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Tim Tebow Mania has reached such epic proportions that the head of CBS Sports believes the emergence of the Denver quarterback as a cultural icon rivals that of Tiger Woods’ explosion onto the worldwide golf stage. And as far as Sean McManus is concerned, he’s hoping for a major upset when the Broncos play the New England Patriots in Saturday night’s AFC divisional playoff game.

“The only sort of comparison I could make is when Tiger burst onto the scene, he brought in people who had never watched a golf tournament before, who had maybe watched one golf tournament a year,” CBS Sports chair McManus said on Wednesday’s Jim Rome Show, according to Sports Business Daily. “All of a sudden he wasn’t just on the sports pages, he was on the front page of the newspaper….It is a phenomenon and when you have these things, whether it’s a Tiger Woods or a Tim Tebow, as you know you sort of hang on and hope the ride lasts a long time.”

McManus’ observations coincided with a new ESPN Sports Poll that had Tebow rising faster and earlier than any super star  — including Woods, Michael Jordan, or LeBron James — to the position of “America’s favorite active pro athlete.” With three percent of 1,502 Americans interviewed naming him as their top sports hero, Tebow ascended to the pantheon in December 2011’s monthly poll that placed him ahead of Kobe Bryant, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady.

A new ESPN poll finds Tim Tebow more popular than Tiger Woods or Tom Brady (Photo: Wikipedia)

“To put this in perspective, Tim Tebow rose to the top before the end of his second pro season,” according to Rich Luker, founder and director of the ESPN Sports Poll. “It took Tiger Woods three years, LeBron James eight years and Kobe Bryant 11 years. I think we may be at the front end of a new era in sports stars.”

McManus, who noted that Tebow’s enthusiastic religiosity made him “a polarizing figure,” said he hoped to ride the wave of huge TV ratings as long as he could after last Sunday’s Broncos-Steelers contest brought in more viewers than any Wild Card game in 24 years.

“We thought that if the Broncos could keep it close, because that’s what everyone was hoping for, that we could do a really good rating,” said McManus, whose network will broadcast the NFL playoff tilt. “But nobody anticipated the kind of game we were going to get, nobody anticipated it obviously going into overtime, and whatever ratings projections we had were completely blown out of the water.”

McManus acknowledged that Tebow Time could come to an end this weekend or continue for “five more years, six more years, 10 more years.”

He has a long way to go, but If Tebow can pass as well as he did against Pittsburgh, and truly pass the test of time that Tiger has, Brady and the Pats will have their hands full Saturday night — and for years to come.

(Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. View all her articles here. You may also follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer.)

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