Commentary

Tebow defies history, runs away with the Heisman

Originally Published: December 8, 2007
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Florida quarterback Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy the same way he scored his 22 rushing touchdowns this season. Tebow didn't tiptoe past the unspoken barrier. He smashed through it.

Of 887 votes tabulated on a 3-2-1 basis, Tebow received 1,957 points, well ahead of Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden (1,703). The 6-foot-3, 235-pound native of Jacksonville, Fla., picked to win on 462 ballots (52.1 percent), finished first in five of the six geographical areas.

Upon hearing the announcement, Tebow -- sitting in the second seat off the aisle on the front row -- stood, turned and went back two rows to hug his parents, Pat and Bob, then hugged Gator coach Urban Meyer.

When Tebow ascended to the stage of the Nokia Theatre, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, one of his boyhood idols and the 1996 Heisman winner, greeted him with another hug.

"I think it's amazing that you're known forever as a Heisman Trophy winner," Tebow said. "That's very special. It's overwhelming. I'm kind of at a loss for words."

Tebow becomes the third Florida quarterback to win the Heisman and, as a result, every preacher in the Sunshine State will have his son throwing on Sunday. All three Gators quarterbacks who won the Heisman -- Steve Spurrier (1966), Wuerffel (1996) and Tebow -- are the sons of clergymen.

Norm Carlson, the retired sports information director who serves as Florida's athletic historian, said that's not the only thing they have in common.

"All three of them are great leaders," Carlson said. "They have a lot of natural charisma. People gravitate to them."

The Heisman Trust brought 43 of the official Heisman portraits to the Nokia Theatre. Nineteen of them hung around the stage, with a dozen more on each side. The portraits of Spurrier and Wuerffel hung side by side, just off stage right, almost as if they were waiting for Tebow to join them.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer, Tim Tebow
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonUrban Meyer and Tim Tebow have found success at Florida.

A couple of hours before the announcement, Meyer stood in the lobby outside the theater, sounding like every nervous coach before kickoff.

"You think he's got a chance?" Meyer said.

Excuse me?

"The sophomore thing, I keep hearing," Meyer said.

The sophomore thing proved no match for Tebow. Evidently, if a quarterback has a 20-20 season -- 20 touchdown passes and 20 touchdown rushes -- it's OK if he's only 20 years old. Tebow completed 217 of 317 passes for 3,132 yards and 29 touchdowns (and only six interceptions), and rushed for 838 yards and 22 scores.

At the post-ceremony news conference, Meyer dismissed the notion that his spread offense made it possible for Tebow to win the Heisman.

"Tim Tebow could run whatever offense we run," Meyer said. "That's one coach's opinion. He's a great player making plays, and we're awfully proud of him."

McFadden made a little history of his own, becoming the first player in almost 60 years to finish second in consecutive seasons (Charlie Justice, 1948-49). Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan finished third, the highest finish in 13 years by a player outside the six conferences with automatic BCS bids, and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel finished fourth.

"I was reading all that Tebow accomplished," Brennan said, "He had an unbelievable season. I really think he deserved it."

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
AP Photo/Kelly Kline, PoolDarren McFadden is the first person to finish runner-up in consecutive years in nearly six decades.

Tebow joins an exclusive club, with an emphasis on club. There is a camaraderie among the Heisman winners that spans generations. ESPN showed it at the outset of the telecast. As Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit opened the show in the back of the theater, the past Heisman winners chatted on the stage with the 2007 finalists.

In the lobby before the show, Gary Beban, the UCLA quarterback who won this award 40 years ago, greeted 2000 winner Chris Weinke with relish. They might be 30 years or so apart in age, yet they are old friends.

Johnny Rodgers, the former Nebraska wide receiver and winner of the 1972 Heisman, made sure he snapped a picture with every Heisman winner who happened by. That includes two of them from Oklahoma, Jason White (2003) and Steve Owens (1969).

So the Heisman transcends rivalries. Near the bottom of the escalators, McFadden, the Arkansas tailback, gave the Ole Miss coach a big hug. Oh, wait a minute: McFadden played for the new Rebels coach, Houston Nutt, for the past three seasons.

As McFadden and Nutt chatted, some attendees took their credentials from around their necks and handed them to McFadden to sign. Nothing unusual there -- until Nutt handed his to McFadden to sign. McFadden signed it without a double take.

"My son [Houston III] said he wanted the Big Man," Nutt said.

In all his years of coaching, Nutt has never asked one of his own players for an autograph, except on a grant-in-aid.

"I never asked Barry Sanders for one," said Nutt, who coached the 1988 Heisman winner at Oklahoma State.

McFadden, as well as Brennan and Daniel, gave a special autograph to Tebow, too. They signed the cast protecting his right hand, which he broke in the regular-season finale against Florida State.

Tebow's victory is a rarity in a number of ways. In this season of upsets, he emerged as the late-season favorite despite his relative youth. Unlike so many favorites this season, he actually won. Tebow also is the rare blue-chip recruit who has matched, if not surpassed, the hype that accompanied him to college.

The night before Tebow announced that he would attend Florida, Meyer asked assistant coach Greg Mattison, who recruits Jacksonville, what he thought Tebow would do. Tebow had winnowed his choices to Florida and Alabama.

"If we don't get him, that will set our program back 10 to 15 years," Mattison said.

"We'll be fine," Meyer replied. "Let him go to Alabama."

"No, we won't," Mattison said. "It will set us back 10 to 15 years."

In Tebow's two seasons at Florida, not Alabama, he has won a national championship and a Heisman. The best news of all for college football: Tebow will be back in 2008.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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