Saturday night, there was crying in football. And I kind of loved it.
Not the series of events that preceded the tears. As a Gator fan, it was hard to watch Florida lose the SEC title and a shot at the Texas-Florida matchup we’ve been anticipating for a year. But the meaning behind those tears. Sitting in the press box as the clock on the 2009 SEC Championship ticked down to 0:00, it was hard not to get a little teary-eyed. You didn’t have to be a Gator fan, or a Tim Tebow fan, to understand where those tears were coming from. Those tears were about heart. And passion. Teammates and fans. Those tears were about loss. And they were about love.
As an impartial member of the media, I couldn’t help but be impressed by an Alabama team that played itself into championship form over the past few weeks. Bama was nearly flawless at every position, and they played their best game of football on the day they needed to play their very best. They made plays when they needed to make plays. Florida did not. Florida looked hungover. Perhaps it was a DOH (delayed-onset hangover) from the high of last year’s SEC championship.
Before the game, I began reporting out a few possible stories for our BCS preview issue. Although we sure did try, we couldn’t predict who would win either conference championship Saturday night. One of those stories, in case Florida and Texas were headed to Pasadena, was a Tebow-McCoy piece about what it means to be an icon. What it means to be the most beloved player in your school’s history headed into a game to play another most-beloved player for a national title.
I spoke to fans and cheerleaders, the UF Mic Man, Gainesville sports radio hosts and Reidel Anthony, who was standing on the Florida sideline. I asked them all how they felt about Tebow, what he meant to them, what he meant to the University of Florida and why people have responded to him in a way they have never responded to a college athlete. Anthony ranks him #1 all-time and says he made people forget about his own QB. “When I was here, I thought Danny [Wuerffel] was God. Everyone thought Danny was God,” Anthony said. “That was nothing compared to the way people feel about Tim.”
I got a lot of great thoughts from folks wearing a lot of orange and blue. Unfortunately, that story will not be written. But one answer that stuck with me after the game came from Holly Reed, a member of the Gator cheerleading team and a lifelong Gator fan. Before the game, Holly told me the reason people love Tim Tebow is because he’s not afraid to be who he is all the time. He’s not afraid of what being himself might make other people think about him. He rides a scooter around campus. He is open about his beliefs, religious and otherwise. He head butts linemen during games, makes impassioned promises and then keeps them, and he is never too busy for anyone.
But, above all, she said, “He isn’t afraid to cry. And he doesn’t care who sees him.”