Tebow's decision to stay thrills Gator Nation
Published: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 6:44 p.m.
As Florida's national championship celebration plodded along past the hour mark Sunday afternoon in a relatively lethargic Swamp, it appeared maybe the Gators had forgotten how to party, how to celebrate.
Then the rock star took the stage and everything changed. The estimated crowd of 42,000 came alive.
"One more year. ... one more year. ... one more year. ... one more year," the delirious fans chanted as quarterback Tim Tebow approached the stage.
After taking the microphone from Danny Wuerffel, another UF Heisman winner and national championship quarterback, Tebow seemingly began to direct Gator Nation toward a path of disappointment. A solemn Tebow talked about the special journey he's taken at UF and then thanked his coaches, his teammates and the fans. It sounded like farewell.
"You come out and support us win or lose, good or bad. I just love you so much," he said, the audience hanging on his every word. "I also know how you feel because I'm a Gator fan myself. I love Gator Nation, I love you all. Thank you so much. Thank you. God please. I appreciate you so much."
Then Tebow started walking off the stage. But just before reaching the steps, Tebow, microphone still in hand, turned around.
"One more thing," he screamed as the fans rose to their feet. "Let's do it again. I'm coming back."
The stadium erupted.
Just like that, the Gator Nation had two celebrations going on Sunday: one for the national championship won on the field against Oklahoma Thursday night in Miami, and one for Tebow's announcement that he is returning for his senior season.
Many of the fans came to the first celebration hoping there would be a second. In typical Tebow fashion, he did not disappoint, even though he kept the crowd waiting until the end.
"That was a little bit of coach (Urban) Meyer's idea (to make the crowd think he might be leaving, then announce he's staying)," Tebow said afterward. "I knew I just wanted to excite the fans and my teammates. Coach Meyer really wanted to get them excited. They're already getting pumped up for next season."
Tebow said he reached his decision Saturday during a five-hour meeting that included Tebow, his family and Meyer.
When Meyer was asked what his reaction was when Tebow told him, Meyer said, "My knees started shaking and sweat was forming on my forehead. I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him. I told him I'd love him whatever he did."
Tebow sent paperwork into the NFL last month seeking an opinion on where he would project to go in this spring's draft. In the past few days, Tebow said he talked to numerous people in the NFL, many who know Meyer.
"Some of them were friends of coach Meyer giving me advice," Tebow said. "It was tough. Some of that stuff is tempting at the next level, and I would be leaving on a great note with a national championship, and moving on from there. But I love these guys and coach Meyer and this program too much. I feel we can still end on a bang next year.
"I just felt loyal to this place. I feel like I'm a role model. Some people start things and don't finish them. I didn't want to be like that. I wanted to finish what I started. Overall, I just felt attached to this place and want to be loyal. It's a big deal for me."
Tebow's return is a big deal for the Gators and for college football, Meyer said.
With Tebow coming back, the Gators very likely will be the nation's preseason No. 1 team.
"It's a great day for Florida football," Meyer said. "There is the functional football player part of it. But we all know it's much deeper than that. He is so good for college football. He is unbelievable.
"When my daughter texts me in the morning and quotes the Bible verses he has under his eyes, it's great for college football and good for young people. Unbelievable."
Tebow would not reveal those he talked to in the NFL, or say where he was projected to go in the draft.
The Gators are now waiting to hear if two other star juniors are staying or leaving - wide receiver Percy Harvin and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Harvin said on Sun Sports after the national championship celebration that he was leaning toward returning for his senior season and would be meeting with Meyer today.
Spikes, who is projected to go in the second round at the earliest, did not attend Sunday's celebration. Sources said earlier in the week that Spikes' decision might be based on what Tebow decides to do. If Tebow returns, Spikes might follow his lead.
"(Harvin and Spikes) will make good decisions," Meyer said.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Friday.
Tebow said he didn't want to wait any longer to make his decision.
"I wanted to get it done," he said.
"I wanted to enjoy winning the national championship and not worry about this. It was a little bit of a burden for me."
The burden vanished Sunday. For Tebow and the Gator Nation.
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