“I think America loves the great American hero who wants redemption and wants a second chance. America is built on second chances and commitment and hard work and dedication and that was a moment where it was stated and then it was followed through on.”
That sounds like it could be the crucial monologue in a John Wayne flick.
Instead it was delivered under a tent surrounded by screaming girls hoping for a glimpse of former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow.
SEC ESPN Network analyst Joe Tessitore was thinking back to an evening seven years ago involving Tebow and creating a moment that has lived on in lore and mythical proportions ever since.
Gator fans know the day, the moment and all that followed, pretty much by heart. There’s almost no need for rehashing the details, but a quick synopsis: the at-time undefeated Florida Gators welcomed the Ole Miss Rebels to The Swamp. Tebow and company were chasing an undefeated record (never done in Florida history) and another BCS National Championship.
The game came down to one.
One blocked Florida PAT that failed to put one extra point on the scoreboard.
One stuffed Gators run on fourth and one with less than one minute left, turning the ball over to the Rebs.
A one-point game, with the Florida Gators losing 31-30.
A one in the loss column, thusly ruining the undefeated season goal.
And, finally, one speech that would set the Gators on a trajectory towards a third National Championship.
For fans forced to sit through the excruciating loss, the game itself will never be forgotten, sort of like a horrible nightmare that revisits just when you think you’ve exorcised it.
Even Tebow himself can recall the details and he describes the nightmare as “agonizing.”
“I remember, we didn’t play as good as we could have,” Tebow recalls.
“And I remember we kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit and that was a lot to do with my lack of leadership in that game…you have to give Ole Miss credit…but we missed our opportunities. We missed our opportunity on 4th and 1, we missed the extra point,” and then sarcastically adds, “obviously you can’t tell I still remember it.”
After the game was mercifully over for the Florida Gators, Tebow was noticeably late for his press conference. Seven years later, we finally learn of his whereabouts.
“For a while after that game I was just sitting with Coach Meyer and we were just talking about it. I was sitting on the floor and kinda leaned up against him and we were talking about what we did, what could do better, what we did wrong, why did this happen. That’s why it took me so long to get to the press conference.”
That’s when the real show started because while the fans present remember the game, the majority of us saw it as a precursor to the memory, as junior running back Kelvin Taylor so adequately illustrates.
“2008? That was the game when after Tebow did that speech right?”
Yes Kelvin that was it.
“I remember that man, that speech. After that those guys were on a winning streak…I can’t recite it but I’m about to go look at it.”
All he has to do “to go look at it” is simply walk by the Heavener Football complex outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Tebow’s immortal words are engraved there, on a plaque, destined to live forever.
99 words that promised to work harder than anyone else, promised to push his team more than anyone else and promised to give it his all.
Then he did it.
“I see why it’s so remembered and so revered here,” says Tebow’s SEC Nation co-star, former LSU and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears.
“And the fact that they went out and did what he said they was gonna do. That’s heroic stuff.”
In fact the Florida Gators went on to run the table and capture that National Championship, thus enforcing Tebow’s promise.
Since then “The Promise” has become as much a part of Gators football history as Spurrier’s field goal, “Doering’s Got a Touchdown” and the chomp. High school kids memorize it for speech class, parents use it as a teaching tool and t-shirts declaring, “promise kept” dot The Swamp every game day.
Now Ole Miss is coming back to town for the first time since that day, ready to take down the Florida Gators while on their own quest for perfection. Sitting at no.3 in the polls, the Rebels are currently a high favorite to make it to the playoff. The Gators have found their way into the Top 25 as well, making this a marquee matchup and a chance for Florida to flip the script on Ole Miss.
While preparing for the showdown, nostalgia creeps in, bringing The Promise back to the forefront of everyone’s minds—not that it left the minds of anyone that has to the stadium through Gate 18 by the plaque.
Tim Tebow himself says he probably couldn’t remember the entire thing, but on that day, “I know what I felt in my heart.”
For Florida Gators players though, those words are still easily to recall, as seven years later they hope to keep not only their undefeated record but also Tebow’s timeless promise.