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Mania for Tebow takes a bow at The Ralph; Fans serve up reasons for admiration of prayerful quarterback for the Broncos

Like many in America these days, Richard Scott III is a bit enamored with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

In fact, when Scott went to Daytona Beach, Fla., for spring break a few years ago, he took a three-hour side trip to the University of Florida in Gainesville in hopes of running into the former Florida quarterback.

"I couldn't find him," said Scott, 21, an Alfred University student from Eden.

Welcome to Tebow Mania, which has swept the nation in recent weeks and made a stop in Orchard Park on Saturday, when the Broncos took on the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"You look around and there's probably as many Broncos fans as Bills fans," said Mel Harris, 43, a Denver fan from Albany in town for Saturday's game. "It's not because all of them are fans of the Broncos -- they're fans of Tebow."

Tebow's humble, Christian attitude and last-minute heroics since taking over as starting Broncos quarterback has captured the nation's attention, transcended football and spilled over into popular culture.

The Tebow name has been everywhere.

There's Tebow being spoofed on "Saturday Night Live."

There's Tebow mentioned in the Republican presidential debate.

Check out the people mimicking Tebow's signature stance -- down on one knee, elbow on the other, fist to forehead. Tebowing.

But if you're wondering what all the Tebow fuss is about -- particularly after the Bills beat up on Tebow and the Broncos on Saturday -- there were plenty of his followers at the stadium ready to answer for the infatuation.

"You actually got a guy who seems to be a genuinely nice kid and people are getting behind it," said Harris, a manager for Carrier Corp. "He's the type of athlete parents hope their kids emulate."

"I'm a cop, so I'm the biggest skeptic going," said Grant Thomson, 42, a longtime Broncos fan from the Toronto area, "but when you see him you think 'This guy's for real.' "

When asked which Broncos quarterback he likes more -- Tebow or Hall of Famer John Elway -- Thomson had to stop and think.

"That would be an easy question before," Thomson said, "but now. "

As a quarterback from 2006 to 2009, Tebow helped the University of Florida win two national championships, and won the Heisman trophy as the best college football player in the country after his sophomore year. Still, 24 NFL teams passed on him in the first round of the 2010 draft because of his unconventional throwing style.

The son of a pastor, Tebow was born in the Philippines while both his parents were serving as missionaries. He regularly shares his Christian values in interviews and in his actions off the field.

These days, even curious Tebow observers said they are intrigued by how the second-year pro continues to quiet his skeptics, who rolled their eyes and wrote him off as an NFL quarterback.

"He's just got this thing about him," said Bob Colts Jr., 23, a recent college graduate and Broncos fan from Bradford, Pa. "It's hard to explain."

All the attention on Tebow has made him a polarizing figure. But it's also made Tebow Mania even more fun to watch, said Aaron Conners, 37, a Broncos fan and graduate of Tebow's alma mater.

"It's like the right versus the left," said Conners, a Buffalo teacher, "Coke versus Pepsi. Ford versus Chevy."

We'll have to see what Sunday's performance did for Tebow's image as a starting quarterback.

There were no last-minute heroics against the Bills. No Tebow Time in the fourth quarter.

He was in a giving mood for Christmas and threw four interceptions to help Buffalo -- which had lost seven straight games -- defeat Denver 40-14.

It might have derailed Tebow Mania -- at least for now -- but not for diehard fans like Scott.

Scott read Tebow's book -- twice. He spent $200 and an hour on eBay for a pair of seats directly behind the Broncos bench on Saturday. And he pointed out how he and Tebow share a birthday, are the exact same height and were both homeschooled for a while.

While his buddies think his admiration for Tebow is a bit creepy, Scott scoffs at the notion.

"Deep down," Scott said, with a smirk, "we're destined to be best friends."

email: jrey@buffnews.com