MIAMI -- It sounds incredibly sappy, maybe even delusional. In this hard-bitten world, it's foolish to call anyone the greatest.
So before going there, let's ease into the subject of this BCS title game. Florida-Oklahoma has a chance to be the best title game of the 11-year BCS era, outstripping the 2006 Rose Bowl classic between Texas and USC. One of the coaches is going to win his second national championship this decade. Two Heisman winning quarterbacks meet for the second time in a title game. The amount of future NFL talent ready to go to the next level could make this game a different kind of classic -- in draft war rooms.
But there is something more at stake here. Think if you got to see Babe Ruth call his shot at Wrigley Field.
Or Red Grange account for six touchdowns three different ways against Michigan.
|The greatest ever? Tim Tebow might laugh off such a debate, but don't be fooled: This guy is a serious competitor. (AP)|
Doesn't Tim Tebow have a little of all those guys in him? The flair of Gretzky and Jordan? The confidence of Ruth (remember Ole Miss)? The game-changing ability of Grange? The problem is, no one has ever made the leap you're about to read with a straight face.
It's not cool for a sportswriter to gush, but when it's right there in front of you, you've got to report the facts.
Tim Tebow might be the greatest college football player of all time.
Not the best. Lord knows, there are others bigger and faster. We're talking greatest. Total package: Impact. Championships. Football skills. Humanitarian skills. College football's GOAT. And a legacy that, like Grange or Jim Thorpe before him, has a chance to last decades.
"I don't know if he's the best passer. I don't know if he has the best arm," said Florida teammate Percy Harvin. "I do think he'll go down as the most dominating player to play college football."
In this meeting of Heisman-winning quarterbacks, Tebow has overshadowed Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. Not intentionally. Tebow is Superman, Larry Csonka with an arm, the milk-guzzling superstar with 108 career touchdowns and almost 2,000 career rushing yards.
The 2008 winner, Bradford, is the quiet, humble, pocket-passing hero of the Cherokee Indian Nation.
"It's not going to come down to one player," Bradford said of the quarterback comparison.
BCS Title Game thread
Oklahoma will crush UF
Give the AP to Utah
Gator fans have no class
SEC or Big 12?
Sooners have no defense?
Florida | Oklahoma | CFB
Florida | Oklahoma | CFB
Pirateball: I love bowls
Actually, it might. Ask Barry Switzer.
"Who would I rather have?" the former Oklahoma coach asked. "If I was coaching, I'd probably want Tebow."
"We always tell him," Bob Stoops said, cautioning Bradford about trying to do too much, "don't try to be Superman."
There's only one of those.
All that is said with the reminder that Tebow's numbers are down across the board from his Heisman-winning season. Whatever the result Thursday night, it will be because what Tebow does -- or doesn't -- do.
Oklahoma has to stop or slow him to win. End of game analysis.
Alabama was preoccupied with Tebow in the SEC Championship Game a month ago. Nick Saban thought he had devised a defense to slow, if not altogether stop, Tebow and Florida's single-wing hybrid offense. 'Bama came to line with three different defensive options based on Florida's offensive look. Other teams came to the line showing Florida what it was going to do. Alabama disguised it and led after three quarters.
Saban and Tide still couldn't prevent a fourth-quarter comeback. It was the first in Tebow's 25 career starts.
Is Tim Tebow the greatest college football player of all time?
Total Votes: 19,049
Even more than that, how do you measure a man who barged into a defensive huddle on the sideline that night and urged his teammates to get a stop? A loss against Ole Miss in September got him so fired up that he went out and helped lead the team to nine consecutive wins.
It's the total package that puts him near the top of any all-time list. Florida's junior quarterback is attempting to win his -- and the Gators' -- second national championship in three years. That might surpass, in many fans' minds, the accomplishments of the greatest Gator of them all, Steve Spurrier.
"He's the quarterback of the future," Spurrier said during Tebow's freshman year. "Actually, he's the quarterback of today. He's just a guy that can run around and break some tackles and still gets balls off. He's really the type of quarterback that almost everyone is looking for."
Two years later, Tebow has solidified his spot among all-time Gators while the one-time, standalone all-time Gator still can't find a quarterback.
The comparisons go beyond Bradford and Spurrier for Tebow. Thorpe played multiple sports and is known by some as the country's greatest amateur athlete. But to call him a humanitarian probably would be a mistake.
Barry Sanders was basically a one-and-done guy at Oklahoma State, where he set the single-season rushing record and left after his junior season. Sammy Baugh was an innovator. Herschel Walker bulldozed the way for the Bulldogs. The best comparison to Tebow might be to modern-day greats -- Vince Young and Tommie Frazier.
Both won championships. Both were option guys. Young is considered by many to be the best player in Texas history. Frazier wasn't much of a thrower, but his spectacular performance in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl convinced Spurrier to go out and hire a young-buck defensive coordinator from Kansas State. Bob Stoops was part of a national championship in his first season at Florida.
Now, as Oklahoma's coach, Stoops is trying to defend against the next evolution of those players. Frazier's coach, Tom Osborne, has admitted to channel surfing on game days and being most impressed with Urban Meyer's version of the zone read offense that has made Tebow a star.
"Boy," Osborne told the Omaha World-Herald, "I wish I had thought of that."
Like Tebow, Grange had otherworldly skills for his time and helped stamp college football in the national consciousness. That ideal still exists today in small way. College players are still generally portrayed as young and innocent until they prove otherwise. Tebow has never given us reason to doubt his character.
"Most people are just very skeptical," Bob Tebow said between shots during a round of golf with his sons on Wednesday.
Those skeptics can't believe, Bob says, that his son is so squeaky clean. They can't believe he drinks a glass of milk the night before a big game or that he enjoys Sinatra.
"Send In The Clowns," Tim said proudly.
|'He'll be a quarterback in the NFL,' Bob Tebow says of his son. (US Presswire)|
True, Tebow has missed on 33.9 percent of his career passes. (Obviously, a 66.1 percent completion rate isn't bad.) He doesn't pick up every third-and-short. But he does show up at 6 a.m. to work out with the offensive linemen when his teammates are still catching Z's. He did stand up in front of 10,000 Filipinos at age 15 to talk about his Christian faith.
"I come to work every day with a guy whose sole purpose is to be the best at everything he does," offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "Want to go race? Race him around the stadium right now. He's going to win. He's made me a much better person."
On the GOAT question, Mullen doesn't necessarily want to go there. As great as Tebow has been, there is the issue of his senior season still to go if he doesn't opt for the NFL after Thursday.
"I think if he comes back next year, if he develops like he will next year, we will be hard-pressed to put anyone above him," Mullen said. "He might not be the best quarterback, best this, best that. Best football player? He might be."
If Tebow comes back, he could nail down another honor: career leader in awards. One Heisman (at least). A shot at three national championships depending on what happens Thursday night. All-SEC and All-America honors coming out the ying-yang.
Oklahoma's Dominique Franks doesn't think much of the sensation he is about to face. The OU corner said this week that Tebow would be the fourth-best quarterback in the Big 12. At best.
"I'm just thankful for being fourth," Tebow said, smiling.
His teammates, though, see the look in their quarterback's eyes. It doesn't take much to get those competitive juices going. When he lost the Heisman last month (despite getting the most first-place votes), he said, "Why forget about it? I'll be motivated enough."
"You don't want to wake up a sleeping giant," Harvin said. "Tebow, you just kind of leave him alone. Now you've got to deal with him running even harder. You don't want to give him extra ammunition."
"Motivation" is usually an eye-roller for journalists. Just another cliché. Tebow puts a face on it. He will always find a cause. During three offseason breaks, Tebow made mission trips to the Philippines, Croatia and Thailand. He has made 11 visits to prisons to teach the gospel.
He might play two years in the NFL, he might play 15. But at some point his entire life is going to be directed to spreading his faith. The NFL is merely the next goal/hurdle. The family is tired of hearing that Tim can't quarterback at the next level. Tebow has the mobility and size to get around in the pocket, but critics question his throwing ability.
"That's hysterical, hilarious," Bob said, "All the quarterback problems they have in the NFL? He'll be a quarterback in the NFL. It's hard to even comment on it without saying something about the person's intelligence who is making that comment."
Will Superman be OK if he never plays in the pros?
"Yeah, I'll be OK," he said. "Will I be upset? Obviously. That's my goal. But, no, it's not going to mean my life is over because there are a lot more things that are important to me."
Life continues Thursday night.