By JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer –
GEORGETOWN, Texas (AP) — Tim Tebow drew a crowd of about 15,000 to an outdoor Easter church service Sunday, telling the gathering it’s important to be outspoken about faith while admonishing athletes about not being better role models.
“In Christianity, it’s the Pope and Tebow right now,” pastor Joe Champion he said. “We didn’t have enough room to handle the Pope.”
Tebow — devout Christian, backup NFL quarterback and cultural phenomenon — has a flock of admirers drawn as much to his religious leanings as his Heisman Trophy skills.
He told them he welcomed the attention on his convictions as well as the “Tebowing” prayer pose he often strikes on the field because it puts his faith and prayer in the public conversation.
“It’s being talking about,” he said. “That’s exciting.”
Some at the “Easter on the Hill” morning service under sunny skies drove more 100 miles to hear Tebow speak. The service took on the feeling of a rock concert with more than a 100 school buses shuttling people to the sprawling megachurch campus from local shopping centers and the nearby college.
The service was peppered with lively Christian rock songs and Tebow hit the large stage to cheers from those who could see him while others toward the back of the crowd watched on massive video screens. Tebow sat for a 20-minute interview with Champion to talk about his faith and the role it plays in his public life.
“It’s OK to be outspoken about your faith,” Tebow said.
He also took a shot at professional athletes who insist they are not role models.
“Yes you are. You’re just not a good one,” Tebow said.
Champion asked Tebow what he thought needed to change culturally in America.
“First and foremost is what this country was based on: one nation under God. The more that we can get back to that,” Tebow said to applause.
Although church officials had said they typically get their biggest crowds on Easter, Tebow was clearly the big draw Sunday. Several hundred started heading toward the exits after Tebow spoke, not waiting for Champion’s main Sunday sermon so they could avoid the 80-degree heat and beat the traffic.
Some couldn’t wait for the official 8 a.m. opening to the church grounds and showed up hours early.