NEW YORK — Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford won the coveted Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, but Florida fans might have won something even bigger.
One more year of Tim Tebow.
In one of the closest Heisman races in history, Tebow finished third in the voting behind Bradford and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. Bradford won the award by 122 points over McCoy, 151 over Tebow, who actually garnered the most first-place votes (309) of the three finalists.
"I had more of a gut feeling that I was going to win last year," Tebow said. "But I thought I had a chance. I'm competitive. I want to win everything that I do. So obviously I wanted to win."
Tebow's third-place finish was the second-closest total ever to the winning total. The 2007 Heisman winner, Tebow was trying to become just the second ever to win the award for the nation's outstanding college football player twice, joining Ohio State's Archie Griffin.
Asked what finishing third meant: "I guess maybe more motivation for one more year to tie Archie. I don't know," Tebow said. "Maybe."
That might have been just part of the payoff.
By the time he arrived at the podium for interviews 30 minutes after the announcement, Tebow said his Gator teammates had sent text messages en masse. And although he wouldn't reveal the messages, his teammates were undoubtedly fired up by his loss. And by 9 p.m., minutes after the announcement, the Gators had moved on to bigger things.
"To tell you the truth, it's probably more motivating for my teammates than it is for myself," Tebow said. "We still get Jan. 8 to decide something a little bit better. They're excited, and we're all going to be ready for Jan. 8."
When the BCS title game is played Jan. 8 in Miami between Oklahoma and Florida, it will be the first time since Oklahoma's Jason White and USC's Matt Leinart in 2004 that two Heisman winners will be featured.
If history is any indication, Gator fans might have something to take comfort in. In the 10 years the Bowl Championship Series has existed, six Heisman winners have played in a national championship game. Only Leinart won a national title (2004). Oklahoma has never won a Heisman and a national championship in the same year.
Bradford became just the second sophomore to win the Heisman, following in Tebow's footsteps. It was the eighth time in the past nine years that a quarterback has won the award.
"I don't think I could put into words what I feel. It was a surreal experience," said Bradford, who threw for 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns this season. "I think it will take until at least (today) to realize what happened. I was pretty nervous. I really wasn't expecting my name to be called."
Bradford became only the third Heisman winner who did not receive the majority of first-place votes (Notre Dame's Paul Hornung, 1956; Oklahoma's Billy Sims, 1978). Out of all six regions — Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Southwest, Midwest and Far West — Tebow was the only finalist left off the most ballots in any region. He earned just 184 points in the Southwest, where Bradford and McCoy both play. He was left off 154 of the 904 ballots.
Not since 1956 had a player drawn the most first-place votes and finished third; Tommy McDonald of Oklahoma holds that distinction.
"I think it shows they either love us or they hate us," said Tebow, who said he was disappointed he didn't win but happy for Bradford. "That's the Gator Nation. I kind of love that about us. I appreciate everybody who voted for me and thought I was worthy of it. And if they didn't think I was worthy, oh well, I could get one more chance, right?"
When asked how long it would take him to get over losing the award, Tebow let his competitiveness resurface.
"Why get over it?," he said. "Why get over it? It's motivation, just like Ole Miss."