Extra-long line greets Tebow at local book signing


Tim Tebow talks with fans after autographing a copy of his book, "Through My Eyes" at Wal-Mart in Butler Plaza on Thursday, June 9, 2011 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 9:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 9:51 p.m.

Even though he's been gone for more than a year now, Tim Tebow's gravitational pull in Florida, especially Gainesville, apparently is as strong as ever.

More than 1,000 Tebow/Florida football fans crowded into the Wal-Mart on Archer Road, starting on Wednesday afternoon, to get Tebow's new book signed by the Gator quarterback legend Thursday night.

Tebow met fans and signed his book, “Through My Eyes”, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Tebow, wearing shorts and a blue v-neck T-shirt, entered from the back of Wal-Mart sharply at 6 to the chants of “Tebow, Tebow, Tebow.”




Seconds later, a 30-hour wait ended for the first person in line.

Greg Stevens, 41, arrived at Wal-Mart at noon Wednesday and spent the night in the store with his wife and two sons — along with dozens of other Tebow fans who arrived way ahead of time with portable chairs and sleeping bags.

“We're huge Tebow fans,” said Stevens, who drove to Gainesville with his family from Boynton Beach on Wednesday and ended up being first in a long line that snaked through the store and would have stretched to the nearby Outback Steakhouse restaurant had Wal-Mart officials not decided to keep the line inside due to the heat.

“When we got here at noon, I was afraid we might be too late based on what happened (at recent Tebow book signings) in Jacksonville and other places,” Stevens said. “I was really surprised there wasn't a long line when we got here. We were very excited.”

Stevens, who works for the city of Boca Raton, said he passed the many hours doing some work and meeting fellow Gator fans who were equally determined to gain Tebow's signature in their books.

“I've met a lot of nice people,” Stevens said. “Everyone has talked and gotten to know each other really well. It's been a great experience to share a lot of Tebow stories and talk about what he means to everybody.”

After finally shaking hands with Tebow and getting his book signed, a bleary-eyed Stevens said the long wait was worth it.

“Very much so. I sure would (do it again),” he said. “He just introduced himself and asked my (6-year-old) son what his name was. It was amazing talking to him.

“There are so few heroes left in this country today. I'm 41, and he makes me feel like a little kid. He's everything you'd want your son to grow up to be like. He's amazing, a true hero.”

Tebow drew a hero's crowd. Anyone hoping to get his autograph who showed up much after 3 p.m. Thursday was out of luck. By that time, the line was more than 600 deep and the store had sold out its 600 copies of the book by 4 p.m.

Part of the ground rules for the signing was to get a book signed it had to be purchased at the store. Also, Tebow signed just his name to the books.

Still, the line continued to grow right up until the 6 p.m. signing began.

At about 7:40, when Wal-Mart announced that Tebow would be leaving sharply at 8 p.m. for another engagement in Orlando, hundreds of fans were still in line. Many booed. Some chanted Tebow's name. Dozens reluctantly dropped out. Many others stayed in line hoping for a chance to meet Tebow that would not come on this night.

One family that arrived after 4 p.m. fell into some good fortune.

Joseph Chmielarz drove his family all the way from the Fort Lauderdale area Thursday for the signing. He did it for his son Kol, who turned 8 on Thursday. Chmielarz gave his son a birthday choice: Disney World or Tebow.

“He chose Tebow even though there was no guarantee we'd get him,” Chmielarz said. “When we got here at 4, it looked like there was no way. But someone near the front of the line heard us talking and they took his book and got it signed for him. It's been a great trip for us.”

It was a good day for the hundreds of others who knew the powerful draw of Tebow and arrived the previous night or early Thursday to get in line and wait.

Lauren Griffith, a graduate student at UF and huge Tebow fan, stopped by Wal-Mart on Wednesday night to check out the situation. She was surprised to see that the line already stretched through several departments in the store.

“I came last night to devise a plan and I saw people were already in line,” Griffith said. “My heart dropped into my stomach. I was thinking we were not going to be able to get here in time to be a part of it.”

Griffith said she could not hop in line Wednesday night because she had a school project due Thursday morning. She and fellow grad student Sarah Gummey arrived at Wal-Mart at about 11:40 a.m. Wednesday and got in the back of a line that was already well over 150 deep.

“We've been rushing around all morning to get here,” Gummey said.

The only things Griffith and Gummey brought with them were copies of Tebow's book.

“I didn't really bring any activities,” Griffith said. “I should have brought my school work. I'll just read the book again.

“I read it this week. It's fabulous,” Griffin continued. “Even if you're not a Gator fan or a Tebow fan, if you're just a college football fan, it's a book anyone should read.”

Tebow's book was written with Nathan Whitaker, the New York Times best-selling co-author of “Quiet Strength”,with Tony Dungy. “Through My Eyes” tells the story of Tebow's faith, life and career in football.

Gainesville's Lori Weitzel brought her 16-year-old daughter Layne to Wal-Mart at 1 a.m. Thursday. Later in the day, mother and daughter were sitting in portable chairs nestled in an aisle in the children's department. Layne was wearing a Denver Broncos' Tebow jersey.

“She's a big Tim Tebow fan,” Lori Weitzel said. “He's a special guy.”

Despite their early arrival, Weitzel and her daughter probably had close to 100 Tebow fans lined up in front of them.

“I'm not surprised,” Lori said. “We thought it would be like that. We've been reading books. I think it's going to get more fun as more people get here.”

More people did get there. Hundreds more.

Many of those who came after 4 p.m. and were told they had no chance of reaching Tebow lined up five- and six-deep simply to watch Tebow sign books for others.

The drawing power of Tebow was on display all over the store, starting at noon on Wednesday and finally ending with his departure at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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