As some of you already know and the rest of you are about to find out, I am a proud Florida Gator and have been since 2007. I had been a fan of their athletic program since the early 90's and was first admitted to the University when I graduated from high school in 2001, but opted not to attend. Life's many twists and turns finally brought me to Gainesville, however, roughly three years ago. As you may have already surmised, that means that my time here at Florida thus far ran concurrently with Tim Tebow's tenure as the Gators starting quarterback. You can only imagine my excitement when, with the 25th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, our Denver Broncos selected the University of Florida's prodigal son! For all of his physical talents and inspiring character, it was the times when the two would meet that truly won me over as his fan and give me the most hope for his Broncos' career.
I can honestly say that I watched every single snap of Tebow's college career. I watched as he: found a niche as the change-of-pace quarterback as a freshman on the 2006 National Championship team, became the first sophomore to ever win the Heisman Trophy in 2007, led the Gators to another National Championship in 2008, and rewrote the record books as a senior in 2009. Along the way, I learned of his mission trips during the breaks from school, his exceptional work in the classroom and the piety of his personal life. Any number of those accolades and accomplishments would be enough to make for an incredibly successful college career; all of it together is almost overwhelming to contemplate. Tim's story would be literally unbelievable to me, had it not unfolded before my very eyes.
There's plenty of fodder there to write volumes of glowing articles about Denver's newest quarterback, but I'm sure we've all come across plenty of those. I could tell you all about his statistics, awards and highlights if I wanted to speak to his prowess between the white lines. I could remind you of his other newsworthy undertakings and deeds if I wanted to harp on his personal character. I know I don't get tired of that stuff and I hope you won't either, because we'll be hearing about those things plenty as he transitions into our particular shades of Orange and Blue. That said, I feel as though there's something lost when people chose to focus on those separate aspects - Tebow the player and Tebow the person - because that gap is bridged in a profound way. For me, that is the "It" that sets him apart. Today I want to share with you all my favorite piece of Tim Tebow lore - The Promise - in my own words.Coming off of his Heisman season in 2007, Tim Tebow set his sights on the biggest prize in college football once again: the BCS National Championship. The 2008 Florida Gators solidified their standing as a Top Five team by rolling out to a 3-0 record with wins over Hawai'i, Miami and Tennessee by a combined score of 112-19. #4 Florida - heavily favored, as usual - prepared to host the unranked Mississippi Rebels (2-2) at The Swamp in Gainesville the following week. Facing 4th and 1 on the opposing 32 yard line, down 31-30 with just over two minutes left to play, the Gators called on Tebow to pick up the first down on the ground. Running up behind the right side of the offensive line, his 15th carry of the game was stuffed short of the line of scrimmage. Out of timeouts, they could do nothing but watch as Ole Miss ran out the clock for the shocking upset. The stunned crowd exited Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that day, their hearts hung low with heavy doubts. In his press conference following the game, after choking back tears, trying to answer the press' questions and working through the whole ordeal in his own mind, Tim reached into that despair and found The Promise:
"To the fans and everybody in Gator nation, I'm sorry. I'm extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here. But I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless."
The Gators, having dropped to #12 in the polls, had a long road ahead of them if they were to accomplish their perennial preseason aspirations of winning another National Championship. They responded by winning their next eight games - including match-ups against two teams then-ranked in the top six and two others also ranked in the top 25 - by an average score of 52-12; none of those victories came by fewer than 28 points. That trail of devastation cut a path straight to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game against the undefeated and top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Down 20-17 going into the 4th quarter, Tebow orchestrated his first such comeback win and earned Florida a trip to the BCS National Championship Game at the Orange Bowl in Miami. With that game tied at 14 in the 4th quarter - and after struggling mightily in the first half - Tim led the Gators to another ten-point victory and the school's third crystal ball. But he wasn't done yet.
Just three days after accomplishing just about everything that a college football player could possibly hope to achieve, Tebow announced his intention to return to Gainesville for his senior season. The Gators would extend their winning streak to 22 before falling to the eventual National Champions - the Alabama Crimson Tide - in the 2009 SEC Championship Game. Tim responded to that disappointment with his best performance ever, ending his college career by trouncing the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats 51-24 in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. Tim Tebow had fulfilled his promise, not just that of the words spoken from the heart after the loss to Ole Miss in 2008, but that of his potential as a student-athlete for the University of Florida.
That is the Tim Tebow that won Josh McDaniels over; that is the player that I have cheered for over the past four years; that is the guy we will be rooting for together for years to come. He's the guy that takes nothing for granted. He'll always want more, but none of it for himself. He's going to amaze you on the field, inspire you off of it and, when those two meet - like with The Promise - we'll smile knowingly as the rest of the football world looks on with varying degrees of envy. Tebow is the embodiment of the new Denver Broncos. As a Florida Gator, I got a preview of what's to come and, let me just say, get ready to enjoy one heck of a ride!