(CNN) — After being all football in his last press conference following his trade to the New York Jets, Tim Tebow on Sunday was all about his faith, which he discussed at length with a Texas pastor during an Easter event.
The New York Jets quarterback was greeted by shrieks and cheers as he took the stage on the sprawling Celebration Church campus in Georgetown, about 25 miles north of the state capital of Austin.
After some playful banter with senior pastor Joe Champion — who asked the former Florida Gator to don a football helmet from his alma mater, Louisiana State University — Tebow began answering questions about his faith and how his openness about it has become a frequently dissected topic in sports and society at large.
The Heisman Trophy winner and outspoken evangelical Christian said that he wasn’t sure why he has become such a focal point for his faith. Nor did he have an easy explanation as to why Tebowing, the act of getting down on one knee and praying, went viral — with people doing it on mountaintops, under the sea and most anywhere in between.
“I really don’t think that I was the first athlete to get down on one knee and pray,” said Tebow, who is known to do so on the football field. “I’ve actually had the same routine the last several years and, just this year, they started calling it Tebowing. … I have no idea why.”
The quarterback recalled how, during one game last season, a Detroit Lions defensive player stood over him and began Tebowing after tackling him. He said he wasn’t sure if the act was meant to mock him, but still called it “flattering” because the opposing player, whether he realized it or not, was praying — something that Tebow believes is a good thing, wherever it’s done.
Beyond his exploits at the University of Florida and more recently in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, nowadays Tebow is known as much for his outward expression of faith as for his football.
It began in Gainesville, where he led the Gators to two national championships while etching Bible verses into the eyeblack he wore on game days. In Denver, his jersey was one of the league’s hottest sellers, even before he started regularly for the team, in large part due to his immense popularity among Christians.
“I’m just so blessed to have a platform so when cameras are rolling, they can’t just turn it off,” he told Champion. “They have to hear me say, ‘I have to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ.'”
But it’s also made Tebow a lightning rod of sorts, with some questioning whether he should be talking more about football and less about his faith, as well as a fixture in popular culture. In one “Saturday Night Live” skit, a character portraying Jesus goes into the Broncos’ locker room saying he doesn’t want to have to “bail out” the team every week and praising their upcoming foe, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, as a “miracle worker.”
Tebow said Sunday that he takes the attention in stride, saying that anything that gets people thinking about faith is a positive.
“When it’s being talked about, that means it’s being contemplated by people,” he said. “And that’s a good thing.”
And believing personally that his fate is in God’s hands gives Tebow comfort and joy, he said, and helps him remain optimistic and energized while tackling most any challenge.
As important as football is to him, Tebow said he feels wholeheartedly that following God’s path is more so.
“Whatever happens in life — good or bad, whether you’re the hero or the goat, whether you like it or not — you know that someone has a plan for your life, and it’s a special plan,” Tebow said. “When you trust that and you have hope in that, then you have peace in all decisions and everything you do. And it brings a lot of joy to your life.”