Tim Tebow and the Power of Clutch

Being clutch in sports is like Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity — we know it when we see it.

We can’t always quantify clutch in sports, but we all know that some athletes are clutch and some are not. Hell, the level of the sport really doesn’t matter when it comes to analyzing who is clutch. If you played little league baseball there was a guy that you wanted up to bat in the bottom of the sixth or pitching to get the final out; if you played rec league basketball there was a guy you wanted taking the final shot, if you’re playing golf in a scramble there’s a guy you’d choose to attempt the final putt.

Clutch athletes are not always the most skilled — think Robert Horry’s NBA career — but time after time they deliver down the stretch.  

In the wake of Sunday’s overtime victory over the Denver Broncos, there can be no doubt — Tim Tebow is clutch. Perhaps the most clutch football player of our generation.

That’s not being offered as hyperbole.

When you consider his stats in the fourth quarter and overtime compared to the rest of the game, Tebow has no parallel. That is, in the crucible moments of the game no player elevates his performance by a greater degree than Tim tebow.

Don’t believe me?

Consider these stats from this season which I’m taking from ESPN’s AFC West blogger:

Tim Tebow Passing This Season

  3 Qtrs 4th/OT
Comp pct 38.7 60.9
Pass yds 520 770
Yds per att 4.7 8.9
TD-Int 5-1 6-1

Tebow’s performance soars by nearly 50% when winning time arrives. His completion percentage skyrockets 22%, he’s thrown for nearly 50% more yards in the fourth quarter and overtime than in the first three quarters of the games combined, and his yards per passing attempt nearly doubles.

When the time comes to win games, Tebow. Just. Wins.

This isn’t a surprise to anyone who watched Tim Tebow play four seasons in the SEC. Few players have ever been more clutch in SEC history than Tebow. Florida went 48-7 in Tebow’s four years with the Gators and the freshman Tebow accounted for several late game wins with his fourth down conversions against Tennessee and South Carolina, for instance, that would have led to a loss had he failed. For a dominant team, the Gators played an awful lot of close games in the Tebow era. And almost always Tebow found a way to triumph. In his final 28 games at Florida, Tebow went 26-2 with a national title and a Sugar Bowl rout of Cincinnati.

Ask every single SEC fan whether Tim Tebow is clutch and every single one — given truth serum — would answer the exact same way — Yes.

Tebow personifies clutch more than any athlete playing right now. He truly takes his game to another level at winning time in a way that no other athlete does.

Most “clutch” NFL quarterbacks are good throughout the game and just a bit better down the stretch. Think Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees. These guys are all much better quarterbacks than Tebow, but are they more clutch? That is, do they elevate their games to a completely different level when the time to win a game arises? The answer is no. (Here, perhaps, you can make a criticism of Tebow. Why is he so pedestrian during the first three quarters of football games? That is, why can’t he flip the switch and make his performances more consistent so that clutch fourth quarter heroics aren’t as necessary? That’s a great question, one that I don’t have an easy answer for.)

Per Paul Pabst from the Dan Patrick Show, here are the fourth quarter passer ratings: 1. Eli Manning 2. Aaron Rodgers 3. Tim Tebow 4. Tony Romo 5. Tom Brady 6. Drew Brees

Tebow is 14th in passer rating using the entire game as the criteria. Every other quarterback in the top six in the fourth quarter is in the top seven overall.

Tebow. Is. Clutch.

Tebow’s Broncos won five consecutive games as underdogs — only the third time that’s happened in NFL history — prior to Sunday’s win over the Chicago Bears. Per pregame.com, if you’d started with a $100 wager on Tebow six games ago and let it ride each week, you’d now have $38,450.

It’s not just that Tebow is clutch, it’s that he’s clutch against teams that Las Vegas believes are demonstrably better than his own. Along the way the Broncos have come to believe in Tebow as well. The defense is giving up a touchdown less per game, and all players have elevated their performance, feeding off the belief that Tebow will win the game for them.   

Other athletes put on promotional, ego-centric shows, but often these spectacles are about convincing themselves that they really are special, that their talent really is unique. That when the time comes, they will make a play to win the game.  

Some of the biggest showboats out there are actually some of the most insecure athletes. They preen and strut because, paradoxically, they have to convince themselves that they’re clutch. 

See James, LeBron.  

How, then, is Tebow so clutch when other athletes are not? What is it about him that makes him perform so well when the time comes to win football games?

Some will point to his religion. But that’s a lazy analysis. Do you really believe God is selecting football game winners? (If you do, God help you). Others will point to complete luck. Again, that’s lazy. Luck runs out. If something keeps happening again and again, it’s the complete opposite of luck. The New York Times points to Tebow’s innate optimism. (There were two Tebow editorials in the Sunday New York Times. Two!) But I think it’s something else, I believe Tebow has complete faith in himself. Now, he roots that faith in the strength given to him by a higher power, but ultimately Tebow has sublime faith in his abilities. And anyone who truly believes in themselves with every fiber of their being is more likely to achieve than not.

It’s not just sports. Certain individuals want the proverbial ball at the business meeting that decides the fate of the company, want the final question at the Presidential debate, can’t wait to take the SAT; some consistently excel when others flounder. 

Some are clutch.  

Because deep down these individuals just know they will succeed.

This trait is rare. Extremely rare. When we see it, we all know. Tebow’s teammates see it. They all know.

Most of us are afraid of failing more than anything in the world. Everyone craves success, but lots of us fear failure more than we crave success. The same is true of athletes. Tebow has complete faith in himself, but he also has something more — an absence of fear.

Being clutch isn’t just about performing well in the most important part of the game, it’s about not allowing your mind to succumb to fear.

Tebow is a fearless football player. He doesn’t just win, the concept of failing vanishes from his consciousness when there’s a game to be won.  

And that absence of fear is the most clutch gene of all.

Make no mistake, right now Tebow is the most clutch football player in America.

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