Gators QB Tim Tebow a hero at Philippine orphanage

Updated: January 6, 2009, 9:13 AM ET
Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines -- Tim Tebow's most far-flung fans still don't quite get this whole football thing.

Yes, the 42 kids at the orphanage in the southern Philippines understand that Tebow is hot stuff, if only vaguely.

But in a country where basketball, boxing and billiards are the top sports, American college football isn't even on the map.

In fact, football isn't even football here -- soccer is.

So it's not surprising that the staff and children at Uncle Dick's Home -- founded outside General Santos city by the Bob Tebow Evangelical Association (that is, Tim's father) -- mistook the football that Tebow brought along during a three-day visit in March for a rugby ball.

They got their initiation into the sport with a tape Tebow brought them, have tried to get up to speed with an occasional game on ESPN International and will watch Tebow's Florida Gators play Oklahoma for the national championship.

They're just not sure yet if it will be available live Friday morning (Thursday night in the U.S.), or if they will have to track down a replay afterward.

And they're still pretty fuzzy on this newfound sport -- even Tebow's number and jersey colors. Rhodaleaf Catuto, the daughter of orphanage director Raymunda Gauran, ventured white and green for the latter.

Sorry, the Gators will be wearing blue with white numerals and orange trim in the title game.

No matter. At the orphanage, football's no big deal and Tebow is just known as Kuya -- Big Brother -- Tim.

"He's just a very simple guy," Mrs. Gauran said. "He plays with the kids."

At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Tebow cuts an imposing figure when he visits the orphanage, as he has done several times since high school. He even has roots there.

His mother Pam, suffering from an ailment that she says led her local doctor to suggest an abortion, left General Santos and went to a hospital in Manila's Makati district, where she gave birth to Tim, her fifth child. She and her husband, longtime missionaries, repeatedly told him he was a "miracle" baby as he was growing up, and he seems determined to live up to it.

In addition to his football exploits, which brought him the first Heisman Trophy ever given to a sophomore and carried him to a third-place finish this season, Tebow makes no secret of his Christian faith. In addition to the Philippines, he has made mission trips to Croatia and Thailand, worked with underprivileged youth and visited hospitals and prisons.

Such work has won him fans among even Florida's staunchest rivals. While the most skeptical still wonder if a guy really can be this genuine, Mrs. Gauran has no doubts. She called Tebow a committed speaker whose passion clearly shows through.

"He's a great preacher," she said. "People just listen to him."

Gators coach Urban Meyer agreed, saying everything about Tebow is authentic.

"He doesn't fear anything," Meyer said. "A lot of people take their heart out, rip it out of their chest and lay it on the table. I'm not willing to do that, and certainly not my family. His whole family's like that. Bob's that way and Pam. They expose themselves. They have such a strong faith. In this world of hypocrisy and nonsense, there's none.

"To be honest with you, when I first met him, I was waiting. Come on, come on, let's go. OK, Philippines (missionaries). Come on. Give me the real gig here. Do you want a hat? What's the deal? It's true. It's all from the heart. I love that guy. I've never met one like him. It's 100 percent right on target. That's why he lives his life. He told me that during recruiting, and I was skeptical because I've heard that before and then they're out at a nightclub."

When Tebow could have been enjoying spring break on a beach somewhere, he went to the orphanage in March. Just getting there is a travel ordeal -- a five-hour flight from Florida to the West Coast, about 14 hours in the air to Manila, a short flight to General Santos, then 80 miles by rugged road to the remote compound on the edge of a ravine overlooking the Allah River.

On his last visit, Tebow was invited to assist doctors with some medical procedures, removing cysts from patients and performing a few circumcisions.

"It was a great experience for me," Tebow said after returning home. "Doing those things, taking my platform as a football player and using it for good, using it to be an influence and change people's lives, that's more important than football to me."

He will have one of the biggest stages in sports at the national title game -- and fans cheering him on from halfway around the world.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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