After a stunning 31-30 loss to Ole Miss at home, Tim Tebow apologized to Florida’s fans during his postgame press conference. "I’m sorry. I’m extremely sorry,” he said, fighting back tears. "We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done before.” Then Florida’s junior quarterback made a career-defining vow. "I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this,” he said. "You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see another player push his 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." Tebow made good on his vow as the Gators rolled to nine straight double-digit victories to win the SEC Championship and advance to the BCS National Championship, where Jan. 8 they’ll face the Oklahoma Sooners. Ask Tebow’s teammates, and they’ll reply the Ole Miss address proved to be the turning point in their season. "When Tebow made those comments, I really took to heart what he said,” said Gator junior wide receiver David Nelson, a perennial underachiever who emerged as a dangerous playmaker during the second half of the season. "I said, ‘It’s time to work on my all-around game and really come out there and focus on every rep, every play I’ve ever practiced.’” But long after his time in Gainesville is done, Tebow will be remembered for much more than a rally cry. He will be known as Tebow the Heisman winner, who brought a revolutionary style of quarterbacking to college football. He will also be known as Tebow the Christian missionary, who spent spring breaks and summers working with Filipino children. And he will be known as Tebow the persona, who once signed a baby and is changing the laws in a rival state.
The playerTo win the national title, Oklahoma will have to contain Tebow, the heartbeat of the Gator offense. "We have to come out early and stop the run game, stop Tebow from running,” said Sooner free safety Lendy Holmes. "We have to try and make him throw the ball, which he can do. But his comfort zone is running the ball." Unfortunately for the Sooners, Tebow is pretty good at both. Last year, he became the first player in NCAA Division I history to pass and rush for 20 touchdowns in a season. Tebow finished with 55 total touchdowns, a statistic Heisman voters couldn’t ignore as they made him the first-ever sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. "We really haven’t seen a quarterback of his caliber,” said OU strong safety Nic Harris. But this year, touchdowns haven’t been the only story. His greatest impact has been as Florida’s leader, underscored by his speech after the Ole Miss loss. And even though he came up short in becoming the second player to win the Heisman twice, Tebow said he’s having a better season in 2008. "After that Ole Miss game, instead of thinking about playing, I played with a chip on my shoulder, played more focused,” he said. "I think, being a quarterback, being a decision-maker, the leader of the team, I’ve had a better season. As a playmaker making plays, maybe not. "But everything else, for sure.”
The personIn his career, Tebow has won numerous awards. SEC Offensive Player of the Year. The Maxwell Award, twice. The Heisman Trophy. But Tebow said the honor that meant the most was the Disney Spirit Award, which recognized his humanitarian work in the Philippines and his time spent sharing the Bible with inmates and orphans. "This means a lot, especially for me it means more than winning the Heisman or those other awards, because it’s about what I do off the field, and that’s more important," Tebow said. His work off the field is a big reason why Tebow has become a role model to many. He welcomes that burden. "There are so many athletes today that say, ‘I’m not a role model, I’m not a role model,’ and they make so many excuses," Tebow said. "Well, whether you like it or not, you are a role model. You’re either a good one or a bad one, and unfortunately most of them are bad role models today. For me, I just want to be a good role model, like (Heisman winner) Danny Wuerffel was for me and several other guys that I looked up to. I want to be someone that kids can look up to in today’s society."
The personaSince he was the No. 1 quarterback recruit at Nease High School, Tebow has been in the public eye. Tebow was homeschooled but allowed to play sports at Nease under Florida law. His visibility led to a bill in the Alabama Legislature named "The Tim Tebow Bill,” which is still seeking approval. If it ever passes, it will allow Alabama homeschooled athletes to play for their local high school teams just as Tebow did in Florida. But that’s just one element of Tebow’s persona. He gets hundreds of autograph requests a month. One time, he was even asked to sign the forehead of a baby. Another time, he did the Heisman pose while holding a baby like a football. On the Web, fans can buy all kinds of Tim Tebow t-shirts. There’s even a song circulating the Internet called, "Tim Tebow is a Hero.” But Tebow said living a public life or winning the Heisman hasn’t changed who he is. "It didn’t change me,” he said. "But it has made my life a little more hectic.”
BCS national championship→Who: No. 1 OU vs. No. 2 Florida →When: 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8 →Where: Dolphin Stadium, Miami →TV: FOX (Cox 12)