I have to confess: I never understood the Tebowmania behind the one and only Tim Tebow. I still don’t completely. I grew up a Florida State Seminoles fan and was taught to hate thy enemy until that all changed when I was accepted into UF in 2013.
Still, I was never immersed in the Tebow experience during Florida’s college football glory years under head coach Urban Meyer. Not like the true orange and blue faithful. You know, the ones who pumped their fists when he gave those fiery speeches or applauded his courage when he inscribed Bible verses on his face. It wasn’t until later that I realized how much one man meant to the University of Florida and millions of people across the globe.
So when I was tasked with writing about my favorite Florida Gator of all time, the distinction had to go to one person: Timothy Richard Tebow.
I based the decision on four categories:
- Athletic Accomplishments (national championships, personal awards, etc.)
- National and Worldwide Appeal (do people know you or care about you?)
- Personality (are they a good person and role model?)
- Philanthropy (charity work, foundations etc.)
The competition was stiff. What may seem like a no-brainer pick was most definitely a brainer.
I narrowed the list down to seven names. You have Tebow, running back Emmitt Smith, Abby Wambach, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Billy Donovan and Dara Torres. Then I narrowed that down to Tebow and Wambach.
There’s no wrong pick here. Wambach is a true Gator legend and United States icon. She won a national championship at UF. She’s won Olympic medals. Shoot, she’s the best female soccer player in history. She’s been very vocal about the LGBT community. She’s done charity work for children’s hospitals and research foundations. She’s made mistakes, though. A DUI and admitting to abusing prescription pills is not what you millions of young soccer players looking up to. But making mistakes is also part of being human, and in that way maybe she’s easier to empathize with than Tebow.
Tebow, of course, has no scandals. No mess-ups. No DUIs, drug possession charges, domestic abuse cases or any of the crazy stuff some NFL players tied up in. I mean, just take a look at some of his teammates at UF. You had a convicted killer, a racist and a Bible thumper all sharing the same locker room.
If the worst thing Tebow ever did is write John 3:16 on his cheeks, sign me the hell up. Even though I’m not religious myself, I can appreciate that gesture in the same way we should all appreciate Colin Kaepernick kneeling to protest police brutality against minorities. Those are who I want little kids idolizing. Not Aaron Hernandez or Riley Cooper. Give me the guy who sets an example on and off the field.
Anyway, let me try to break down why Tebow is the greatest Florida Gator of all time.
Tim Tebow is a Winner
Anyone who says Tebow isn’t a winner is a flat-out liar.
He won two BCS National Championships — in 2006 against Ohio State and 2008 against Oklahoma — and took home the Heisman Trophy award in 2007. The Gators football team went 48-7 over Tebow’s reign from 2006-09.
Tebow wasn’t named the starting quarterback until 2007, and he promptly threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns against Western Kentucky University in his starting debut. The rest of his career is history.
The Heisman Trophy winner set so many program and SEC records at UF that it’s hard to keep track of. Among them: UF’s all-time leader in total yardage (12,232), total touchdowns (145), and rushing touchdowns (57). He was also a two-time First-Team All-American.
After the Denver Broncos took him in the first round (25th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, the NFL quarterback led the team to the playoffs in 2011 by going 7-4 as a starter during the regular season.
Though his full-game performances weren’t always pretty, “Tebow Time” — when he routinely constructed game-winning fourth-quarter drives — was born. The epitome of that came in his takedown of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2011 playoffs on a game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
Tebow’s magic ran out against the New England Patriots that year, and he was traded to the New York Jets after the Broncos signed Peyton Manning. No. 15 also spent time with the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles before solely focusing on his TV analyst career at ESPN and the SEC Network.
Tebow’s success went beyond the gridiron, though. In 2011, he co-wrote Through My Eyes, an autobiography that became a New York Times best-seller. He also got engaged to 2017 Miss Universe winner Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters in January 2019.
Leadership, Speeches & “The Promise”
Looking back at Tebow’s “The Promise” speech following a loss to the Ole Miss Rebels in 2008 probably gives Florida fans chills.
Not only did he apologize for the loss and take responsibility for it, he told reporters at the postgame press conference that they’ll never see a player or team play as hard as he and the Gators will the rest of the season. UF beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and won the natty that year, and it all started with this speech.
“The Promise” was one of many impassioned speeches this born leader gave teammates.
His halftime speech at that year’s national championship game against Oklahoma?
And even as an alumni, he’s come back and motivated Dan Mullen’s Florida players to run through brick walls after UF’s win over LSU in 2018. Mullen served as Meyer’s offensive coordinator from 2005-08.
No one pumps up a team like this guy.
Tim Tebow is Magical
The day Tebow was born was something of a miracle itself. His parents — Pamela Elaine and Robert Tebow met at UF and got married in 1971. In 1985, they moved to the Philippines to serve as Baptist missionaries and opened their own ministry.
Before Tebow was born, his mother contracted amoebic dysentery and fell into a coma. The chances of Tebow being born alive were slim. Doctors told her to have an abortion, but his parents opted not to and gave birth to a healthy boy in Makati City.
Tebow believes he’s a special human being, and sometimes it’s hard to ignore the signs of that.
Take, for example, the weird John 3:16 coincidence game. Or when he (kinda) saved a fan’s life at a minor league baseball game. Or that he has a knack for hitting home runs in his first at-bats for teams in the New York Mets organization.
Sometimes, it’s as if Tebow is a phenomenon himself that you believe in. Maybe his purpose — if we each have one — is making us believe in ourselves to do the incredible.
Philanthropy & Tim Tebow Foundation
As a student-athlete at UF, Tebow began raising funds for Gainesville’s Shands Hospital’s pediatric cancer center as well as for Uncle Dick’s Orphanage, which his father started.
Once he graduated, the Heisman winner founded the Tim Tebow Foundation. In 2011, it announced plans to build a $3 million children’s hospital in the Philippines.
His foundation also puts together an annual “Night to Shine” prom night for children with special needs, which some 90,000 children across 16 countries participated in 2018.
Pro Baseball & His Drive to Succeed
Tim Tebow was laughed at when he first signed a minor league contract with the Mets to launch his baseball career. Whether you agree with his choice to play a sport he hadn’t played since his days at Nease High School in Jacksonville, Florida, you have to admire his drive and commitment to play professional baseball.
In 2016, the outfielder signed a minor league contract with the Mets and hit a magical first home run in his first at-bat. That became his shtick. He homered in his first at-bats with the Class-A Columbia Fireflies, Class-A Advanced St. Lucie Mets and Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
Tebow’s best year by far was in Binghamton. He hit .273 with six homers, 14 doubles and 36 RBIs en route to an Eastern League All-Star Game appearance and soon a promotion to AAA.
Tebow has struggled since his call-up to the Triple-A Syracuse Mets, hitting below .200 and striking out more than 30 percent of the time — strikeouts have been a major concern so far.
Still, Tebow is a fan magnet. Whether in the low levels of the Mets organization, major league camp or spring training, no one in the minors packs a stadium quite like Tebow does.
Even if he doesn’t end up playing in the MLB at Citi Field, you have to commend him for sticking with a sport that doesn’t reward him quite like football did.
Look, I’m not saying you have to agree with Tebow’s religious views or have to support his anti-abortion Super Bowl commercial. What I am saying is that Tebow has been an exemplary human and role model. He’s been exactly what the Gator standard should be.
That, to me, is more important than any NCAA national title, Heisman Trophy award or other accolade he earned as a football player.
That’s why he’s my favorite Florida Gator, and he should be your’s too.