Tim Tebow came to Alabama Wednesday night, speaking to a packed high school football stadium in Albertville a life of faith in sports.
He also brought a familiar story – how, as a high school senior, Tebow picked the University of Florida over the University of Alabama.
“I had to tell the world where I was going to play, but the problem was that I didn’t know,” he said.
It is one of the more tantalizing “what ifs” in recent college football history. Tebow, of course, won two national championships and the Heisman trophy in Gainesville. He might have won a third title, had it not been for Alabama. However, if Tebow had gone to the Capstone, would he have been successful enough there to help Coach Mike Shula keep his job? If so, that would have prevented the eventual hire of Nick Saban, who’s won a few games in Tuscaloosa since.
Yet Tebow used the story to illustrate a larger point about a divine plan for every life. As many as 14,000 people came to the event, which involved 45 different northeast Alabama churches and hundreds of volunteers.
Tebow said he had narrowed his choice down to five schools – Michigan, USC, LSU, Alabama and Florida. But really, it was only down to the Tide and the Gators.
He was leaning toward Alabama, he said, because of the people, the tradition and the program, and Shula. But he was also drawn to Florida and Coach Urban Meyer, and he couldn’t make up his mind. His father Bob told him to “just pray about it.”
“But I’d been doing that for the last 10 years,” he said.
Tebow said even though he prayed, talked to pastors, talked to friends and his coach, he still couldn’t figure out which way to go. A news conference was scheduled for 3 p.m. on Dec. 13, 2005. He was set to give a speech announcing his decision, he said, but the final space for his destination was blank.
It was a conversation with Bob that finally made the difference. His father asked what Tim’s priority was. He answered that he wanted to be around great people.
“What if it’s just one person?” Bob replied. “Who would you pick?”
“I love a lot of people at Alabama, I love Coach Shula,” Tebow began, “but honestly, it would probably be Coach Meyer. There’s something special about him. When I talk to him, I believe in what he’s saying and he believes in me.”
Tebow said he called Shula to tell him he had chosen Florida. Shula, Tebow said, told the quarterback he loved him just as much as he had getting to know him, and that he was sure he’d be successful wherever he went. “Maybe someday I’ll get to coach you,” he said.
“I was very emotional,” Tebow said. “I started to cry. That’s not the only time Alabama made me cry.”
Tebow, of course, was alluding to the tears he shed in December 2009, when Alabama defeated previously unbeaten Florida in his senior year at the SEC Championship Game. It was a game he later said had left him devastated.
The reference to his crying prompted the crowd to laugh, and a few shouted “Roll Tide.”
Tebow continued, “That’s not that funny.”
Even after he called Shula, Tebow said he was having second thoughts. He tried to call Meyer, but before he could tell him, the coach’s phone went dead. When Tebow called back, it went straight to voice mail.
“I wasn’t going to tell him on voice mail,” he said. But he realized that he had only talked to Shula. As he began his announcement, it dawned on Tebow that he could still go to Alabama. Instead, he remembered the conversation with his father, and opted for the Gators.
Still, he said, he didn’t feel a huge sense of relief. Tebow told the crowd that the experience taught him that even after prayer and trusting in God, one can still feel anxiety.
“That doesn’t mean God wasn’t leading me,” he said. “God had a plan for that, even though I couldn’t see it.”
He went on to recount meetings with inspiring people, and how he learned to deal with his own disappointments and successes. He told the teens huddled on the field before him to find their identities in something imperishable and not to be seduced by unforgiving standards of success that will leave them broken.
“You’re not an accident,” he told them. “You’re important. you’re loved by the God of the Universe.”
SOURCE: AL.com – William Thornton