How Tim Tebow Transformed from College Stud to NFL Dud
Examples from across history litter the professional game, from Archie Griffin and Brian Bosworth to Tommie Frazier and Matt Leinart. College success—no matter how great or historically significant—does not guarantee any sort of prosperity in the NFL.
But Tebow's riches to rags story is certainly unique in its ebbs and flows and polarizing nature.
Quite possibly the greatest college football player in history—and certainly the most accomplished of this generation—Tebow was eventually drafted in the first round, went on to produce one magical season in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and is now out of job, spurned by the comical little brothers in the Big Apple after just one calendar year.
Along the way, Tebow found himself transform from heaven-sent to relentlessly loathed in the public eye, at least to a substantial subset of the general population.
How did such an devolution happen, both inside and outside the white lines?
Tebow's tale holds the answers.
The football story of Tim Tebow begins for most in 2006, when the lefty, spread-option quarterback chose Urban Meyer and the University of Florida over a number of schools—including tradition-soaked Alabama.
Tebow's choice proved to be a good one.
As Alabama struggled to a 6-6 season under Mike Shula, Tebow became nothing short of a rock star for the ascending Gators.
As a freshman, Tebow won the backup quarterback job behind incumbent Chris Leak and went on to play a part in several of Florida's biggest wins in 2006.
Down six points at Tennessee in mid-September, the Gators called on Tebow to convert a crucial fourth down late in the contest. After a timeout, Tebow picked up two yards when he needed one, and Leak would eventually throw a game-winning touchdown pass to keep Florida undefeated.
The legend of Tebow had officially been born.
He would later go on to score all three of Florida's touchdowns in a win over LSU in October, contribute two more scores during the Gators' romp over Ohio State in the National Championship game and finish as the team's second-leading rusher.
But Tebow's rise to superstardom was just beginning.
The next season, Tebow took hold of the starting job and produced a Heisman Trophy-winning season. He threw 32 touchdowns against just six interceptions, while also rushing for 23 scores, becoming the first player in NCAA history to both throw and run for 20 or more touchdowns in one season. He secured over 70 percent of the possible points to convincingly win the Heisman.
The Gators would finish 9-4 capped by a loss in the Capital One Bowl to Michigan, but a return to the peak of college football was right around the corner.
In 2008, Florida began the season 3-0, with convincing wins over Miami (Fl.) and Tennessee. The stacked Gators looked ready to become the first team in school history to go undefeated.
However, Ole Miss would provide both a devastating setback and a lasting inspirational moment in the fourth week.
The Rebels scored 24 second-half points and then stopped Tebow on a fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter to seal an upset win over the fourth-ranked Gators, who were 22-point favorites at home.
After the loss, an apologetic Tebow made it his personal mission to ensure his Gators would rise from the ashes.
Tebow, per ESPN's post-game story:
I'm sorry. I'm extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida's never done here. But I promise you one thing: a lot of good will come out of this...You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season and you'll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you'll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season.
The promises were kept.
Florida went on to win its next 10 games, most in blowout fashion. Among the victories were a 51-21 thrashing of LSU, a 49-10 romp over Georgia, a 56-6 cakewalk over South Carolina, a 45-15 pounding of in-state rival Florida State and a double-digit win over Alabama, who entered the SEC championship game as the No. 1-ranked team. Florida then beat Oklahoma by 10 points in the BCS National Championship Game to secure Tebow's second collegiate title.
Had it not been for Florida's loss to Ole Miss, the Gators' 2008 season might be considered the best ever. But without such a humbling defeat, it's entirely possible Tebow's team wouldn't have run roughshod through the rest of its daunting schedule. It remains as one of the better college football teams of the last 25 years.
A total of 13 Gators would be selected for All-SEC honors, with Tebow taking home the conference's player of the year. In the Heisman balloting, Tebow secured the most first-place votes but was upset by Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. Tebow finished third.
While disappointing in terms of outcome, the next season would see Tebow continue his assault on the collegiate record books.
The Gators rolled through the regular season 12-0 and held the top spot in AP polls for all but one week. However, Florida was beaten in the SEC Championship game by Alabama and was forced to settle for an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.
Along the way, Tebow made sure his name would live on in the annals of college football.
By the time the clock hit triple zeroes in his last collegiate game (a 51-24 blowout over Cincinnati), Tebow had set five NCAA, 14 SEC and 28 University of Florida records (per Florida profile). A three-time Heisman Trophy finalist, two-time national champion, two-time Maxwell award winner and two-time SEC Player of the Year, Tebow had produced a resume without equal at the college football ranks.
Despite four years of highs at Florida, life in the NFL has been an unfamiliar tale of occasional peaks and even lower valleys for Tebow.
Surprisingly drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos at No. 25 overall, Tebow quickly became the most celebrated backup quarterback in NFL history.
According to NFL.com, Tebow led NFL jersey sales in each month of the 2010 season.
While he had become one of the most famous athletes in the world, such a profile didn't amount to much in terms of early success.
The Broncos used him sparingly for most of 2010. Late in the season, Tebow finally got his chance.
Starting his first NFL game against the Oakland Raiders in December (which ended in a 39-23 loss), Tebow combined for two scores and a passer rating over 100. The next week, Tebow led the Broncos back from 17 points down at halftime to beat the Houston Texans.
Despite his late-season success, Tebow was not handed the quarterbacking duties to start 2011. With new head coach John Fox replacing Josh McDaniels—who made the push to draft Tebow in 2010—the Broncos instead went with veteran quarterback Kyle Orton to begin the season.
Denver limped out to a 1-4 record, with Orton playing poorly in each of the losses. By halftime of the Broncos' fifth contest, Fox made the move to Tebow. And so the magic of Tebow's 2011 season began.
While he didn't lead the Broncos all the way back against the San Diego Chargers, he did throw and run for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give Denver a chance. A week later, Tebow was named the starter over Orton.
The impossible suddenly became possible.
Facing the Miami Dolphins in his home state of Florida, Tebow brought the Broncos back from a 15-0 deficit late in the fourth quarter to win by three points, 18-15. No team since the 1970 merger had ever won a game after trailing by at least 15 points with under three minutes left, according to the Broncos' official website.
The improbable wins kept coming for the suddenly-surging Broncos.
Tebow helped win division games over the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. On Thursday Night Football, Tebow ran in a late score to upset the New York Jets. In San Diego, the Broncos won an overtime contest over the Chargers. He also rallied Denver to two unthinkable comebacks against the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.
The Broncos would finish the season 8-8, good enough for an AFC West title after a 1-4 start.
Tebow's NFL peak came in the Wild Card Round of the 2011 playoffs.
Facing a talented Pittsburgh Steelers defense, Tebow threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. His final throw—an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime—sealed the most improbable of wins for the Broncos, who prevailed by the final of 29-23.
Denver would get throttled the next week in New England, but another chapter in the Tebow saga had officially been penned.
Unfortunately for Tebow, life in the NFL has been downhill ever since.
Roughly two months after Tebow delivered one of the most dramatic moments in playoff history, the Broncos entered and won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Several days later, Denver traded Tebow to New York for fourth- and sixth-round draft picks.
And just like that, the magic ran out for Tim Tebow.
The Jets, who trotted Tebow out in front of a hoard of reporters for his introductory press conference, lacked a plan to use the quarterback. Allowed to throw just eight passes, Tebow was seen more on the punt team than behind center.
The Jets never saw Tebow as an answer at quarterback. His inability to complete passes at an NFL rate—no quarterback over the last three seasons has a lower completion percentage—killed any chance for Tebow to bring his improvisational quarterbacking style to the Jets starting lineup.
And by no fault of his own, Tebow became the poster child for the Jets' circus 2012 season.
ESPN, once a network devoted to delivering highlights and expert analysis, devoted a percentage of its coverage to Tebow like no athlete we've seen or probably will see. The cameras were rolling on Tebow nonstop from the day he stepped foot in New York, through training camp and all 17 of the brutally painful weeks.
Tebow, once a player worshipped as the best ever in college football, quickly devolved into a media punchline. Fans got sick and tired of hearing about a third-string quarterback. Armed with that knowledge, networks still continued driving Tebow down their throats.
And as fast as the universal love for him off the field dried up, so too did his chances of continuing on his NFL career.
The Jets, hamstrung by possibly the worst quarterback situation in the NFL in 2012, started Mark Sanchez 15 games and Greg McElroy one. Allowed a golden opportunity to give Tebow a start late in a lost season, the Jets decided instead to give one to a former seventh-round pick with a noodle arm.
If Tebow wasn't good enough to play in New York in 2012, he wasn't good enough to play anywhere.
And now, just two days after drafting West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and following an offseason in which they tried desperately to find a trade partner for their backup quarterback, the Jets released Tebow.
Will Tim Tebow play in the NFL during the 2013 season?
He cleared waivers and is now a free agent. A former football superhero, now unwanted by all 32 NFL teams.
Even the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, who hold the CFL rights to Tebow, publicly announced Tebow could come to Canada and compete—for a backup job.
Now at a laughable point, Tebow was recently offered a contract from the Omaha Beef of the Indoor Football League.
The scale of Tebow's fall from grace is almost unheard of.
The NFL gobbled up Tebow and spit him out like he was a former walk-on at a Division II college. There was no mercy, no lifeline for the greatest collegiate football player of our generation. Even in days following his greatest professional moment, Tebow was disregarded and sent away.
Now a player with no set position or team, but with a media following capable of crushing any NFL locker room, Tebow's time in the highest ranks of professional football appear shaky, at best.
From an all-universe amateur, a golden child with no flaws, to an unwanted free agent with baggage he willingly carries but didn't author. This is the transformation of Tim Tebow.
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