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Malcom Glenn Headshot

What Tim Tebow Can Learn from Jeremy Lin

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It's tough to avoid the parallels, be it in their resurrection of usually proud but recently struggling franchises, their relative inexperience at the pro level, their positions as both symbolic and literal team leaders, or their devout and often public expressions of faith.

And in addition to the fact that Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow had one of the most storied college football careers ever -- winning two national championships and a Heisman trophy at football powerhouse Florida in the sport's best conference -- and New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin never as much as sniffed the NCAA tournament during four years of relative obscurity at Harvard, it's in the consumption of their stories by the public that we see the biggest difference between the two sensations.

Neither has made any secret of their relationships with God -- just take a look at their Twitter feeds. Tebow ends most messages with "GB²," a dual-purpose sign-off meaning "Go Broncos" and "God Bless," while Lin's profile picture mock-quotes Jesus with a Twitter-relevant request to "follow" Him. And both athletes are stand-ins for the underdogs everywhere, the undersized and unskilled who were cast off as ill-prepared for the big leagues.

But Lin's broad band of followers represents much more. In addition to the devout, who love both, Lin is inspiring an entire country of fans an ocean away, one that hasn't coalesced around an NBA player since he was 7'6" and spoke little English. This time, he's more than a foot shorter and a native of the Bay Area. Not a native but no less loved.

And unlike Denver's favorite son, Lin's numbers don't have to be explained away because of late-game heroics. And, most importantly, the guy looks like he's having fun.

No knock on Tebow -- this writer was among the most excited when his hometown team regained relevance last fall, as well as among the first down on one knee to salute the lefty savior. But the Lin phenomenon can best be captured in a single image, during Game 2 of the Harvard Hero's ascent to the main stage.

After draining a jumper late in a game against the Utah Jazz, Lin backpedals down court at Madison Square Garden, a smile slowly creeping over his face as he nods his head, tongue out, as if to acknowledge that -- despite his remarkable poise and humility -- he too recognizes the extraordinary nature of what's going on.

No less humble but far more fiery is Tebow, who looked borderline manic in his most exuberant states following some of the Broncos' most unlikely wins last year. And perhaps that's what we should expect.

After all, Tim Tebow is a superstar masquerading as an underdog. He's been a winner at the highest level his entire life. Throwing motion be damned -- should we really be surprised that he's a winner in the NFL, too?

Lin played spoiler in leading his high school team to an improbable state champion, excelled in perhaps the only Harvard extracurricular that goes underappreciated by the student body, never heard his name called on draft day, and yet, in his first extended minutes on the biggest stage, he absolutely blew away even the most bullish expectations.

There are no gimmicks involved in his game, either. He plays comfortable, fundamentally sound, fearless basketball. No topic divided NFL analysts more this year than whether the Broncos would be successful in the long run with Tebow at the helm. The biggest question facing Lin now is whether Carmelo Anthony's impending return from injury will do more to help or hurt the Knicks' success.

Outside a handful of passionate fans from Cambridge and Northern California, the world is just discovering a man who has scored more points in his first four starts than any player since the NBA/ABA merger. Before being taken a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, we all knew who Tebow was.

Lin, however, is the ultimate underdog -- dismissed because of his race, his size, his education, and embraced when folks finally recognized his true skills. Tebow has always played from ahead, highly recruited and, when faced with real questions of his skill, irrationally vilified by a chorus of loud detractors.

Tebow fans like to surmise that he uses those who count him out as motivation when he takes the field. And if that's true, perhaps we shouldn't fault him for an intensity that, while effective, is at times off-putting.

Lin is rightly being embraced far and wide. Tebow's not hurting for fans, but if he wants to become the sensation on the grand scale that he is in the Mile High, he should take a page out of the now widely-read book of Lin.

Then again, maybe he can't. Perhaps it takes a true underdog to transcend borders, to become a unifying force. Perhaps because his validation came not years ago but days ago, he's able to just nod his head, wag his tongue, and smile.

Malcom Glenn, who was born and raised in Denver, graduated from Harvard in 2009.