In the 18 years that ESPN has been doing the poll, only 11 athletes have been #1. And Tebow made it in only his second pro season. It took LeBron James 8 years and Kobe Bryant 11 years to achieve their #1 ranking.
In December's poll, Tebow was picked by 3 percent of those surveyed as their favorite active pro athlete. That put him ahead of Kobe Bryant (2 percent), Aaron Rodgers (1.9 percent), Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent) in the top-five of the results.
The poll results were gathered from 1,502 interviews from a nationally representative sample of Americans ages 12 and older.
"To put this in perspective, Tim Tebow rose to the top before the end of his second pro season. It took Tiger Woods three years, LeBron James eight years and Kobe Bryant 11 years," Rich Luker, founder and director of the ESPN Sports Poll, said. "I think we may be at the front end of a new era in sports stars."
Tebow is just the sixth different athlete to finish No. 1 in the monthly rankings since 2007. The others are Brett Favre, Manning, Woods, Bryant and James.
"This is an exciting finding and one that reflects the sentiment of all sports fans, not just the online or social media world," Artie Bulgrin, senior vice president for Research and Analytics, ESPN Sales and Marketing, said.
AT Political Correspondent Rich Baehr puts it in perspective:
The leftist secularists try to diminish him, and it only adds to his appeal. 45 million people watched the Denver game last Sunday - highest rating for a wild card game since 1988. if Denver pulls off a miracle Saturday night and beats New England at New England (I don't think I will make that bet in Vegas), the mania will be out of control. You can bet the NFL and the networks are praying for Denver to win again. Tebow would be the highest paid pitchman in America now if he wanted to do that stuff.
I would add that there is a genuine hunger in America for the kind of clean cut, polite, modest, sort of athlete that Tebow is. He doesn't put himself down by pretending to be humble. He speaks with a quiet confidence about his own abilities and always refers to his teammates as making his miracle finishes possible. Few athletes have had their abilities - and personal faith - so villified by so many. The strength of character it takes to overcome that sort of crticism - and then go out and succeed time and time again - speaks well for the young man and his upbringing.
It takes real courage in this day and age to be so forthcoming about one's faith and people see the pushback by "leftist secularists" and know how hard it is to live up to being a Christian when you are in the public eye. You'd think the sky was falling every time Tebow kneels down to pray or points skyward in thanks to God. But parents especially love the sort of athlete who lives their faith and doesn't care who knows it.
A remarkable young man who is riding the wave of a remarkable phenomenon.