Tim Tebow And Danny Wuerffel: Friendship & Fame
These fellow Heisman winners talk about their special bond and how gridiron glory serves a larger purpose
Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 1:44 a.m.
UF quarterback, 2006-2009
Graduating: December 2009
Heisman Trophy winner: 2007
National championships: 2006, 2008
Home: Atlanta, Georgia
Personal: Married to Jennifer, two sons, Jonah, 5, Joshua, 3, and a daughter, Macy, 10 months.
UF quarterback, 1993-1996, then seven years in the NFL
Heisman Trophy winner: 1996
National championship: 1996
Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. The two University of Florida quarterbacks share more than a page in the sports record books as winners of the Heisman Trophy. They are two athletes tied together by faith, family, football and friendship.
Talk to either Wuerffel or Tebow and they readily acknowledge that they have had a gift — both would say it's a God-given gift — for playing football. They know that Gator fans everywhere put them up on a pedestal.
What has made these two guys different from other prominent college players is that they each use that position, the platform that the game of football has given them, to make good things happen in the community and beyond.
Tim Tebow grew up outside Jacksonville with pictures of Danny Wuerffel on the wall of his bedroom.
Wuerffel says he hopes his two young sons, now 5 and 3, will see Tebow as a role model.
Among Tebow's many awards is the 2008 Wuerffel Trophy, presented by the All Sports Association of Fort Walton Beach to the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.
"It's funny how things go back and forth," Wuerffel says. "Maybe one day my son will win the Tebow Trophy."
Theirs is a unique friendship. Danny drives down for many of the Gator home games. The two of them often wind up at the same banquets.
"That has given us lots of time with family," Wuerffel says.
Occasionally the pair find time for a game of golf. They've done outreach programs together, such as the "Night of Champions" in Jacksonville for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"Danny and I talk a lot," Tebow says. And it's rarely about football.
Ties that bind
Tebow and Wuerffel share much more than the experience of leading a Gator football team to a national title.
Danny is the son of an Air Force chaplain. He grew up living all over the country, even spending three years in Spain, before the family settled in the Florida Panhandle.
After graduating as valedictorian of Fort Walton Beach High School, Danny moved on to become starting quarterback at the University of Florida under Coach Steve Spurrier. He led the Gators to four SEC championships and an NCAA title.
He graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in public relations, then spent seven seasons playing professional football for the Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
Tim is the son of a Christian evangelist, Bob Tebow, whose mission field is the Philippines. That's where Tim was born on Aug. 14, 1987, the fifth child of Bob and Pam Tebow. It was a difficult pregnancy and Bob Tebow recalls praying that if he had a healthy son, he would raise him to be a preacher.
"I asked God for a preacher, and he gave me a quarterback," the senior Tebow tells the oft-repeated story.
The family left the Philippines when Tim was 3, and he grew up on 44 acres outside Jacksonville. He was homeschooled by his mother until entering public school as a sophomore in high school.
He played quarterback at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, then committed to the University of Florida. Both his parents are Gator grads.
Each summer, the family returns on a mission trip to Mindanao, a remote, mountainous region of the Philippines.
That's where the project that has become Tim's personal cause is located. It's an orphanage founded by the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association called "Uncle Dick's Home." It's named for Richard Fowler, a Tebow neighbor who made a bequest to establish the place that some 50 orphaned Filipino children now call home.
Tim has visited every year but one since he was 15.
Uncle Dick's Home is one place where he's just Timmy, a big guy with an even bigger smile who has taught the kids the Gator chomp.
"After college, I don't know everything I want to do," Tebow says. "But I want to be involved with and help run orphanages. That's where my heart is."
He also talks about a prison ministry, establishing youth ranches and granting wishes to underprivileged children.
The NCAA rules are restrictive about how involved student-athletes can be in fundraising, which means Tebow has had to clear every action with UF's compliance department.
He's a regular visitor to the pediatric wards of hospitals in Gainesville and Jacksonville. He has inspired other members of the football team to rack up more than 400 hours of community service, including mentoring at-risk boys in Gainesville middle schools.
In the off-season, Tim visits correctional facilities in North Central Florida.
Jason Medlin is the warden at Lake City Correctional Facility, where Tim spoke in August to hundreds of young men serving time.
"He has a very contagious leadership spirit," Medlin says. "The message that he sends is very on-target for the youthful offender program. Although they have made a mistake, they have the ability to change and take the step forward to make a change, redirect their energies and be successful in life.
"He's someone that this age group can identify with — he's a very upstanding young man, on and off the field," Medlin says.
Danny and Desire Street
Danny was well out of college when he discovered the cause that has become his personal passion, the Desire Street Ministries.
He was drafted to quarterback the New Orleans Saints in 1997. That's when he first learned of the work of Mo and Ellen Leverett.
In 1990, the couple had moved into the Desire Housing Project in the city's impoverished Upper Ninth Ward and began ministering to kids and teens.
Danny retired from professional football in 2004 in order to focus full-time on the Desire Street Ministries. He spent eight years in New Orleans, where he met his wife, Jessica. The couple now have two sons, Jonah and Joshua, and a daughter, Macy, who is 10 months old.
When Hurricane Katrina sacked the city of New Orleans in August 2005, the Wuerffels lost their home.
"Everything we owned was underwater for a month," Wuerffel says. "One day they were our treasures, and four weeks later they were a pile of trash."
It was, he says, the point in his life where he had to ask himself a crucial question: "How much of my life, my time, my talent, my money am I investing in something that is destined to be trash and how much am I investing in something that will last?"
The Desire Street Academy, founded in 2002 to teach young black residents of the neighborhood who were in junior and senior high school, was flooded by up to 10 feet of water, along with much of the rest of the Ninth Ward.
Desire Street staff relocated as many students as possible in the wake of Katrina, moving them first to Camp Timpoochee in Niceville, Florida, then relocating the school to Baton Rouge in 2007.
Wuerffel is now Desire Street's executive director, and the program has moved its national headquarters to Decatur, Georgia.
Danny says the ministry has two goals: to continue to help revitalize the New Orleans' Desire Street neighborhood and to replicate the philosophy of self-help through education in other communities.
"The move to the Atlanta area is intended to position us in the best possible way to expand nationally," he says.
Back in the Ninth Ward, the ministry recently reopened a pediatric medical clinic. The Desire Street Academy has graduated 56 young men and the organization is working to establish charter schools in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Tim remembers hearing Danny speak at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville in 1995. The 8-year-old Tim idolized Danny, and got his autograph on the church bulletin.
His admiration for Wuerffel has not faded with time.
"He's both a phenomenal person and a great player," Tebow says. "Look at his Desire Street Ministries. He's making a difference and doing what God called him to do."
Danny first remembers meeting Tim when Tim was middle-school age. Tim came to a quarterback camp put on by Wuerffel and two other former Gator quarterbacks, Shane Matthews and Kerwin Bell. Danny saw potential.
"He was an exceptional athlete, even at that age. But he was also a very respectful, neat young man," Wuerffel says.
Fast forward to the 2007 Heisman award ceremonies in New York City, where Danny (winner of the 1996 Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football) got to hand over the 25-pound bronze statue to Tim, who as a sophomore was the youngest player ever to win the coveted award. (Tim was 9 when Danny won his Heisman.)
So what did the two big-time college players have to talk about while they waited for the winner to be announced?
"We talked about being at peace with the situation," Wuerffel recalls. "The decision had already been made. Win or lose there was nothing we could do about it. From our perspective, those sorts of awards are a platform to express who we are, to thank our teammates and others, and hopefully to have a positive impact on other people."
"The Heisman really doesn't change who a person is, but it does change the perception people have of you," Tebow says. "It opens doors for you to use your platform."
Shared giftsand life in the spotlight
Danny says one thing has definitely changed since 1996, when he was the Gator quarterback in the national spotlight. The Internet and cell phones have made it harder than ever to have a private life.
Tim can't go out to dinner in Gainesville or see a movie in peace. A cell-phone picture would be up on the Web in minutes.
"You try to be as kind and courteous to everyone as you can, even though you'd just like to be left alone to eat or you have to leave earlier than you'd planned," Tebow says.
There are other intrusions. A reporter at this year's Southeastern Conference media days felt free to ask Tim if he were still a virgin.
As always, Tim's answer was direct: Yes, he's saving himself for marriage.
"It's sad when people don't understand the need for personal boundaries," Wuerffel says.
On the other hand, in Tim's view it can sometimes be a plus to be so recognizable.
At this year's ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, honoring the best in sports, Tebow said he was talking to his brother when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"It was [four-time heavyweight boxing champion] Evander Holyfield and he asked if he could have a picture with me," Tim says. "I said, 'Yes, absolutely, man!' That was really cool."
Danny says people hear about Tim and love him because he is winning football games. But at the end of the day, to have a lasting impact on people off the field, Tim needs to continue doing what he's doing with class, integrity and a real work ethic.
"I think that will be what stands out in time about Tim Tebow's college career, along with the championships and the trophies."
Danny adds, "I also hope Gator fans will remember me not just for what I did with my life, but the way I did it."
Or as Gator head coach Urban Meyer puts it, "Tim is the toughest quarterback who has ever played college ball. And by the way, he also does great things for people."
Tebow's future includes graduation this month, the NFL draft next June, and undoubtedly some time as the play caller for a pro football team.
He'll return to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, as Danny now does, as a sideline visitor.
Tim describes football as his "mission field." It doesn't matter, he says, if he fails in the National Football League or never wins a Super Bowl as a professional.
"God has given me the opportunity and ability to play football for a specific reason, and that is to share what I believe," Tim says. "For right now, my mission is here."
To learn more about their causes:
Desire Street Ministries, on the Web at www.desirestreet.org
Uncle Dick's Home, on the Web at www.btea.org/orphanage.asp
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