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The story of Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow not finished quite yet

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has plenty of reasons to smile: a win over Georgia and the SEC rushing touchdown record.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has plenty of reasons to smile: a win over Georgia and the SEC rushing touchdown record.

JACKSONVILLE — There are quarterbacks you measure by statistics. You talk about their yards and their touchdowns, their ratings and their percentage. They are the quarterbacks beloved by mathematicians as much as by football fans.

Tim Tebow, who has some numbers of his own, is not one of them.

There are quarterbacks you measure by their skills. You talk about their arm strength and their foot speed, their bench press and the way they run a cone drill. They are the quarterbacks doted on by the NFL scouts.

Tebow, who will get his shot in the pros, is not one of them, either.

Then there are the quarterbacks who are measured by their legend. You talk about their moments and their memories, their trophies and their records. They are the quarterbacks embraced by the immortals.

As the Tebow story nears the end of its college days, this is how you will remember him.

The game is over now, and he is running across the field, flashing that lopsided smile of his at the adoring fans. But for Tebow, a Gator icon since his 10th minute on campus, it had been a difficult, frustrating week. There were questions, and there were doubts, and there was open debate over why Tebow was no longer playing like Tebow.

Then came Saturday, and Tebow took over another game.

Of course he did. After all, that's what he does.

Playing against the Georgia Bulldogs, a team that used to be quite vexing to the Gators back before the Internet was invented, Tebow reminded everyone that his career was not yet over. The senior threw for two touchdowns, and he ran for two more, and suddenly, Florida's offense was back in synch. Once again, the Gators looked like a team worthy of contending for a national title.

"It had been frustrating," Tebow said. "We weren't playing to our potential. We should have been playing better."

For the Gators, everyone knows that starts with Tebow. For three seasons now, Tebow has been the heart — and the will — of this Gators team. He is the essential Gator, more than Steve Spurrier and more than Emmitt Smith. He is the essential college football performer, more than Herschel Walker and more than Bo Jackson.

He is Tebow.

And the good news for Florida is this: He still has some pages left to write.

"Who would you rather have as your quarterback on fourth and 1?" wide receiver (and roommate) Riley Cooper said. "He's the toughest kid in college football. He runs the ball 20 times a game and takes a beat-down. That's who I want as my quarterback."

At Florida, Cooper isn't alone. Nationally? You might get other opinions.

Have you paid attention to the Heisman Trophy polls lately? Last week, after throwing two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns against Mississippi State, Tebow fell from first to fifth in the Scripps Howard poll. He is fourth in the Heisman Pundit poll, third in the ESPN poll.

And it's true: A lot of Heisman winners, including Tebow, have had better numbers than Tebow has this year. In the three games since suffering his concussion against Kentucky, Tebow hasn't been quite as dynamic as before. Florida coach Urban Meyer has suggested that perhaps Tebow has been pressing.

Still, do you see another clear-cut alternative? Mark Ingram of Alabama? Maybe, but he'll probably have to go head-to-head against Tebow just before the votes are due. Colt McCoy of Texas hasn't been sharp, either. As for Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, where exactly are the Irish ranked? It's rare — but not unprecedented — that a player wins the Heisman without his team being in the hunt for the national title.

Which gives Tebow four games for a closing argument. And don't forget, the guy is capable of a big finish.

Take Saturday's game, for instance. It was late in the first half, and top-ranked Florida led only 17-10 on two Tebow touchdown passes. On a third-and-3 play, Tebow ran a quarterback draw for a 23-yard touchdown. After that, the Gators simply ran away with the game.

It was vintage Tebow. Also, it was legendary Tebow. That score broke Walker's 27-year-old record with his 50th rushing touchdown. (Tebow later had his 51st to go along with 77 touchdown passes).

"Just to be mentioned in the same breath as Herschel Walker is extremely humbling, and just a little breathtaking because … he's Herschel Walker," Tebow said. "How am I going to be in the same league as Herschel Walker? I still can't understand it."

Oh, everyone else can. These days, it is Walker who should be flattered by the association.

And now there is this. Tebow has four regular-season games left, an SEC title, a possible national championship.

Stay tuned. Somehow, you figure Tebow's story is going to have a dynamite ending.

The story of Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow not finished quite yet 10/31/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 1, 2009 12:27am]
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