Tim Tebow is used to being a big deal on Sunday.
"In Christianity, it's the Pope and Tebow right now," Georgetown pastor Joe Champion said of the New York Jets quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner, who is as famous for his evangelical Christianity and on-field prayers (known as "Tebowing") as he is for his run-first playing style.
The 24-year-old came to Georgetown Sunday for an appearance at Celebration Church * that drew somewhere between fifteen and thirty thousand people.
As the Associated Press reported:
Some at the "Easter on the Hill" morning service under sunny skies drove more than 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.
As the photo above suggests, formal church attire was not required. The AP story concluded with this amusing detail:
The crowd included people dressed in Easter bunny costumes and one person dressed as the Sesame Street character Elmo. About an hour before the service, Elmo dropped to a knee with a toddler boy to mimic Tebow's prayer pose.
Chad Swiatecki and Philip Caulfield of the New York Daily News reported that Tebow's appearance even resonated with the Catholic Church.
“We got over 3,000 people at St. Patrick’s Cathedral this morning, you think one Timothy Dolan would be happy,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is something of a famous jokester , said in his Easter sermon. “But I'm jealous because one Timothy Tebow has 25,000.”
And Kate Alexander of the New York Times talked to ten-year-old Liam O'Rourke of Round Rock and his father Dave:
Liam wanted to ensure that he would be front and center to see Tebow. Father and son woke up at 4:30 Sunday morning and arrived early. As soon as the gates opened, Liam bolted up the hill to secure a prime spot three hours before the morning service began shortly after 10.
“He doesn’t care if he gets made fun of,” Liam said of Tebow. “He cares about how good a Christian he is. He never gives up.”
The Nation's Dave Zirin, who has said that Tebow's public persona "is less about faith than using faith to serve a political agenda," remained critical on Twitter Sunday after reading Tebow response to a question from the pastor about what culture change America needs. Tebow said, "First and foremost is what this country was based on: one nation under God. The more we can get back to that."
Tim Tebow is a right-wing ideologue in a very pretty wrapper. If he could throw, I'd fear for the future.
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) April 8, 2012
That prompted a number of other tweet-exchanges between Zirin and both Tebow supporters and detractors.
Below, video coverage from Jade Mingus of KVUE Austin, who put the crowd at thirty thousand people:
(*Correction: The original version of this post referred to Celebration Church as "Champion Church.")