Commentary

Tebow carries Gators to title

Originally Published: January 8, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Tim Tebow's victory tour of Dolphin Stadium started behind one end zone and didn't stop until he reached the opposite end. As he walked along, his golden left arm remained aloft the whole way for Florida fans to touch. Men, women and children leaned over to celebrate with their hero, thanking him for delivering a national championship.

Nearing the end of the lovefest, Tebow looked at Florida media relations staffer Zack Higbee, who has spent much of the last two years helping the quarterback navigate the public demands of life as a budding legend.

Tebow said in a hoarse voice to Higbee, "I'm dying, I'm dying. Let's go home."

So many hands to slap, so little energy left. Carrying a team to a title is hard work.

But then Tebow turned and ran down the middle of the field, giddily Gator chomping his way to the podium where Florida would receive its hardware for beating Oklahoma 24-14 in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game. Maybe there are no limits to his endurance -- or his willpower.

"He wills so many things to happen," marveled outgoing Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen.

Mullen now will turn all his attention to being the head coach at Mississippi State. But on the way out he reminisced about a recruiting visit to Tebow's house. Over a game of chess, Mullen told the hugely touted prospect he'd play for championships if he chose Florida.

Now the indomitable Tebow has two of them -- one as a freshman backup and one as the center of the Gators' universe. Rarely in football does a single player so totally define a team's personality.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
James Lang/US PresswireTim Tebow helped Florida win its second BCS championship in three years.
Some of the other Gators provide the thrill -- specifically big-play Percy Harvin, who busted two long-distance runs despite laboring on a still-gimpy ankle. But Tebow provides the will.

This was yet another example of the guy exerting control over a game and bending it into the shape of his liking. The shape of a W, specifically, for one of the great winners in college football history.

Of the 74 offensive plays the Gators ran against the Sooners, 52 were Tebow-related. He threw 30 passes and had a season-high 22 runs into the teeth of a better-than-advertised Oklahoma defense. Twenty-eight of Tebow's plays -- including 15 high-impact runs -- came in the second half, as Florida took over what had been a 7-7 game at halftime.

Yet as it turned out, Tebow was losing it in the halftime locker room. Losing his cool. Fearing that the Gators were losing their way offensively. And definitely fearing that they would lose this game.

That hoarse voice? Tebow said it was caused by yelling at halftime.

"I was trying to get some people amped up and excited," Tebow explained.

"He was a little stressed out," Mullen said.

Stressed out by his two interceptions -- doubling his season total -- against the array of zone blitzes and coverage Oklahoma threw at him. And stressed out by what Tebow thought was the coaches' reticence to put the game in his Heisman hands.

"Don't be afraid of one-five holding that thing," Tebow said -- or screamed? -- at the coaches at halftime. "Believe in us and believe in me, and we can get the job done."

No. 1 quarterback in the Big 12!

-- Florida WR Louis Murphy

Over the final 25 minutes of play, Tebow got the job done to a championship degree. While 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford struggled to produce big plays during that span, the '07 winner was taking over.

On Florida's 75-yard, third-quarter drive to take a 14-7 lead, he ran or threw for all but 15 of the yards. That included a third-and-4 run for 15 yards and a dodging, cutting, win-the-collision scramble for 12 more on third and 10.

"The couple of scrambles were to me the biggest part of the game on third downs," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

On the 76-yard drive for Florida's clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter, Tebow ran or passed for all but 6 of the yards. Twice he completed passes to convert third downs, and then he capped the drive with a trademark jump pass to unheralded wideout David Nelson.

And then the game ended with five straight Tebow runs. After a 13-yard run ended with Tebow plowing through Oklahoma safety Nic Harris for a first down, Mr. Manners surprisingly Gator chomped at Harris. Result: 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, believed to be a Tebow first.

"He's running tomorrow at 6 a.m.," head coach Urban Meyer chirped. "We'll teach him a lesson."

Tebow reverted to form three plays later, barreling through the Sooners and umpire Tom Laverty, who was knocked down and lost a shoe. Naturally, Tebow helped Laverty to his feet. It turned out to be the last collision of the season for Tebow, a Bible thumper who also thumps defensive backs with equal gusto.

"He's one of those guys that you give him your best shot, he's going to get back up," Harris said. "He's one of those guys."

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesTim Tebow threw for 231 yards and ran for 110 in the BCS title game.
He's also one of those guys whose eyes blaze when someone doubts his abilities. When Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks opined early in the week that Tebow would be the fourth-best quarterback in the Big 12, it was disrespectful music to his ears.

"I'm someone who likes being motivated and being amped up and playing with a little chip on my shoulder," Tebow said.

About then receiver Louis Murphy walked by, smacked Tebow on the grass-stained shoulder of his jersey and said, "No. 1 quarterback in the Big 12!"

If Tebow returns for his senior season, he has a chance to become the No. 1 quarterback in college football history -- at least in terms of accomplishments. Nobody else would be able to match three national titles and two Heisman Trophies if he's able to pull it off.

And it seemed clear early Friday morning in Dolphin Stadium that the smart money is on Tebow having a senior season in blue and orange.

"I'd be shocked if he doesn't come back," Mullen said.

Tebow himself admitted that hearing the fans chant "One more year!" at him will play on his mind while deciding his future.

"I probably shouldn't let that affect me, but it really does," Tebow said. "I'm kind of attached to being a Gator. ... I can't imagine going into a gym or classroom and telling [the fans he's leaving]. It would be pretty bad."

If you ask around, the NFL seems to be full of people who don't think Tebow is quarterback material at their level. Maybe not -- but you'd have to be crazy to bet against the kid doing what he's dreamed of doing. He dreamed as a child of leading the Gators to a national title, and now he's done that.

Put a goal in front of him and then get out of his way. And trust him, the goal is not to be an NFL H-back or linebacker.

"I love being a quarterback, Tebow said. "I love leading a team. I love being in charge. That's my personality."

It's a personality that can fuel a 100-man mission to a national title. And still have enough juice left over for a victory lap with the fans.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.