Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Sports

Fennelly: A Tim Tebow birthday gift of perspective

There is a statue of him in front of the football stadium in Gainesville, next to fellow Florida Heisman Trophy winners Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel. And there on a plaque are the words he spoke, a promise he made nine years ago.

Tim Tebow turned 30 on Monday. Where does the time go? Ten years ago, Tebow won the Heisman. He was a Gator from 2006 to 2009, part of two national champions, and not even that begins to tell his story. If his shadow hangs over campus, it's a shining one.

"The most impactful player ever to play at the University of Florida," Urban Meyer said.

Or nearly anywhere else.

Tebow came to Florida with an astonishing amount of advance billing. Before he played even one college snap, ESPN had released a documentary on him, The Chosen One. The expectations were extraordinary.

He exceeded them.

"The word is 'aura' — the aura of Tebow," said author, radio host and Florida football historian Buddy Martin. "I'll never forget the first time he went in a game as a freshman. You could hear the crowd hold its breath. He inspired that kind of faith."

"Whenever you played with Tim, you always felt you were going to win," said former Florida punter Chas Henry, who played three seasons with Tebow. "We didn't win all of them, but that feeling never left us. He was going to will us to victory."

There is no way to completely capture the Tebow experience at Florida. It included that 2007 Heisman season, made of 55 touchdowns, those unimaginable numbers. He went 26-2 over his final two seasons as a starter. It included bull rushes and pinpoint passes when they were most needed. It included willpower.

"What I learned the most of all came off the field," Meyer said. "He had the absolute, unchallenged, unwavering belief in his faith every day. He spent every day trying to make someone else's day brighter. A lot of time you hear that about people to some respect, but not every day."

"I used to enjoy seeing him after games, even though he beat us," former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "We'd tell each other, 'God is great.' I admired him. Boy, he was a leader. He came to beat you every time."

"We never thought we'd see another one like Danny (Wuerffel), the way Danny played and carried himself," said Mick Hubert, longtime radio play-by-play voice of the Gators. "But Tim came along. It was even a circus for him to walk to the practice field. People were always waiting for him. He'd sign and sign. Just meeting him could almost make grown men cry."

"The legend was real," said former Florida tight end Tate Casey, who caught Tebow's first college touchdown pass — on a jump pass. "It all happened. There are only a few guys who can control a crowd like Tim did. A guy like (late Queen frontman) Freddie Mercury. Or (U2's) Bono. If Tim put his hands up to pump up a crowd, people went crazy. You could feel it go through you. It was amazing."

And there was that rainy day in Tallahassee in 2008, another win over Florida State, and Tebow coming off the field smeared with the garnet paint from the soaked end zone.

"It looked like blood," Mick Hubert said.

"He looked like Braveheart," Buddy Martin said.

"Tim has more muscle than Mel Gibson," Chas Henry said with a laugh. "I don't think we'll ever see someone like Tim again."