Tebow prepares for emotional home finale
November 26, 2009
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Before quarterback Tim Tebow even arrived at Florida, there was a documentary about his life called “The Chosen One.”
After four years, two Southeastern Conference championships, two national titles, a Heisman Trophy and a chance to lead the program to its first perfect season, the top-ranked Gators may be ready to dub him “The Greatest One.”
Farfetched? Overstated? Crazy?
Not in Gainesville.
Not on Saturday, when Tebow and the Gators (11-0) host Florida State (6-5).
Tebow’s final home game probably will be an emotional spectacle, beginning with his final walk into the stadium, continuing with pregame ceremonies honoring a senior class that has more wins (46) than any other in SEC history and concluding with what Tebow hopes will be one final victory lap around The Swamp.
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“I’ll try to prepare myself,” he said. “I’m not going to try to think about it, to be honest with you, too much. It’ll just probably happen. It’ll just probably be pretty emotional, pretty exciting, overwhelming to say the least. I’m excited about it. Kind of sad it’s my last opportunity, but also excited that it’ll be that special of a moment.”
Coach Urban Meyer held back tears several times this week when trying to explain what Tebow and his fellow seniors meant to him and the program. The 2006 class was Meyer’s first full recruiting class at Florida, and the first one in any of his three head-coaching stops that he stayed with from signing day to graduation.
“Kind of just mind-boggling when you think about those young guys, what they’ve done,” Meyer said.
The class is 27-5 in SEC play, 25-2 at home, 14-3 against ranked opponents and 11-1 against rivals Tennessee (4-0), Georgia (3-1), Florida State (3-0) and Miami (1-0).
“I guess that’s a decent recruiting class,” Meyer said. “I love these guys.”
No doubt, though, Tebow will get most of the love Saturday.
Florida officials would prefer that Tebow not be singled out from a class that features 24 seniors, including linebackers Brandon Spikes and Ryan Stamper, receiver Riley Cooper, defensive Jermaine Cunningham and kick returner Brandon James.
Tebow’s teammates have more realistic expectations.
“There are going to be a lot of tears in the stands seeing No. 15 run off the field the last time,” receiver David Nelson said. “I’m sure coach Meyer will be a little teared up for that. It’s going to be an emotional day, just for everything he’s worked for and everything he’s done since he’s been here. It all kind of wraps up with his last home game in The Swamp.”
Tebow was one of the nation’s top recruits in the fall of 2005. His decision came down to Alabama and Florida, his close relationship with then-Tide coach Mike Shula and his childhood dream of playing for the Gators and attending the same college as his parents.
He insists it was a more difficult decision than it might seem.
He spent 12 hours with Shula the day before his announcement and even gave Meyer no hint about his choice until after it was revealed on national television. Meyer’s phone died as they were speaking, with Tebow right in the middle of crying and saying how tough a choice it was.
Meyer assumed Tebow was headed to Alabama and refused to watch the announcement when he got home. Instead, he went outside to play catch with his son and was shocked when his wife and two daughters ran out of the house screaming the news.
Tebow arrived on campus a few weeks later and wowed teammates and coaches with his intense workouts, beginning with a drill in which he dived across concrete to win a race. Tebow’s status grew when he converted a fourth-and-1 play at Tennessee as a freshman, becoming a goal-line and short-yardage specialist and helping Florida win its first national title in a decade.
He’s been more impressive since, with jump passes, rocker-step throws, option plays, scrambles and more touchdowns than anyone in SEC history. He has 8,335 yards passing and 81 TDs, and 2,743 yards rushing and 54 scores. He holds three NCAA records, 12 SEC marks and nearly two dozen school records.
Tebow is more proud of his off-field achievements, which include mission trips to third-world countries, working with underprivileged youth and visiting hospitals and prisons. He ranks those as more important than any victories, championships or individual awards.
“At the end of the day, that is more special, being able to use football as a platform to make a kid smile, to make a kid’s day,” Tebow said. “A lot of people get caught up in beating Florida State; it’s the biggest thing in the world. Really, at the end of the day, when everything’s all put aside, it’s just a game.
“But that kid, that’s his life. It’s his opportunity or his Make-A-Wish to see me or to talk to me before a game. That’s a lot more special than even winning a game. When you put all the glitz and glamour aside, that’s what’s really special.”