Some 42,000 people gathered at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sunday afternoon to acknowledge Florida's 2008 national football championship, but by the end of the nearly 90-minute celebration, quarterback Tim Tebow had given them reason to rejoice for 2009.
In a brief speech in which he seemed to be saying farewell, Tebow, 21, electrified the crowd when he announced he plans to return for his senior season.
Amid chants of "one more year," Tebow thanked God, fans, coaches and teammates for their support, said how much he enjoyed his three years, then turned to leave the stage. But as he headed toward the stairs, he turned and headed back toward center stage, saying, "Oh, by the way, one more thing, let's do it again. I'm coming back."
Tebow informed coach Urban Meyer of his decision Saturday evening.
"It's a great day for Gator football," Meyer said after Sunday's celebration. "It means a lot. Obviously, there's the functional football player part of it, but we all know it's much deeper than that. He is so good for college football. He is unbelievable. When my daughter texts me in the morning the Bible verse he has under his eyes, it's good for college football, it's good for young people, it's good for everything."
Wide receiver/running back Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes, both juniors, have until Thursday to declare for April's NFL draft. Spikes, from Shelby, N.C., did not attend the celebration, but teammate Ryan Stamper said Spikes told him he planned to return.
"I'm kind of leaning toward coming back," Harvin, of Virginia Beach, Va., said during an interview with Sun Sports on Sunday, but he added he has not made a decision. Meyer said he has told both he "will love them no matter what they decide."
"They are still doing their research," Meyer said. "And that's all I want, is for guys to make the right decision."
Tebow said that in the 48 hours after the 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Thursday in Miami, he spoke with numerous NFL coaches, family members and his coaches. The Jacksonville area native called weighing his options "a burden" and said he wanted to make a decision quickly and move on. He has won two national titles in three years and the 2007 Heisman Trophy, but he said there are things he would still like to accomplish.
"Have an undefeated season," he said when asked what's left to prove. "That's something they have never done here at the University of Florida, so that's a goal. And just come back, have fun and try to be the best player I can be and try to go down in history. That's all."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.