Tebow's memorable goodbye, hello
NEW ORLEANS -- And on the final night, the oeuvre was completed.
Of all the multitudinous feats the most celebrated and decorated collegian in recent history has performed in a Florida uniform, a statistically silly passing performance is not one of them. Tim Tebow has had a lot of great games throwing the ball -- but never one in which he passed like his coach was Mike Leach or LaVell Edwards.
Now he's done that, denuding Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And in the process, he's done more.
Give Tebow credit for multitasking. He knows how to offer a memorable goodbye and a dazzling hello all at the same time.
Tebow supplied a perfect ending and a promising beginning here Friday night. His ravaging of the Bearcats was an ideal exit from college football, and an emphatic introduction to a skeptical National Football League. After watching the Florida quarterback complete 31 of 35 passes and set BCS bowl records with 533 yards of total offense and 482 yards passing, his legacy as an all-time great is more secure than ever, and his prospects as a next-level passer are better than ever.
Celebrated for splattering tacklers and cherished as a leader of men, Tebow still didn't measure up to many of the greats in school history when it comes to slinging the ball around. Before this game, he wasn't even in Florida's all-time top 10 for single-game yardage or completions.
He is now, having fleshed out the rest of his quarterback résumé before hanging up his eye black. He threw for more yards in a single game than any of Steve Spurrier's fancy Fun 'n' Gun QBs; more yards than anyone who has ever worn a Florida uniform. Only six Gators have completed more passes in a game. And none of them completed a higher percentage when attempting more than 30 passes.
"Tim obviously threw the ball as well as he's ever thrown," Florida coach Urban Meyer said.
In Florida's 51-24 annihilation of the previously unbeaten Bearcats, Tebow went out with his left arm smoking, with defensive backs gasping and with NFL doubters forced to reassess. There will be plenty of time in the months to come for those folks to "tsk" over his release, his footwork and his unfamiliarity with a pro-style offense, but on the first night of 2010, Tebow gave compelling evidence that his days as a star quarterback might not be behind him after all.
Tebow completed the first 12 passes he threw (another Sugar Bowl record). And 18 of his first 19. By halftime he'd passed for 320 yards, just 17 fewer than his career high for a game. He's never been more accurate (88.6 percent) or more productive (13.8 yards per attempt) when throwing more than 20 times in a game. His quarterback rating was roughly a billion.
This wasn't RoboTimmy, running roughshod out of the modern single wing. This wasn't a bunch of shovel passes and dinks in the flat. There were a few of those plays, but mostly it was Tebow throwing darts over the middle and lasers to the boundary and a couple of perfectly placed touchdown passes, too.
When it was over, Tebow said his teammates made him look better than he really is, and it's true that his protection was solid and his receivers made some great catches and runs for him. He also declined an opportunity to assess whether this tour de force validated him as a future NFL quarterback.
But Meyer was happy to jump in.
"One of the most efficient quarterbacks ever to play the game," he said. "A part of two national championships. Unless the job description changes at some other level of football, he's a winner and he'll win at the next level, too. That's the way I feel about it."
And how does Meyer feel about Tebow's place in college history?
"If there's one better than him, I'd love to shake his hand."
The question going forward is whether Tebow will shake Roger Goodell's hand as a first-round NFL draft pick come April. Opinions are violently divided on that subject, but now the Tebow believers have fresh ammo.
It's true that the luxuriously open spaces Tebow encountered here will not be there in the NFL. Cincinnati has been a sketchy defensive team in the latter half of this season, and it was exposed anew by the Gators. There were green acres of room for Tebow to fit in throws to his receivers.
He did. All night. Hit playmakers in the numbers and then watched them run away from the bewildered Bearcats.
Thus a week of stress and doubt in the Gators camp ended in a low-stress, no-doubt rout. Meyer, who will now head into a vaguely defined leave of absence, had the luxury of pulling Tebow in the fourth quarter for a long and loud ovation from the Florida faithful.
A guy who has always worn his emotions on his jersey sleeve kept it in check this time. Smiles, yes. Tears, no.
Tim Tebow's unparalleled work here is done. And after his first night as a certified gunslinger, the gilded body of work is now complete.
"My time at Florida was special," he said. "It was better than a dream. Honestly, I dreamed of being a Gator since I was 6 years old, and it was better than I could have dreamed."
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.