Gators fans urged to wear eye black
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There could be a blackout at Florida Field on Saturday.
An eye blackout that is.
Florida fans are urging everyone to wear eye black Saturday -- with or without inscribed bible verses -- in honor of quarterback Tim Tebow's final home game.
It's a fitting tribute to a player who wants to be remembered more for what he accomplishes off the field than on it.
Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, has worn those black, oval patches below both eyes in each of his last 20 games. He started doing it two weeks after his famous promise that followed a 31-30 loss to Mississippi in October 2008. While some players scribble their hometown area codes or messages to friends and family members on their eye black, Tebow goes with bible verses.
"I think it's great," coach Urban Meyer said. "I've got three children. I don't mind when my daughter, my middle daughter Gigi, texts me every time what he's wearing. She looks up the verse and texts it to me. I think that's pretty cool."
Several groups of Florida fans agree, although there are others who believe Tebow shouldn't be singled out on senior day. It's unclear who originated the idea to have everyone wear eye black for Tebow's finale against rival Florida State, but the plan has spread quickly through Twitter, Facebook, Internet message boards and blogs.
Even Meyer, who said he shut his computer down weeks ago to avoid distractions, got wind of it.
"I think that'd be a tremendous tribute," he said.
Tebow holds a few NCAA records, several Southeastern Conference marks and even more school records. He has helped the top-ranked Gators (11-0) win two national championships in three seasons and has them at the forefront of the title picture again.
His football success also has provided him with a platform to spread his Christian message. He spends much of his spare time on mission trips, works with underprivileged youth, and visits hospitals and prisons. His eye black gets the word out, too, whether it's John 3:16, Psalms 23, Philippians 4:13, Romans 1:16 or some other passage.
"It's just kind of what's in my heart or what I think would be a good verse or appropriate," Tebow said. "I'll talk to my family and friends about it. I always try to get people's opinions on things, too. But it's really just what I'm feeling in my heart or a good verse or something that's appropriate or appropriate with what I'm going through. What I feel in my heart is the biggest thing."
Although Tebow's too-good-to-be-true persona gets routinely mocked by fans of Florida's rivals, it has been widely accepted by teammates and coaches who believe he is a true role model.
"I really respect Tim Tebow for a lot of things he does," linebacker Ryan Stamper said. "A lot of people can't handle the pressures he goes through. ... Before he came here, we really weren't doing a lot of charity work and things. Just the stuff that he does pretty much motivated us as a team to want to get involved in certain charities, and that's what we've been doing."
Stamper and the Gators admire Tebow's strong convictions and are quick to point out that he never pushes his beliefs on anyone. Unlike his fiery demeanor on the field, Tebow seems more reserved when it comes to religion.
"People are never going to believe it if it's something that you're telling them and it's something that you're beating them over the head with," Tebow said. "That's not going to influence anyone. It's not. How you're going to influence someone is if they see something in you that seems different or seems special or they see something in you and think, 'Wow, that's really cool. I want to look into that.'
"It's not because I'm forcing anything on anyone or not because I'm trying to push it. I don't do that at all. I try to make it part of my life, just like it is, and I'd never deny it or force it. But I'll always have it part of my life. That's just me. I hope that people can see how it affects my life and how I'm so passionate about it and what it does in my life."
Florida fans have noticed and hope their small tribute will show Tebow how much he's meant to them the last four years.
"Tim is just so special," said Tracey McInnis, 36, a lifelong Florida fan from nearby Palatka who helped organize the tribute. "He takes every opportunity to extend a hand or doing anything he can to brighten someone's day. You would love to reciprocate that. We have an opportunity as a group to do something really special for him. This is the thing, I think, he would appreciate the most.
"It's more about Tim Tebow the person than Tim Tebow the football player."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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