QB talks faith and football at Penn State Altoona

How many people can kid around at the expense of the Pittsburgh Steelers – in the heart of Steelers country – and get a big laugh out of it?

Tim Tebow is one, and he did it three times Tuesday night, much to the approval of a packed Blair County Convention Center and a crowd estimated at 1,800, the largest in the history of the Penn State Altoona Speakers Series.

“I saw his mother speak [last week in Altoona], and she was excellent – a lot of good life lessons, and I wanted my son to hear his story and hear about his values,” said George Ferris, of Hollidaysburg, a Steelers fan who attended with his 11-year-old, Nathan.

Tebow, the backup quarterback for the New York Jets, flew into Altoona Tuesday from his team’s practice facility.

“I did shower,” he said, drawing laughs.

Moments before the question-and-answer session began, a video montage of the former Florida Gator and Denver Bronco was showcased on three large screens inside the main ballroom. The last scene was of Tebow’s touchdown pass two years ago that helped the Broncos upset the Steelers in the playoffs.

Tebow apologized to the crowd, knowing how popular the Steelers are here.

“I wanted that last highlight to be of me with the New York Jets,” he said, smiling, “but I don’t have any highlights with the Jets.”

From there, Tebow – who could look out from the stage at any of the three sections of the crowd and see plenty of Broncos, Gators and Jets’ Tebow jerseys – engaged the crowd with his stories of his family and of football, which were liberally sprinkled with his devout Christian faith.

The 6-foot-3 southpaw doesn’t just wear his faith on his sleeve; it’s more like an outfit he displays proudly.

“My goal is to be the best quarterback I can be,” he said. “But more importantly, I want to be remembered as someone who loved people and who loved the Lord. That is my goal.”

Besides Blair County, fans who attended came from as far away as Orbisonia in Huntingdon County, as well as 20-year-old Aaron Putyrski of Johnstown.

“He was really inspirational, and he got you thinking,” said Putyrski, proudly wearing his Jets jersey with Tebow’s name on the back. “He didn’t just tell sports stories, either. He was exactly what I expected.”

Jeff Nail, of Altoona, took in the evening with his wife and was glad to hear Tebow talk about God as much as football.

“I was glad he kept his faith in it. I wondered if he would, and I was glad he did,” said Nail, who was wearing a Miami Dolphins hat. “He did it in a moving way. I think it was a mixed room. I don’t think it was just Steelers fans here, but that was still hard to do in Steelers country.”

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School football coach Justin Wheeler attended as well as some members of his team.

“Seeing a guy like Tim being at the top of his game and also keep his faith strong is pretty important to us at Bishop Guilfoyle,” Wheeler said. “For a guy who is probably criticized more than anyone, he always handles it with class. We believe that has a lot to do with his faith and his character, and that is something we talk a lot about at BG.”

Michael Roberts, 16, of Hollidaysburg, came to the event with his parents and brother. He is a fan of the Eagles, but he wanted to see an NFL quarterback and hear how he deals with the media.

“I wanted to hear his perspective on things. He is not the most talented quarterback, but he plays with so much heart and I [was] curious to hear about that,” Roberts said.

Veronica Onkst and her son, Abe, a sixth-grader from Hollidaysburg Catholic, admitted to being Chicago Bears fans, but they also are fans of Tebow.

“I like his values,” Abe said. “I like his morals.”

“I wanted [Abe] to hear there is more about sports than just winning games,” Veronica Onkst said. “I want him to learn about respect, teamwork, values.”

Tebow, who had people waiting in line to see him starting at 12:30 Tuesday afternoon, talked as much about the hospitals he has helped build around the world through his foundation as he did about winning the Heisman Trophy.

“I loved the whole point behind what he is doing and why he is doing it,” said Beth Ann Brunner of Tyrone, who attended with her mother. “I thought this might be more toward the football thing, or even more toward his foundation, but what I got out of this was great.”

Tebow was asked by moderator Susan Woodring of Penn State Altoona about his first season with the Jets, who acquired him in a trade in 2012, and about his NFL future.

He said his faith got him through it, and that he is not worried because, “You don’t worry when the creator has your back.”

Mirror Sports Writer Scott Franco can be reached at 946-7528.