The Manning family – father Archie and sons Peyton, Eli and Cooper – knows a little bit about the quarterback position, and after all the games have been played, they believe they know who was the best college quarterback during the 2008 season.
“We’re thrilled that Tim Tebow is our Manning Award winner for this year,” said Archie Manning, the former Ole Miss standout and College Football Hall of Fame member who later starred in the National Football League and watched his sons have All-America seasons (Peyton at Tennessee and Eli at Mississippi) and win the last Super Bowls with their teams (Peyton with the Colts; Eli with the New York Giants).
If the Mannings are thrilled, think how the Gators’ junior quarterback feels. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner who finished third in this year’s balloting behind winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Colt McCoy, Tebow outdueled Bradford in the BCS National Championship Game as the Gators beat the Sooners, 24-14.
“It’s one of the best because it takes in the bowl which is obviously probably the biggest game of the year,” Tebow said in a teleconference Thursday. “So that’s something that I think is really special and that’s what makes this award very special. And also because it comes from the Mannings, who will go down as some of the greatest football quarterbacks in history. So it’s very special for me.”
Archie Manning, who was in the Georgia Dome to witness Tebow direct two fourth-quarter drives to help the Gators defeat unbeaten Alabama 31-20 to gain a spot in the national championship game, thought this year’s quarterback class was a deep and talented one.
“We feel Tim is certainly a worthy recipient and an outstanding winner for us,” the elder Manning said. “But I might add that I think it’s one of the greatest years I’ve ever seen in college football – the quarterback class of 2008, evidenced (how) they will be high picks in the (NFL) draft, Heisman Trophy winners and very productive players throughout the country. We’re also really thrilled and proud of our past winners. We’re just very proud to add Tim to this list, and we look forward to getting him to New Orleans sometime this spring and honoring him as the Manning winner.”
Tebow led Florida to a 13-1 record by completing 64 percent of his passes (192 of 298) for 2,746 yards and 30 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He added another 673 yards on 176 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. In the championship game, Tebow completed 18 of 30 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed 22 times for 109 yards.
The Manning Award was created by the Allstate Sugar Bowl to honor the Mannings. New Orleans and national media persons along with the Mannings each have a vote. Tebow is the fourth winner of the award, which started after the 2004 season. Southern California’s Matt Leinart won the inaugural award and was followed by Vince Young of Texas, JaMarcus Russell of Louisiana State and Matt Ryan of Boston College.
Though he finished third in this year’s Heisman balloting, Tebow did win the 2008 Maxwell Award (as the most outstanding player in the nation), the Wuerffel Trophy (as the player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement) and the Disney Sports Spirit Award (for his work in the classroom, on the football field and in his parents’ ministry). In addition to becoming the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in 2007, Tebow also won the Sullivan Award as the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.
Archie Manning, who has tutored a couple of outstanding quarterbacks himself, is convinced that Tebow is among the best in history at the position.
“Well, I made the remark this year,” Manning said. “I was fortunate enough to be at the SEC Championship Game working for CBS, and I said that I think he’s one of the best football players I’ve ever seen. Tim has developed every year. I’ve seen him play a lot in the game, especially here, and he’s developed so much as a player, as a quarterback, and, of course, as a passer. And I’m sure that he’ll admit there have been greater passers, there have been greater runners, but when you come to just overall football player and the ability to lead his team and will his team to win, I don’t think that I’ve seen anybody do it any better.”
It’s only been two weeks since the Gators captured the crown, but Tebow and his teammates haven’t slowed down. He also has juggled right shoulder surgery with the elation of being a two-time national champion with another season to go.
“We’ve been keeping busy, but still trying to enjoy it,” he said. “Because it’s such a great time and such an unbelievable experience that we really wanted to try to soak it in, but at the same time we’re busy with recruiting and with getting everything back in order and getting to work and hopefully trying to win another one.”
Tebow didn’t dare utter the words, but is there any doubt that a perfect season is ultimately what he and his teammates are striving for?
“I think always here at the University of Florida our expectations level is high and I think our expectations of ourselves are higher than anybody else could put on us, so I don’t think there will be any pressure there,” Tebow said “I think coming off (2007) there was already a lot of pressure after winning a Heisman and everything. So, I think that we’re used to handling that and I think that I’m used to handling that. So, I think we really just need to be focused and focused on taking it one game at a time. We need to play with passion and enthusiasm and love for the game every time that we step out there and not let the hype get to us and not let the pressure get to us and play the game we love.”
Tebow believes he has room for improvement, and he, backup John Brantley and incoming Class of 2009 quarterback Jordan Reed will benefit under the tutelage of new quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler.
“I feel that we have a great quarterback coach in here who really knows a lot about the next level and a lot about quarterback play, so I’m going to spend practically every second with him working on a lot of different things and trying to prepare myself for the next level,” Tebow said. “But, even more importantly, I want to prepare my team for an opportunity to be successful next year and to accomplish our goals, which are to win another SEC Championship and have a shot at a national championship.”
I asked Tebow what areas Loeffler has indicated he will be focusing on to improve.
“Well, it’s just mechanics – footwork, balance, keeping everything in real tight and just working on all of those things,” Tebow said. “You know, I haven’t really gotten an opportunity to throw or anything after the game because of my surgery. So, I’m still waiting to get back out there and start throwing again and really start working on some things. But, right now, it’s just trying to get back healthy.”
The Manning Award winner still has many detractors who feel that he will not be able to perform at the position in the NFL. One to never back down from a challenge, Tebow can’t wait to prove them wrong.
“I’m excited about it,” Tebow said. “I’m going to work harder than anybody in the country to succeed at it. I hope that somebody gives me an opportunity. And whatever they tell me to work on, I will work extremely hard on that, whether it’s pocket presence or mechanics or throwing and anything like that. I will work on it and learn it. And, I’ll do my best to be successful at it.”
In case you still doubt him, just check out Tim Tebow’s growing trophy case.