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.
MORE FROM NEWSOK
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)