January 04, 2010
Tebow-gazing from the proprietor of Tim Teblog.
And so we come to the end of college football's "Tebow Era," surely the most sensationalized and scrutinized career of any player in the history of the sport, with a comprehensive coda in the Sugar Bowl: Tebow summed up the last four years with a record-setting statistical dominance (533 total yards smashed Vince Young's BCS bowl record, along with a slew of Tebow's personal bests) en route to a decisive Florida win, combined with fawning attention from the Fox booth (play-by-play man Thom Brennaman is reportedly changing his own name to "Tim" in tribute), in-depth debate over his pending draft status (please, Brian Billick tell us again about his elongated throwing motion) and a little socio-theo-pop-cultural fun (Fox's "Tebow Cam" was the No. 1 hottest search on Google during the game, edging out Tebow's choice of eye-black, Ephesians 2:8-10). The whole thing came off like a representative sample of his entire Florida career, supersized and sanded down to remove any rough edges.
In this realm, it is finished, and the debate over Tebow's place among the all-time greats can spread among the people as he ascends to the NFL. In the college game, his legacy comes back to two great themes:
Winning. Immortality in sports is most often based on championships. From Tebow's small but critical role in Florida's 2006 national title to his MVP prominence en route to the 2008 national title, debates can be won simply by saying "two national titles, winningest senior class in SEC history." Tebow's over-the-top cheerleading and earnest promise-making both stem from a core competitiveness that has translated into championships.
Mythology. There have been plenty of winners in college football. But few circumcise babies while preaching in prisons while lighting up Google while taming TMZ while saving themselves for marriage while getting concussions while making promises while crying on the sidelines while delivering jump-passes while breaking hallowed records. It is the sheer, relentless volume of these details, repeated ad nauseam, that combined to make Tebow feel larger-than-life.
There will almost certainly be players who win as or more prolifically than Tebow. What seems improbable is that any winning player will layer in the mythical components in the same depth or breadth that he has at this level, where even the best players are only just growing into their persona and the window for influence and fame is so fleeting. Even more than his promise as a player, the myth of Tebow's outsized personality made him a star before he made his first career start.
No what? He will be the most scrutinized, talked-about prospect of the NFL Draft -- he likely won't play in the Senior Bowl, and he may not do much more than "workout warrior" stuff rather than throw passes at the Combine. He will undoubtedly be tutored on mechanics; he will need no such help for the team interviews, which he will ace. It's the same story: Experts are mixed on his set of tools to be an NFL QB; everyone loves his "intangibles."
More than likely, a team will draft Tebow in the first round -- even with the Patriots' needs on defense, I can't imagine Bill Belichick (a close friend of Urban Meyer's) letting him go by; maybe the Jaguars will rank "marketing" atop their greatest team needs and snatch the local kid in the top half of the draft. It will be fun to watch the more critical draftniks backpedal to reconcile their personal rankings with getting their mock drafts "right."
After the draft, he will be the most scrutinized, talked-about rookie of the 2010 NFL season. (And consider this the official kickoff to my campaign to lobby Yahoo's fantasy football honchos to give Tebow unprecedented QB-RB-TE triple-position eligibility next season.) The scrutiny won't be without reward: He will command more endorsement interest than any team-sport rookie since LeBron James. It's hard to imagine Tebow not showing up on the cover of EA's NCAA Football 2011; it is even harder to imagine Tebow not becoming a Gatorade front-man. Undoubtedly, Nike will come calling, looking to extend the relationship it has had with Tebow throughout his Florida career. Why? A wholesome ("anti-Tiger?") image and NASCAR-style devotion from a national fan base.
What next for Florida fans, and college football fans in general? It is hard to imagine Tebow not casting a shadow over the program -- in and outside of Gainesville, there will be something like "next Tebow" in the same way the NBA has been challenged by "next Jordan." For better or worse for Florida, heir apparent John Brantley is a dramatically different quarterback than Tebow. I cannot imagine an incoming Gator demanding jersey No. 15, if it's even available.
Roll back the clock to New Year's Day 2000: Tebow was 12 years old. Not only had you never heard of him, but you were at least another five or six years from ever hearing of him. While the circumstances of Tebow's ascension were, in part, a perfect storm of physical gifts, personality, optimized coaching/strategy and evolving media landscape, it would be hubris to suggest Tebow's accomplishment as an amateur can never be topped. But he leaves behind less a legacy than a benchmark, not just of accomplishment and competitiveness, but also of leadership and commitment. On New Year's Day 2010, as Tebow ran wild through Cincinnati, somewhere there was a kid out there falling off his bike for the hundredth time who will be inspired to top it.