MIAMI -- It had to be a jump pass.
It had to be the signature play of Tim Tebow's career because if we never see him as a Gator again we'll always have the scene in our minds with 3 minutes, 7 seconds left in Thursday's BCS title game.
We'll remember all the daggers he stuck through all the hearts. We'll remember the victory laps, the Gator chomps, the goofy grins, the fullback-quality runs. But if Thursday night was the end, then we'll remember the jump pass.
That particular play is how we began this story more than two years ago. Tebow amazed a nation -- Gator and the U.S. -- against LSU in October 2006. The freshman took only 15 snaps that day, threw two touchdowns and ran for another in a 13-point victory. But it was a jump pass to Tate Casey that everyone remembers. That was basically the beginning of the Tebow legend. It was half jump shot, half shot put but it worked and showed how different the kid was.
"That put the jump pass on the map," offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said.
If that's how it began then it is fitting that it might have ended the same way. Tebow has grown from novelty act to one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever. Really, what does he have left to accomplish unless it's a third title and a second Heisman?
Goodbye Tim, we hardly knew you. That is, assuming that Tebow takes his multiple talents to the NFL after winning his, and Florida's, second national championship in three years. After helping win the SEC's third consecutive national championship and the league's fourth in seven years.
It's no certainty that Tebow will leave but if this were Hollywood, the scene at Dolphin Stadium would fade to black and we'd all be applauding.
"He's not even alive," SEC commissioner Mike Slive gushed. "He's a legend."
The history of the jump pass in the Florida playbook actually goes back to 2003. Mullen and Urban Meyer used it at Utah to beat Air Force in triple overtime. A former tight end, 6-foot-1, 253-pound Ben Moa, threw the game-winner on a direct snap. From there, the coaches brought it to Florida where it probably still would be sitting in the playbook had not a certain 240-pound quarterback come along.
"I don't think this will be his last year," said Mullen who vowed to keep the jump pass on his call sheet when he moves to Mississippi State.
Enough about Tebow for a moment. Even if he doesn't come back, you might have noticed that Florida has something special going on. The defense that held Oklahoma to its lowest point total in more than two years has no seniors.
Hybrid tailback/receiver Percy Harvin looked like a tease as his fans wondered if he'd play with that high ankle sprain. Harvin was the last player out for warmups -- even then he could be seen limping. Thank goodness for adrenaline. With his glands shooting him full of Mother Nature's painkiller, Harvin ran for 122 yards on only nine carries.
"That was one of the guttiest performances I've ever been around," Meyer said.
|'He's not even alive,' SEC commissioner Mike Slive gushed about Tim Tebow. 'He's a legend.' (US Presswire)|
"He tried to hurt me but it didn't work," Harvin said. "I knew all along I was going to play this game."
Tebow later got into it with Harris giving him his version of the Gator Chomp. Flags flew, but what the hell.
"He's running tomorrow at 6 a.m.," Meyer said smiling. "We'll teach him a lesson."
Watching backup quarterback John Brantley in warmups it's obvious the Gators could keep this dynasty thing going without Tebow. Brantley was a five-star kid from near Gainesville who has been willing to wait around. He's more of a traditional pocket passer with a rocket arm.
Whether he has the intangibles of a certain No. 15, though, remains to be seen.
"He's got it, man," offensive line coach Steve Addazio said of Tebow. "I've been around this game a long time. I've heard all this 'fundamental' and that 'pretty spiral' ... at the end of the day who's got it? He's got the most it I've been around in my career."
The jump pass is how it ended for Oklahoma trying to overcome Tebow, Florida and a gnawing sense of Can't Win The Big One. Bob Stoops falls to 1-3 in these BCS title games. It was still a game when Florida began driving from its own 24 with 10 minutes left in the game. There was still hope for the Sooners, who trailed only 17-14.
But momentum is a funny thing. Oklahoma never quite grabbed it. The Sooners intercepted Tebow twice in the first half. That equaled the quarterback's season total. But Heisman winner Sam Bradford threw two picks himself, the first at the Florida 1 with three seconds in the first half.
Oklahoma forged two ties at 7-7 and 14-14 but the record-setting offense that averaged 54 points a game never took off. Suddenly, those 702 points, the most in the modern era, don't mean much. The offense that failed to score only four times in 80 trips to the red zone missed twice inside the 10 on Thursday.
That might have been the difference in the game had Oklahoma converted.
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"It's heart breaking we didn't get this," OU safety Lendy Holmes said.
Meanwhile, Florida slogged through a game that could have passed for one of those humidity-filled Saturday night classics in the SEC. After that 7-7 tie Tebow came in at halftime and began demanding the ball.
"He just said, 'Just don't be afraid to give me the ball,' " Mullen said. "You want to keep getting it to the playmakers."
But Mullen gave in and began calling more runs for his quarterback. On a 75-yard drive that put Florida ahead 14-7 in the third quarter, Tebow ran it six times for 49 yards.
The debate about Big 12 offenses vs. SEC defenses was answered. The highest-scoring offense of the modern era was held to 40 points under its average. Florida also blocked a field goal, its ninth blocked kick of the season
The Gators (13-1) joined USC (2003, 2004) and Nebraska (1996, 1997) as the last teams to dominate the sport to this extent. For Oklahoma's Stoops it was another bitter BCS loss. The Sooners coach has lost five consecutive BCS games.
While no one is sure if that jump pass was Tebow's last at Florida, something else became clear. Not only is Florida the consensus national champion, it might just be getting started.
"It definitely feels like a dynasty," Florida linebacker Ryan Stamper said. "Hopefully we'll do the same thing next year."