"It will be remembered as one of the great statements by a college player in a long, long time. I don't want to overstate the case but I'm thinking George Gipp and Knute Rockne."
• Verne Lundquist, voice of college football on CBS
Go ahead and overstate, Verne. Considering the subject, it might not be hyperbole.
We're talking Tim Tebow. They don't call him Superman for nothing. For half of you, those last few sentences just induced the gag reflex. The other half is inspired by the quarterback -- and comic books.
Let's move on ...
Florida's season was basically defined on September 27 when Ole Miss beat Florida at The Swamp, 31-30. The Year of the Upset in 2007 looked like it just discovered a long-lost sibling. Some will say Florida beat itself that day with a missed extra-point and an uninspired effort but that's not why we're here.
It is because Señor Superman retired to the locker room after the loss, meditated on it for a while, and came out firing.
"To the fans and everybody of Gator Nation, I'm sorry. Extremely sorry," Tebow said, fighting back tears. "We wanted an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here. I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this.
"You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see another player push his team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.
Without saying it, Tebow said it. Called his shot. Pointed his bat toward the Wrigley Field bleachers and swung from the heels. It was his George Gipp moment.
You know what happened next. Actually, it took nine weeks but Tebow made good on his "promise". Here are the Gators in the SEC Championship Game for the second time in three years. They've been so destructive since Tebow's rant that Alabama -- No. 1 Alabama -- is a 10-point underdog.
How many players would 1) stand up in front of the media and say something as hokey as that and 2) deliver on it?
"You probably wouldn't find too many players," said Alabama's Rashad Johnson.
The unspoken subtext to Tebow's comments was that Florida was going to win the rest of its games. Tebow didn't say it then and won't admit to it now but there was a guarantee buried in there somewhere.
|Since taking a hit from Ole Miss, Tim Tebow and the Gators have been unstoppable. (Getty Images)|
Win one for the Timmer?
"If Florida goes on and beats Alabama and gets into the BCS title game and wins the title game, this thing will take on a life of its own," Lundquist said. "It will be remembered as one of the great statements by a college player in a long, long time."
This much is certain: This is the biggest SEC title game ever. It is as close to a national semifinal as you can get. The winner goes to South Florida -- the loser gets the Sugar Bowl as a consolation. It is one of the biggest games overall in SEC history. Go no further than this amazing stat: This is the first game in AP poll history between SEC teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2.
At stake: The SEC title, a national championship, the legacies of a couple rock star coaches. A second consecutive Heisman for No. 15.
But that's not what any of this is about for Tebow. It's about a well-reasoned "guarantee". In a sport where personalities are sometimes smothered, Tebow spoke out. Yeah, some of you snickered but you had to admit it was different and interesting.
Spike the ball in the end zone? Flag. Step a few feet off the sideline? Five yards. Conform, conform, conform. The coaches don't help. Their players can go to war, get married and vote, but they aren't allowed to speak in public -- at least not with any regularity.
Before the biggest game of his career last month against Oklahoma, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell wasn't allowed to speak to the media for 12 days. After the 44-point loss, he didn't face the media. If that had been Tebow, he would have been texting, shouting, anything to express himself. It's called youthful exuberance -- it's also called accountability.
Florida has never shackled Tebow. How could it? He signs autographs after practice, is called up on stage by country singers, been on the cover of Men's Fitness. The kid isn't a doctor but he played one in the Philippines.
That's why Florida changed that day nine weeks ago. When Captain America speaks, people listen. Tebow might be the only college player alive who could say what he did on Sept. 27 -- and then pull it off.
"I didn't want to make any rash statements just out of emotion," he said. "I really thought about it in my locker. I really tried to say heartfelt things, didn't try to make any statements like, 'We're going to win the rest of our games.'"
Except that's exactly what he said. In a way.
Look at the numbers. Since that day, no team has been closer than 28 points to the Gators. Meanwhile, Tebow revived that serious talk about another Heisman. West of Gainesville, the country is infatuated with Big 12 quarterbacks. At Florida, the numbers are down but the leadership is up.
"He plays the perfect position to do that," Johnson said. "You can tell the team thrives off him."
The Gators developed a more socialist personality. They have a legitimate running game now, with Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. Percy Harvin just keeps getting more dangerous. Meanwhile, the quarterback has the worst rushing average of his career (3.7 yards).
From complementary secret weapon in '06 to Heisman winner in '07 to -- facilitator in '08?
"Overall, I thought I had a better year as a quarterback managing the offense," said Tebow. And, no, he didn't forget those 55 touchdowns he was a part of last season.
Managing. Maybe that's the best way to assess this Florida season. Tebow is less of a star this season and more of a spokesman.
"That was my No. 1 focus, getting us to the SEC championship," he said. "Being here, it means a lot. I'm satisfied now that we've gotten to this point."
Satisfied, not finished.