NFL sensation Tim Tebow, who took the country by storm with a 2011 six-game winning streak that brought the Denver Broncos within one win of this weekend's Super Bowl, says that although his much-mimicked on-field praying has sparked controversy, he is merely "putting the Lord first."
The term "Tebowing" - the act of stopping what one's doing to kneel down on one knee and pray - became one of 2011's hottest and most-copied memes. Once Tebow's popularity truly caught fire after an October win over the Miami Dolphins, photos of people "Tebowing" across the globe - in front of Buckingham Palace, at Egypt's pyramids, and even underwater - sprung up across the Internet.
"Part of taking a knee is humbling yourself, and it's a form of showing humility where you are putting someone else first," Tebow said in an interview with ESPN. "Putting the Lord first. And that's why I do it. More than anything, more than asking for wins or losses, I'm asking that I have a platform to honor him."
In 2011 Tebow became one of the world's most popular athletes, and gathered his own devout following. He completed 10 of 21 passes when the Broncos took on the Pittsburgh Steelers last month, setting a franchise record for a quarterback's rating in a playoff game, along with an NFL record for yards per completion in a playoff game.
The 24-year-old University of Florida graduate has had his share of critics since his career took off, however, primarily amongst those who are turned off by his flaunting of his religion on the football field. Recently comedian Bill Maher, an outspoken atheist, came under fire for mocking Tebow's loss and insinuating that God was punishing him.
Tebow says he draws strength from his detractors.
"When I get down on a knee and what's become 'Tebowing,' I'm asking the Lord for strength, whether I win or whether I lose. Whether I am the hero or the goat," he says. "I am still going to be the same person.
"I'm sure my faith is part of that, I know I have a lot of supporters because of it … which I'm very thankful for and I'm very thankful for all the support I've received and the people that are praying for me that are backing me. On the other side, you're always going to have critics, I've always had them and I'll always have them. For me, I'll always use that as motivation."
Another motivation is one day making passes on Super Bowl Sunday in the big game. Until then, Tebow is only left only to make predictions - and speaking as a man with experience, he's calling it.
"I think it will be a close game," Tebow told ESPN. "But it's hard to go against Brady, as I found out twice. If I had to choose - Patriots in a close game."