GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Tim Tebow’s eye black is waterproof.
His perfect season is starting to look shatterproof.
Tebow accounted for five touchdowns in his home finale, a triumphant farewell that included tears on the field and in the stands, and top-ranked Florida thumped rival Florida State 37-10 Saturday for its sixth consecutive victory in the series.
“I don’t want to say goodbye,” coach Urban Meyer said. “The good thing is we’re not done. The negative is we’re done in this great stadium.”
The Gators stayed unbeaten heading into next week’s Southeastern Conference showdown against No. 2 Alabama, extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 22 games and improved to 12-0 for just the second time in school.
Tebow may have even secured a third consecutive trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. He gets one more chance to impress on the big stage next week in Atlanta against the Crimson Tide with a trip to the national championship game on the line.
The Seminoles (6-6) lost for the second time in six games, and longtime coach Bobby Bowden’s likely finale at Florida Field showed exactly why some FSU faithful are urging him to retire: Florida outplayed its in-state rival at every position.
Bowden said he has some “soul-searching” to do before making a decision about his future at Florida State.
“I want to coach next year, but let me say I want to go home and do some soul-searching,” said Bowden, who has 388 career victories, second most in major college football. “I’ve got to run this thing through my mind a few times.”
It might be hard to keep images of Tebow embarrassing his defense again out of those thoughts. Tebow completed 17 of 21 passes for 221 yards. He also ran 15 times for 90 yards against a defense that might be Bowden’s worst in 34 seasons.
It was hardly a surprise considering Tebow torched the ‘Noles the previous two years, totaling eight TDs in those. This one could have been even more lopsided than the 45-12 drubbing in 2007 and the 45-15 beatdown last year. But Meyer pulled many of his defensive starters late in the third quarter.
The Seminoles trailed 30-0 before Bowden opted for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 2 on the final play of the third. They added a touchdown with 6:03 remaining to make it 37-10.
“They have solid players at every position, very fast, very strong, they’re good,” said FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, who threw two interceptions and was sacked three times. “We’ll get to that level one day. Our energy level wasn’t high enough to match their energy level. They’re a high energy team.”
Manuel’s TD pass to Jarmon Fortson was the team’s only cause for celebration on a day that belonged to Tebow, linebacker Brandon Spikes and their fellow seniors who have more wins (47) than any other class in SEC history. They also improved to 12-1 against their four traditional rivals—Tennessee (4-0), Georgia (3-1), Florida State (4-0) and Miami (1-0).
The revelry started with Tebow making his final walk into The Swamp amid 90,000-plus fans screaming his name. Tebow and Meyer embraced at the 30-yard line as tears flowed down Tebow’s cheeks. Spikes kissed the ground as he was introduced. Receiver Riley Cooper was wearing eye black—much like many others in attendance.
Fans paid tribute to Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, by wearing his famed eye black patches. Meyer’s wife and two daughters also donned the little ovals under their eyes.
“That was special,” Tebow said.
So was the rest of his day.
He had two TD passes to Aaron Hernandez and another to Cooper, his roommate. Tebow scored on an 18-yard run in the second, then added the 56th rushing TD of his career early in the fourth. The stadium was lit up by camera flashes as he zipped across the goal line.
It capped his best performance of the season. Tebow left the game to a long, standing ovation after the first play of Florida’s next possession.
“I was so happy for him,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Tebow’s probably one of the best college football players ever to play the game. All the credit he gets, I still don’t think it’s enough still for all he does for the team and all he does for everybody. He’s way more than a football player.”
When it was over, Tebow jogged to midfield to shake hands with Seminoles defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and Bowden. He sang Florida’s alma mater with teammates and then started his final victory lap. It seemed to take forever. He was soaking it all it.
“Just saying thank you to all the fans and not get too emotional about it,” Tebow said. “My relationship with the fans is great. One reason is ‘cause I’m such a passionate Gator fan. I care so much about this university and this team because I’m such a big fan. They know I appreciate them.”
Tebow handed out high-fives, handshakes and hugs. He came across several crying faces, telling one girl, “It’s OK. I’ll be around.”
He also stepped on a cheerleader.
“She went down hard,” he said. “I felt terrible, so I gave her a big hug. She was a little embarrassed. I felt bad about that. They were all laughing, so I think she’s OK.”
Many of Tebow’s teammates came out of the locker and danced around the “F” at midfield as he worked his way around the stadium. Tebow finally caught up with them back inside, just in time to join the seniors in sharing a few words in front of the team.
“Jermaine Cunningham probably said it best. He put both arms up and said, ‘I’m living a dream,”’ Meyer said.
The Gators are two wins from a third national championship in four years. They have more celebrations planned, and they could be better than this one— even for Tebow.
“It’s been a long day,” he said. “I was telling (Cooper), ‘Man, it seems like everything’s in slow motion, which is good because you want to remember everything.”