broncos quarterback is unusually earnest
We live in world saturated with irony and post-irony, and this affects how we consume mass culture—including sports. Athletes today are not judged solely on their on-field abilities but by how willing they are to show the culture at large that they get it, that they have their own brand of ironic humor.
Peyton Manning isn't popular just because he was on pace to smash every meaningful NFL passing record before his career-threatening neck injury. Fans like him because of the look-at-how-goofy-I-am sense of humor he displays in commercials hawking everything from credit cards to cell phones. Cam Newton is the frontrunner for rookie of the year due to his strong arm and able legs, but his Superman celebration and knowing smile help make the case that he is destined to be a superstar in the NFL.
It's refreshing, then, when someone serious comes along and refuses to partake in the ritual. This is one reason Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is fascinating to die-hard football fans and casual viewers alike, despite his questionable skills as a professional quarterback.
In less than two NFL seasons Tebow has gone from shaky pro prospect to emerging cult hero. The primary reason for this is that he plays the quarterback position in an unusual manner. Football fans are accustomed to a certain level of redundancy—Aaron Rodgers is on track to have one of the greatest seasons ever played by a quarterback, but he is essentially rehashing what Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady did during their own record-breaking seasons. This conventional style of quarterbacking is predicated on accurate downfield passing and efficient decision-making—Rodgers has completed nearly 72 percent of his pass attempts this season and only thrown four interceptions. And even though Rodgers is more athletic than the average NFL quarterback, like Manning and Brady he prioritizes getting the ball into the hands of his receivers and only runs when that is not an option.