I remember the first time I saw Tim Tebow. It was 2005. His Nease High School team came to Birmingham, Alabama to play the vaunted Hoover High School in a cross-state battle between top schools.
Nease lost, but Tebow looked like a freak of nature running and throwing all over the place. I made a mental note to keep up with him that year. It wasn't hard to do. There was plenty of coverage about the home-schooled Tebow who, by way of a Florida law, was allowed to compete in local high school sports though he didn't attend at the school. It didn't seem to matter to Nease's fans, coaches, or other players. They rode Tebow to a state championship that year. Tebow was named to All-State honors, the state of Florida's Mr. Football, and was a Parade All-American.
His recruiting was one of the first circuses I followed. Tebow was the hot prospect of the football recruiting season. It came down to two teams – Florida and Alabama. We all know Tebow became a Gator; Alabama "settled" for a guy named Greg McElroy.
Tebow's freshman year at Florida saw him play a limited, yet successful, role while Chris Leak ran the offense. Tebow had three plays: QB run (dive, counter, draw), QB play-action (fake dive, counter, draw and throw quick out), and the jump pass – all of these in short yardage or goalline situations. In all, Tebow threw 5 TDs in 2006 and ran for another 8. He scored when Florida dismantled Ohio State for the national championship. Florida fans believed more hardware was on the way soon.
Tebow followed that up with a stellar sophomore season where he threw 32 TDs, ran for 23, led the Gators to nine wins, and picked up a Heisman trophy along with a multitude of other awards. It was nothing short of a coronation. I can't remember how many "Tebow may be the greatest player ever" articles and discussion I saw after that year. Truthfully, it was the beginning of the end for the Tebow legacy.
His junior year saw the Gators back in the national title hunt, Tebow's famous promise, another Heisman finalist finish (losing to Oklahoma's Sam Bradford), and a national title all his own. Tebow was on top of the world and decided to come back for one more run in the swamp.
Then, reality hit – hard. Florida was winning games, sure, but Tebow no longer looked invincible. His passes fluttered, he fumbled, and he couldn't just bowl over teams like before. The Gators ran the table through the regular season and it came at a high price for Tebow. He was knocked out of a game, missed another one, and didn't play the same when he came back – not that anyone should blame him. Florida's offense lacked punch and the big play capability it once possessed. Tebow put it all on his shoulders and got them to Atlanta for one more chance at the SEC Championship.
December 5, 2009. That was the day of reckoning for Tim Tebow. No matter what he did, no matter what promises he made, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get Florida past Alabama in the SEC Championship game. And it exposed problems in his game. Problems that were his game. Tebow has a tremendous will, but that will only get you so far. He couldn't make the line block better. He couldn't make receivers catch and run faster. He couldn't play defense and make tackles when they needed them the most. In the end, all he could do was what he had always done – run and attempt play action. Neither worked and an entire season of pushing and frustration fell flat on the Georgia Dome floor.