The tears were streaming down Tim Tebow's face.
He picked up his phone and called Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer. It was decision day on Dec. 13, 2005, and the Nease High School senior who had just won a state championship after throwing for 237 yards and rushing for another 183 was set to announce his commitment in front of a packed gym and a nationally-televised audience.
"I'm driving home and my cell phone rings and it's Tim," Meyer recalled in an interview with FOX College Football's Rob Stone in 2020. "I'm like, 'Oh, man, here we go.' He's like, 'Hey coach' and he's crying. He said, 'I've made a decision to go' ... and the phone goes out."
The call dropped.
Tebow, a five-star prospect and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country, then walked on stage in his gym to make his decision. He still was unsure where he was going. Yes, really.
"They are pushing me out on stage and I say, 'Dad, I didn't let coach Meyer [know] I was going to Florida, I could still go to Alabama," Tebow recalled in the same FOX College Football interview.
Meanwhile, Meyer was stuck in traffic trying to get ahold of Tebow to know whether he was taking his talents to Gainesville. Nothing.
"I started punching the dashboard of the car. I'm calling his dad, calling his coach. No one is answering," Meyer said.
You don't need me to tell you how the rest of Tebow's commitment went. Meyer arrived at his house and couldn't bare to watch the announcement on TV. He stepped outside during it and heard his family screaming in joy.
The rest is history for Tebow, Meyer and the Gators. But many people don't realize "The Chosen One" was close to picking Alabama. The decision could have changed college football — for both programs and many more schools in a domino effect — for years to come.
Tebow Was Closer to Going to Alabama Than People Think
Most Florida fans are under the impression there was never a doubt Tebow was going anywhere else. After all, his parents met at the University of Florida and made their first date a Florida-Georgia game. He had siblings at Florida. He grew up a Gator fan in Jacksonville.
Still, Alabama pushed hard for the left-hander. Tebow had a great relationship with head coach Mike Shula, who even once spent 12 hours on the Tebow farm during the recruitment process.
There was a lot to like about Alabama at the time. Shula had turned the program around and mustered a 10-2 season in 2005. One of those wins was a 31-3 beatdown of Florida, which a young Tebow happened to be on hand for.
When it was time to dial up Shula's number and officially tell him he wasn't heading to Tuscaloosa, Tebow couldn't help but cry wondering if he was making a mistake. Shula's response made him rethink his decision even more.
"The right thing was to call coach Shula and tell him I'm not going to Alabama first," Tebow said. "I started crying when I was talking to him. It wasn't the only time Alabama made me cry. I'm talking to him and I said, 'hey, Coach Shula, I'm so sorry. I'm not going to go to Alabama. I'm going to Florida.' He says, 'Timmy, you stop right there. I love you just as much now as if you came to Alabama. You're going to have a great career and hopefully I'll coach you one day.'"
"So, I hang up the phone and I look at my dad and say, 'That's the coach I'm supposed to play for. I just told him I'm going to Florida and he says he loves me.'"
This was right before Tebow called Meyer. It sure sounds like he was still not completely decided.
"I dial up the phone," Tebow said regarding his phone call with Meyer. "I'm wiping away Alabama tears, and coach Meyer doesn't know that. He thinks I'm crying over what I'm about to tell him, but I'm really just getting over it. I said, 'hey, coach,' and the phone goes dead."
Tebow Chose Florida Because of Meyer
Florida was the ideal place for Tebow for a multitude of reasons.
Meyer had just taken over the year prior and led the team to a 9-3 season. He implemented a spread offense, the perfect fit for a dual-threat quarterback. Everything was falling into place for a young Tebow. Tebow said that Meyer told him he'd have a chance to win championships and win a Heisman. He was correct about both.
"I love coach Shula and Alabama, but, man, if it's just one person, I think I have to go with coach Meyer," Tebow remembered thinking. "When he says something I believe it because he believes it."
As for Meyer, it wasn't anything Tebow did on a football field that sold him. It was actually what he saw from Tebow on the baseball field.
"I've never seen an athlete command a field — I don't care what field, basketball, baseball, football — as he did, and the number one trait of a quarterback is a competitor. And he's the most competitive person I've ever met in my life," Meyer told FOX College Football's Rob Stone.
Tebow certainly made the right decision. He wound up winning two national championships, one in his freshman year and one in his junior year. He won the 2007 Heisman Trophy and probably should've won another. He left the school with all sort of records and became a first-round NFL Draft pick.
So, what would have happened if Tebow chose Alabama? What would the ripple effect have been on both programs and college football as a whole?
How Tebow's Decision Affected Florida & Alabama
We know how Florida's script played out, but the history of Alabama football could have changed completely.
If Shula hands the keys over to Tebow and he does well as a freshman in '06, maybe he stays. Maybe the two win a national championship together. Maybe Nick Saban is never hired there because they would've had Shula.
However, Alabama's textbook scandal that forced the school to vacate 21 wins and began in 2005 probably still takes place. Shula was fired during the 2006 season after going 6-6. Could the presence of Tebow and a couple more wins in '06 have created more optimism around the program despite the scandal and led to the school keeping Shula? Maybe.
It worked out for everyone except Shula, because Alabama hired Nick Saban. We know the rest of that story, one that's still being written to this day. Personally, I'm just having a tough time ever imagining what Tim Tebow would have looked like in crimson. Or, gosh, what a statue of him outside of Bryant-Denny-Tebow Stadium what have looked like.
You can watch Meyer and Tebow talk about the phone call, his recruitment and the commitment here:
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