Championships are defined by teams, but leaders make teams great. Some of the best teams to ever play the game of football are led by the greatest players of all time. The 2008 Florida Gators outscored their opponents 611-181 the entire season, finished the year with a 13-1 record, and had 13 players selected to All-SEC teams. There was only one leader of that legendary Gators team, though.
It’s hardly a debate when you talk about the greatest quarterbacks in SEC history who is at the top. Tim Tebow shattered SEC records and broke the mold for what it means to be a college quarterback. Tebow was the unquestioned leader of that Florida team, and the Gators run at the BCS National Championship started when he made what has now become known as “The Promise.”
In 2007, Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow set the SEC record with 55 total touchdowns, including a record 23 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, and he won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore. The following year, expectations couldn’t have been higher down in Gainesville.
That 2008 team started the year ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll. After three straight wins to open the season, they entered a home game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as a 22-point favorite against the Ole Miss Rebels. Florida lost that game 31-30, and all national title hopes immediately seemed dashed.
At the postgame press conference, the team’s unquestioned leader made a speech that has stood the test of time. Not only did Tebow say what he did, but he also spoke something into existence that led Florida one of the most legendary runs in college football history.
“I just want to say one thing to the fans and everybody in Gator Nation. I’m sorry. Extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal. It’s something Florida’s never done here. But I promise you one thing: a lot of good will come out of this.
“You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season, and you’ll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season. You’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless.” — Tim Tebow
After the home loss to Ole Miss, and tumbling down to No. 12 in the polls, Florida went on an epic run that might never be topped again.
Florida beat No. 4 LSU Tigers by 30 points, the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs by 39, the No. 24 South Carolina Gamecocks by 50, the No. 23 Florida State Seminoles by 30, and they knocked off the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game 31-20.
In the BCS National Championship game, Florida knocked off the Oklahoma Sooners, who were led by 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford, to cap their fabled season with a national title.
The Gators racked up 480 yards of offense, and Tebow was named the Offensive Player of the Game.
Tebow kept his promise, and the Florida Gators, led by head coach Urban Meyer, brought home the program’s third national championship and second in three seasons.
That emotional speech has been immortalized on a plaque outside of the Florida football complex as a testament to one of the greatest teams to ever play in The Swamp.
It’s one thing to talk a big game, but backing it up makes good players great.
Tim Tebow is considered one of the greatest leaders of all time in sports, and this memorable season, and unforgettable speech, was his crowning moment.