NEW YORK — This was what Heisman Trophy moments are all about. There he was, the latest and greatest college football legend, getting a hug from the embodiment of everything that the Heisman Trophy stands for. It happened on the top step leading up to the podium where the 25 pounds of bronze that is the 2007 Heisman Trophy waited for Tim Tebow to accept, but acceptance could wait. There was the matter of a hug from the role model his parents picked out for him when he was just a little guy.
Tim Tebow’s night of nights, when he was chosen the best college football in the entire country, was validated when Danny Wuerffel, the Heisman Trophy winner of 1996, stepped away from a group of past Heisman winners from the 1990s to offer congratulations to the sophomore who is likely to erase every record he ever set at the University of Florida. It was the brand new legend getting a hug from the legend whose place is secure in the heart of every Gator.
But it was more.
It was one son of a preacher being hugged by another son of a preacher and when you’re talking Florida football and quarterbacks, sons of preachers seem to be a rather magical combination. Steve Spurrier was the first Florida Heisman Trophy winner back in 1966. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister from Tennessee and 30 years later he would coach Wuerffel, the son of a Lutheran chaplain in the United States Air Force, to a national championship and a Heisman Trophy.
Spurrier was Steve Superior, the guy that Furman Bisher once wrote would be the favorite to live through his own execution. He was the quarterback at the University of Florida back when Tim Tebow’s dad, Bob Tebow, was first making a name for himself as an on-campus preacher who held Sunday night church services at fraternity houses.
Wuerffel was the kid that sang Amazing Grace in the locker room after leading Fort Walton Beach to the state football championship at The Swamp in December of 1991. He was too good to be true. He said all the right things. He did all the right things. Even his enemies couldn’t hate him. He was all about championships, too — four SEC titles and the 1996 national championship.
And then there was Tim Tebow, just a nine-year-old the year that Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy. Tim wanted to be a great football player. Bob and Pam Tebow wanted their son to be a great Christian that just happened to play football. When they needed a role model for their youngest of five children, they only had to look to The Swamp, where Wuerffel was setting one record after another.
“When my parents looked for a role model for me, they chose Danny Wuerffel,” said Tebow.
So it was more than appropriate Saturday night that Tim Tebow found himself in the embrace of Wuerffel. That was a Heisman moment to remember.
But it was more than that.
“That was two American heroes hugging each other,” said Craig Howard, who coached Tim Tebow to a state championship at Nease High School. “You won’t find two young men anywhere with more character who are better role models anywhere. Those are real American heroes.”
Howard knew he had something special on his hands a few years ago when Tim Tebow showed up at Nease High School, hoping to play quarterback. Howard saw the obvious — Tebow was a physical specimen even when he was 15 — but what struck him was the character and the ability to lead.
Tebow had that it factor — that whatever it is, Tebow has it factor. It’s that special whatever it is that creates a certain charisma, almost an aura. Tim Tebow has it and people notice.
He’s always had it.
When he was just a little tyke in The Philippines, where he was born and where mom and dad were missionaries, he was quite capable of entertaining himself. Bob and Pam would give him a shovel and a pail and a toy or two and put him in a sand box all alone a few feet away from where they were working.
A few minutes later, they looked up and Tim had a few playmates. A few minutes later, there were even more playmates.
“He didn’t even have to say a word,” said Pam Tebow Thursday night when Tim accepted the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Awards at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Orlando. “He just sat there and kids gravitated to him. He never lacked for playmates. They just wanted to do whatever he was doing.”
Bob Tebow says nothing has changed over the years.
“He’s always been that way,” said Bob, whose Bob Tebow Evangelical Association still runs an orphanage and ministries in The Philippines. “He has something about him that makes him a natural leader.”
Urban Meyer calls Tebow the greatest natural leader he’s ever been around. A couple of years ago, when he was going head to head for Tebow with Mike Shula and Alabama in the recruiting battle of his life, Meyer remembers something Greg Mattison told him on a plane coming back from a recruiting trip to Pennsylvania.
Mattison, Florida’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, recruits the St. Augustine area. Tebow was his number one target but it was a down to the wire finish and Alabama was almost dead even with the Gators.
“We had just beat FSU and I said, ‘What do you think about Tim? He’s deciding tomorrow,’” Meyer recalled. “He [Mattison] said, ‘Well, if we don’t get him it will set our program back 10-15 years.’ I said no it won’t … let him go to Alabama, we’ll be all right. He looked at me and said, ‘No we won’t. We’ve got to get Tim Tebow.’ I remember that like it was yesterday.”
Howard, who unleashed a spread offense that allowed Tebow to set state records in total offense, passing and touchdowns produced, knew how close the decision was between Florida and Alabama. When Tebow asked his coach’s advice about where he should go to school, Howard reminded Tim about Wuerffel.
“Look at whose autographed poster you have on your wall,” said Howard, who was as proud as a papa Saturday night at the Heisman ceremony. “I told him to look at who his hero is … look at what colors he’s got in his room … look at his mailbox [it’s orange and blue].
“I said look at those things and look at the character of the coach you’ll play for [Urban Meyer]. I had told Tim when Urban Meyer came from Utah that the combination of this high character coach and Tim Tebow could mean two Heisman Trophies.”
On a Saturday night when Tim Tebow became the first sophomore in history to win the Heisman Trophy, a second Heisman — maybe even a third — isn’t out of the question. It’s hard to imagine he could get better, but he could. You know he will work as hard as he has to and then some to improve.
When reminded that Florida’s three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks have all been sons of preachers, Urban Meyer grinned and answered, “If you know any others that are out there, let me know about them.”
Maybe somewhere, on this night of nights for the latest Gator legend, some young kid who is a promising athlete, took a look at Tim Tebow accepting the Heisman Trophy on ESPN and decided he wanted to be just like Florida’s finest. Maybe that young kid is also the son of a preacher.
You certainly can’t argue with the success rate of the formula.
Can I get an amen?