Media Days darling
Published: Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 12:19 a.m.
HOOVER, Ala. - Emma King was crying.
Soon, her eyes would be teary again for a different reason.
The 6-year-old will be 7 on Friday and she was one of the dozens of Gator fans who filled the lobby of The Wynfrey Hotel on Wednesday for the arrival of Tim Tebow. Emma, whose goal in life is to be a Gator gymnast, carried a sign that read, "All I Want For My Birthday Is To Meet Tim Tebow."
But when the Florida contingent arrived, the cavalry had been called in. Two police officers, hotel security and SEC officials formed a corridor that went from the glass doors to the elevators.
Tebow was gone in six seconds.
And Emma was crying her eyes out.
This was the way Media Days started for Tebow. It actually started in Gainesville three hours earlier with an interview on the Dan Patrick Show. It was followed by a quick flight to the Bessemer airport with three University Athletic Association officials, Urban Meyer and teammate Phil Trautwein.
Had Tebow stopped to sign autographs, he might still be there.
So he didn't see the sign.
From one room to the next went Tebow — a generic TV room, then to the Raycom room, then to an SEC Sports room, then to the print media room. So many stops, so many questions. But after an offseason that saw him travel to the Philippines, Croatia and Thailand, not to mention New York, Fort Worth, Atlantic City and two prisons, he's used to it.
"The last time I talked this much was at the Heisman banquet," he told me between rooms. "I was shaking hands for six hours and talking to each person. This offseason has been a whirlwind, but it's something I'll never forget."
Waiting to go into another room, this one for CSS-TV, Tebow found out about Emma.
"Let's bring her up," he said.
Easier said than done. Security would not let anyone without a room key or a credential go up the elevators. But Florida officials convinced the hotel to let Emma up along with her sign and her mom, Michelle, a UF grad and former Gainesville resident now living in Hoover.
After Tebow finished with the radio room, he was brought to a shadowy area near one of the ballrooms away from the media glare that had been following his every move. He met Emma, signed a handful of items and made her day.
"This is a day she'll never forget," her mom said.
This is Tebow's world and it's not always pretty. He wants to give children a role model and touch their lives but the demands are so great that often he has to say no.
"It's hard," he said later as a pair of vans whisked the UF contingent away from the hotel. "That little girl was so sweet. She kind of started to cry when we met."
Tommy Tuberville shut the trunk of his car and started to walk into The Wynfrey 30 minutes before Tebow's arrival.
"It's a zoo up here isn't it?" he said as we walked in together.
And then the head coach of the Auburn Tigers walked through the crowd without being noticed. A few minutes later, skateboard star and video game entrepreneur Tony Hawk walked the other way through the crowd without anyone bothering him.
They were here to see Tebow.
Kimberly Rains made the 30-minute drive from Trussville, Ala., with her 5-year-old son Kyle.
"He just wanted to see him," said Rains, who wore a T-shirt that said "Tebow" in the same script used for TiVo and the slogan, "Worth watching again."
Hours later as he was leaving and disappointed fans watched Tebow pull away in the front seat of one of the vans, he spotted Rains and her T-shirt.
"That's a cool shirt," he said.
Behind him was Media Days, an intense three-hour probing by hundreds of media members. Tebow was the star, not any coaches or other players. He sat down for his first interviews and was asked the first question.
"So where's the Heisman Trophy?"
"It's at my house in Jacksonville. Back in the corner. I'm the baby in the family so my mom's wedding pictures get the mantle."
He was asked about who his new roommate is four or five times. It's wide receiver Riley Cooper. He was asked what he can do to get better. He was asked about his crazy offseason. When he sat down with the Raycom announcers, he was asked if Kenny Chesney, who is playing a concert in Jacksonville the Friday before UF's opener, will make the game. He was asked about the powder puff game he organized for charity.
"We raised over $10,000," he said. "And that was just from students. There are some students at the University of Florida with deep pockets. My scooter sounds like a lawnmower and they're driving Bentley scooters."
He mentioned Tom Brady and Peyton Manning a half-dozen times each. Tebow has spent time this offseason studying the two NFL quarterbacks to help improve his decision-making.
He was asked about turning down an opportunity to appear on Playboy's All-America team.
"I just felt it was the right decision for me," he said. "I'm not saying there is anything wrong with it."
He was asked whether all of the Internet pictures of him with beautiful girls are really him or Photoshopped.
"Some of them are real, but they're not in the context most people think they are," he said.
"Had to be the one about the cigarette," he said on his way to the airport.
A writer asked Tebow if he was as good as he appeared or if he ever snuck a cigarette in high school.
"How do you answer that?" he said later.
There were two things Tebow said at every stop.
1. "If people say your team is talented, that means you haven't done anything yet."
2. "There are a lot of role models in football but there aren't a lot of good ones. I want to influence kids the way Danny Wuerffel influenced me."
Tebow stayed on the latter theme often, saying he'd rather help a kid than beat Georgia or Florida State.
"Seeing a dying little girl who smiles because she see me, you can't put a price on that," he said.
The interviews were over and Tebow was in the third floor suite the SEC uses as a break room for the athletes. He spotted Trautwein, who said 80 percent of the questions he was asked were about Tebow.
"Did you say I look like Will Farrell?" Trautwein asked Tebow.
Minutes later, they are in the vans and headed for the airport. But first, there was the annual stop at a local steakhouse for a big meal.
"It was about what I anticipated," Tebow said of Media Days. "I mean, it was a circus, but that's kind of what I expected."
Tebow stared out the window at the crowd when Trautwein said, "That guy in the white shirt is looking at you like he knows you."
The Heisman Trophy winner started to tell a story about a couple of guys he sees everywhere.
"Ole Miss game, Heisman, they're here," he said.
Nobody got autographs this day.
"Except one," he said with a sly grin.
Emma King got hers.
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