The Tim Tebow Countdown begins

The countdown has started and the days, if not hours, are falling off the calendar like autumn leaves in a stiff breeze as the final granules of sand pour through the hourglass.

It’s almost time for him to go.

We are not bidding adieu just yet, because there is unfinished business. On Monday at his press conference, Tim Tebow told us he was going to enjoy the rest of the ride and assured us, “Don’t worry – I’ll leave it all on the field.” As if we expected anything less.

Little by little, however, it is starting to set in that the end is near for Tebow, so it makes some of the little things quite special. Like Sunday night when Tebow took some playtime with two of his receiver-teammates with the lights on in The Swamp, chucking passes around with David Nelson and Aaron Hernandez like three kids in the ballyard. It was all for the joy, which is the Tebow way sometimes.

As I write what feels like the 100th column on Tebow – yes, I know some of you are moaning, “Oh no, not another one!” – the reality sets in that there are only eight quarters of football left for Tebow as a Gator quarterback on Florida Field. At best. Because no doubt several of those will go to Johnny Brantley this Saturday against Florida International.

This is not to bemoan the fact that No. 12 will be at quarterback next season instead of No. 15, because Brantley is a special talent whose incredible arm will be on display for two seasons as an NFL passer-to-be. Whereas we are in awe of Tebow’s football strike-force demeanor, we shall learn to appreciate the ballet that goes with the accuracy and precision of a Brantley pass. I am a huge Brantley fan, but a long-timer admirer of Tebow as well.

And for those of you who want me to turn this into a tribute to Tebow and his teammates, as important as they have been in his career, let me say that after four years of watching Tebow play every minute of his career, listening to every one of his interviews and conducting several one-on-one sessions with him, this one is more personal.

After January, no matter how you slice it, Gator football won’t be quite as much fun for a lot of us.

More than anything else, I will miss the joy Tebow has brought to the game. He makes it more fun for everybody – teammates, coaches, fans, and even the writers and broadcasters. It’s not just the enthusiasm with which he plays – it’s the enthusiasm for life, too.

And his wry sense of humor.

Like when I asked Tebow on Monday the exact location of his Heisman Trophy. In a corner of his parents’ home, he said, “behind the photos of my sister’s wedding with some bushes hanging down over it.”

It was Tebow’s little putdown of himself, a sort of self-inflicted ego check, and a way of saying that personal accomplishments aren’t nearly as important as what’s ahead: The chance for his team to go undefeated and win another national championship.

There is a remote chance, you know, that Tebow could wind up not even getting invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy finalists ceremony. That subject was kicked around Monday afternoon by various media types prior to the Tebow press conference. I don’t think it will happen because there is plenty of time for him to make up ground, even if Tim’s not leading the hypothetical Heisman Derby right now.

For a while there I worried that maybe he was beginning to lose some of that zest. There is an enormous pressure on his shoulders and sometimes he almost had to be at the cracking point – like the night before the national championship game when he called some of teammates together and asked them to pray. He was afraid of losing the game and letting down his teammates, coaches and The Gator Nation.

The saga of The Concussion was draining. It took a mental and physical toll on Tebow and there are still whispers of “he’s not the same quarterback.” Maybe he slides now or steps out of bounds, whereas he once relied on brute force. He’s more cautious with his passes, sometimes holding on to the football a little long in attempt to find a receiver. He may not seem quite as full of fire because you don’t see him popping into the defensive huddle to scream encouragement. But perhaps that has come with his own personal maturity and trust in the leadership of his teammates.

This is the championship run, however, and I expect more of the Old Tebow will come out in ensuing weeks

Though he badly wants that Heisman Trophy, he swears not nearly as much as the other accoutrements that come with winning.

After Tebow’s presser, I walked with a sports writer friend over to show him The Promise plaque. We reached up and ran our fingers over the metal plate and read the words again. The thought occurred to us that while they were meaningful, and they marked the beginning of an era that jump-started a 20-game (or more) winning streak, that they would perhaps resonate more profoundly in Gator lore one day. And right now we are seeing history unfold every day right before our eyes which should be celebrated.

At least for a few games more.