My Sportsman: Tim Tebow
The choice for Tebow is as much for what the Gators' QB does off the field
Florida coach Urban Meyer has described his impact as "phenomenal"
Tebow has the most rushing touchdowns in Southeastern Conference history
Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.
I am not here to debunk the very real phenomenon of Tebow Fatigue, or to deny that my Sportsman of the Year is one of the more overexposed athletes in recent college football history.
Nor will I argue that Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has been college football's best player in 2009. Between his lack of marquee receivers, a late-September concussion and the slight staleness that has crept into the Gators' offensive attack, the senior has been good in '09, but only occasionally great.
This nomination is pegged less to his production on the field than to his actions away from it. With an easy smile and a remarkably tireless, selfless example, Tebow has demonstrated to a generation of football fans that it's cool to be kind. The many virtuous acts of this son of Christian missionaries having been cited almost as frequently as the fact that, yes, he is saving himself for marriage, I will distill them here: He's made annual visits to the Philippines, where he was born, and where he works in his father's ministry, which has started thousands of churches and opened an orphanage. He's spent countless hours visiting prisons, schools, hospitals and at least one leper colony.
Since Tebow's arrival on campus, and in large part because of his service-intensive influence, Florida has launched a series of community-service initiatives. Even as the football program suffered an embarrassing string of arrests, the number of hours players devote to charitable causes spiked. As coach Urban Meyer told me in the preseason, "Our community service hours are completely off the charts." He described his quarterback's influence on the team as "phenomenal."
It's not the player's fault that he inspires middle-aged men to deliver such breathless paeans as the one that gushed from the lips of Fox broadcaster Thom Brennaman during the last BCS title game: "If you're fortunate enough to spend five minutes ... around Tim Tebow, your life is better for it."
Such overwrought praise has invited a predictable (and sometimes droll) backlash, such as this passage on Deadspin.com, pointing out that "Tim Tebow is made of such generous spirit and delicious candy that he cured Brennaman of his fear (and his adult acne), making him feel completely at ease and joyful simply by performing a Gator chomp with Tebow-esque hands."
This is what happens when you've been around for so long that you won a Heisman two years ago; when you're the most indispensable player on a team that contends annually for the national title. Tebow accomplished so much in three seasons, chances were fairly strong that his fourth would unfold in anticlimactic fashion, and so it has. His passing and rushing yards were down in '09. Slender victories over Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas caused furrowed brows among the cognoscenti; Tebow's two interceptions against Mississippi State confirmed, in the eyes of even his most slavish devotees, that the Chosen One wasn't himself -- he must still be recuperating from the effects of that scary concussion against Kentucky.
Just as the doubts about Florida and Tebow reached a crescendo, the Gators eviscerated Georgia, 41-17, on Oct. 31. Tebow looked like his old self in that game, throwing for two touchdowns, dashing for two more, in the process passing Herschel Walker for most rushing TDs in the history of the SEC.
Can the Gators get past Alabama in that BCS semifinal otherwise known as the SEC title game? We'll see. Regardless, the outcome of that clash will have no bearing on this celebration of a genuinely selfless player. Having seen so many young men used by this sport (often through their own fault, it's true), I am here to sing the praises of one who is using football, with a wide grin and without apology, as a means to a greater good.
If this leaves you slightly fatigued, that's your problem.