Even though the football season has ended for Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, his star still shines bright in the household of Kelly Faughnan, whose serendipitous encounter with him at an amusement park led to a date at the College Football Awards.
”I just think he’s great, a really nice guy,” said Kelly, 22, from the living room of her Clifton home just minutes before the NFL playoff game Saturday night between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots.
The story of the gentle friendship between Faughnan and Tebow is noteworthy because it is an anomaly in the brutal world of professional football.
Tebow, who led his team on a phenomenal run until Saturday, has been criticized for his faith and his open talk about his belief in God. Not since boxer Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and claimed that his faith prevented him from serving in the Vietnam War have sports and religion so fiercely intermixed on such a huge public stage. But for Kelly, a 2008 graduate, Tebow has demonstrated he's the real deal.
The Tebow-Kelly story began in 2009, when she was rewarded by her family with a trip to Disney World in Orlando, following surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. The recovery was a bit daunting and she still deals with the hearing loss suffered at birth and a noticeable tremor that began when she was 12. Kelly had come to cheer for Tebow (who once played an entire second half in high school with a broken leg) when he was winning two collegiate national championships at the University of Florida.
On the chance that they could see Tebow before the 2009 College Football Awards, Kelly and her dad, Jim, an attorney, staked out a spot at the ESPN zone restaurant. They were hoping to catch a glimpse of Tebow as he walked by. They chatted up a few of the restaurant employees and Kelly vivaciously told them of her hope to meet Tebow, Jim said.
Tebow was late, but eventually walked through the restaurant and waved to the crowd before disappearing into a private banquet room.
“Well, I thought, that’s it,” Jim said. “We got a wave from Timmy and I thought that was the end of it. Then, somebody came to our table and asked if we wanted to meet Timmy.”
Stunned, they were whisked into a private affair. Kelly was seated at Tebow’s side and they chatted during the entire dinner. The rest of the Faughnan family was seated nearby. To this day, nobody can really explain how or why Tebow plucked the young Clifton woman from the crowd. Kelly certainly wanted to meet him, but the family had no connections that would normally make it happen.
“It’s just his faith,” Kelly said. “We are God-friends.”
After the dinner, Tebow had another surprise in store, Kelly remembered.
“We are just sitting there and he said, ‘what are you doing tomorrow night. Why don’t you come to the awards dinner as my date,’” Kelly said. “I was shocked. I said yes. I felt like Cinderella.”
Unprepared for a formal dinner, the family had brought flip-flops and shorts for a visit to Disney World. They spent the next day “power shopping,” and getting their hair done, said Kelly’s mom, Janet.
“I felt like I was in heaven,” Kelly said.
Since then, they have stayed in touch, exchanging messages and gifts. Kelly sent the quarterback a box of nutrition bars and he sent her an engraved Bible for Christmas. The family has also attended two games, including one in December in Denver that was arranged by the Tim Tebow Foundation.
Kelly finds great inspiration in their friendship.
“He’s a really nice guy, but it’s his faith,” Kelly said. “He really believes in God.”