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Worship of Broncos’ Tim Tebow making for a dilemma in Denver

A quarterback controversy is brewing Denver. Will Tim Tebow (pictured) or Kyle Ortemerge as starter?  |   AP

A quarterback controversy is brewing in Denver. Will Tim Tebow (pictured) or Kyle Orton emerge as the starter? | AP

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Updated: November 14, 2011 12:18AM

There are two competing groups when it comes to public opinion on Tim Tebow.

The first group thinks Tebow is God’s gift to humanity and that his NFL quarterbacking skills will catch up to his holiness if the Denver Broncos ever give him a chance.

The second group is creeped out by the first group.

Tebow isn’t the best quarterback on his team. That would be Kyle Orton, the former Bear whose numbers the last two years are better than the player he (and some high draft picks) were traded for: Jay Cutler.

But the Broncos find themselves in a very awkward position because they took Tebow with their first-round pick last year, well above where most teams had projected him to go in the draft. In fact, much of the pre-draft discussion in 2010 centered on whether he’d be better off at another position in the NFL.

But armed with the irrefutable evidence that somebody out there, or up there, believed Tebow was worthy of being a first-rounder, his supporters became emboldened. It’s why there’s a quarterback controversy in Denver right now for no good reason.

This is what happens when you reach to take a player who has a bigger reputation for piety than he does for touchdown passes. The pressure on John Elway, the Broncos’ new vice president of football operations, is significant. Tebow is much, much more than a football player. He’s a symbol for a large swath of people who see him as the best of what Christianity has to offer.

His autobiography, Through My Eyes, has been on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list since it came out eight weeks ago. His jersey was the third-highest seller in the NFL last season, despite the fact he started only three games.

There is nothing wrong with any of that. The people have spoken, and they like Tim Tebow. A lot. But the people shouldn’t decide who gets to play quarterback.

We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if the Broncos had finished better than 4-12 last season. It needs to be pointed out that they didn’t go 4-12 because of Orton, who threw for 3,653 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was intercepted only nine times.

Reports out of Denver are that Orton is clearly outplaying Tebow in training camp, but that hasn’t stopped the cries from Broncos fans anxious for an Orton trade. And those cries won’t stop.

‘‘It’s the Tebow thing,’’ Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd told ‘‘They’ll put Kyle on the trading block because they don’t want to deal with the Tebow thing. But it’s not going to end until [Tebow] plays.’’

There’s an aura of mystery about Tebow that goes well with his halo. Can he play? It’s a tantalizing question. To those of us who thought he was overrated at Florida, the answer seems obvious. And even those of us who believe he’s something of a football fraud wouldn’t mind seeing how it would play out if he did get to start.

Not well, I’m guessing.

He completed 41 of 82 passes as a rookie, which is mediocre, but his passer rating was 82.1, which is good. He also ran for 227 yards (a 5.3 average) and six touchdowns, which is very good.

It’s a small sample size, but what about any of that says, ‘‘It’s his time’’? If you’re pointing to his rushing yardage as the answer, you might want to take a look at how many running quarterbacks have been successful in the NFL over the last 30 years.

The people who love Tebow and who can’t understand why everybody else doesn’t always ask the same question: Would you rather that we celebrate the thugs in sports? Answer: It’s not an either/or situation. What we’re saying is, How about toning down the hero worship just a bit? The fawning over Tebow doesn’t correspond with his on-field accomplishments or, according to media accounts in Denver, with his training-camp performance so far.

He’s being held up as an icon for all the good work he does off the field and for the Christian message he spreads.

You know what we call those kinds of people? Preachers. The traditional route to becoming an NFL quarterback is through talent and results.

Everybody says the same things about Tebow: Great kid. Sincere. Honest.

But as of right now, he stands for a lot of things that have nothing to do with winning football games. And, at last look, winning is all that matters in the NFL. Ask Josh McDaniels, the head coach who played a large role in Tebow being drafted so high last year. He got fired after last season’s debacle.

The reality of what the Broncos are up against public relations-wise can be summed up by three questions.

A best-selling autobiography? At 23? Really?

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