Elisabeth Meinecke

Tim Tebow was a championship, Heisman-winning quarterback in college and is now the talk of the NFL. But his real story is what goes on off the field.

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Townhall Magazine did a feature on Tim Tebow in the December 2010 issue -- way back when he was often found warming the bench in Denver despite a record-making collegiate career. The feature, however, was about the side of Tebow that seems to fuel the on-field performances that keep everyone glued to the TV. As Tebow continues to make headlines, we thought you'd enjoy this excerpt from the December 2010 piece:

For Tim Tebow, life began as a fight against the odds. His mother, Pam, fell ill with amoebic dysentery while working as a missionary in the Philippines but found out she was pregnant with Tim during her recovery. According to The Gainesville Sun, doctors said the treatment for her illness had damaged her unborn child. They recommended she have an abortion to save her life.

Pam said no and gave birth to one of the most durable football players ever to dress for a college game. Her son made college football history by becoming the fi rst sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy, an annual award given to college football’s best player. He won two national championships in college and was selected 25th overall in the 2010 NFL draft, shocking football academia who speculated he wouldn’t go that high or before other quarterbacks in his class.

But his biggest impact in college was yards away from any football field

THE TEBOW YOU HAVEN’T SEEN

A few days before Christmas 2008, Angie Gregory and her relatives received news no family wants to her: her four-year-old nephew Eric Tolbert had been diagnosed with blood cancer. He was admitted to Shands at the University of Florida, and Gregory, who lived in Los Angeles, Calif., at the time, visited him when she could. By April 2009, Eric fought for every breath he took.

April 16 started out particularly badly. Gregory, at the hospital for a visit, said Eric hadn’t opened his eyes in four days. He hadn’t had any visitors but family in three weeks. He didn’t even have the energy to play with stuffed animals.

Watching Eric suffer was draining for Gregory, too.

“You’re listening to every struggling, whimper breath for 12 hours straight,” Gregory said. She wished he felt like playing.

Suddenly, Gregory noticed a heightened level of activity around Eric’s area. Someone explained to her that Tebow wanted to visit Eric.

“Who’s that?” Gregory remembers asking about the star quarterback.

She had no idea who he was. She didn’t particularly like football, and she was defi nitely not a University of Florida Gators fan.

Eric said he didn’t want visitors, but Gregory looked through the hospital glass anyway. She could see Tebow interacting with people outside and was intrigued. It wasn’t the fact that he was a celebrity—Gregory, living in Los Angeles, was used to seeing high-profi le personalities. But as she watched him, she was intrigued. She thought there was something special about his reactions to everyone.

“He just seemed to have a spark,” she said.

Gregory turned back to Eric and urged him to accept this visitor. So Tebow and his head coach Urban Meyer, who’d led the University of Florida to two national championships in three years, came into the room.

Gregory saw the change in Eric, and the difference was literally night and day: He opened his eyes. He let them turn on the lights. His whole breathing changed.

Tebow, Gregory said, was authentic. It was clear to her that he wasn’t making the visit for show. There was no press, no cameras—just Tebow, Meyer and a lot of police for security reasons. In fact, Gregory’s picture of the visit came only because she asked that it be taken. Meyer snapped the shot of Gregory and Tebow by Eric’s bedside.

Gregory said Tebow was unhurried during the visit, and his conversation was casual— “like he’d known us for years.”

 

“He talked to Eric—he didn’t talk at him,” Gregory said.

He stayed for about 15 minutes, but the miracle effects of his visit didn’t leave with him. Gregory said Eric remained calmer than he had been before the visit. He even got to play stuffed animals with his aunt.

Eric died June 5, less than two months after Tebow’s visit. Almost a year later, Tebow would go as a first round pick by the Denver Broncos in the NFL draft. He started a charitable organization, the Tim Tebow Foundation, the same year.

THE DREAM BEHIND THE FOUNDATION

Tebow had wanted to start the foundation earlier, when he was still in school at the University of Florida. NCAA regulations prohibited Tebow from starting a foundation as a college athlete, so he chose instead to co-found a group called First and 15 under the student government.

One First and 15 event took disadvantaged kids on a trip to Disney World.

“They had never been to Disney before—they were the most underprivileged kids we could fi nd in Gainesville,” Tebow said in an interview posted on his foundation’s website. “The highlight was just watching these kids smile. We took them through the castle, and the girls had never seen it—their smiles were contagious.”

First and 15 also raised money for Shands’ pediatric cancer and an orphanage in the Philippines co-founded by Tebow’s father, Bob, a place where Tebow visited several times over the years.

On his foundation website (TimTebowFoundation.org), Tebow told the story of how one kid, Carlos, came to the orphanage: “[H]is family was driving down a mountain from a village where they live and sell groceries. Their little store is their whole livelihood. While driving down the mountain there is an accident, and they start to fall off the cliff. So the whole family is tipping over and the mom throws Carlos out the window. And his little brother and everyone fall out and die. Carlos rolls down the mountain—breaks his foot and leg, cuts up all his face and knocks some teeth out. But he lives and he comes to our orphanage and I mean, seeing the joy in his life from where he was until when we got him now, it’s unbelievable.”

The orphanage and First and 15 are two of the projects Tebow’s foundation has adopted so far. Tebow also recently partnered with the Groove Auto’s Drive for Education in Colorado to help with education outreach in the state.

But the overarching project of the Tim Tebow Foundation is A Brighter Day, built on the work Tebow does through visits and speaking engagements.

“After my professional career, I plan on giving my life full time to this outreach,” Tebow says on the foundation website.

When Gregory talked about the day Tebow came to visit Eric, she referred back to part of the slogan used on Tebow’s foundation website: “…those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” That’s exactly what Tebow did for her nephew, Gregory said.

“I’ll always be in his cheering section,” Gregory said.

THE TEBOW TSUNAMI

Foundations established by NFL players are nothing new—NFL Charities alone received more than 100 applications this year for their annual player foundation grants program. The grants help support current and retired players’ foundations in the NFL and serve as a “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval for the organizations that NFL Charities support, according to NFL Charities and Youth Football Fund director Alexia Gallagher.

But while the idea isn’t new, the NFL player is. If Tebow’s organization makes anything close to the waves Tebow himself still makes on football and sports culture, his foundation is going to have a well-respected and successful history.

Tebow’s jersey sales during the 2010 draft weekend set a record for all NFL rookies and current players, despite the fact he entered  the league as a backup quarterback for a franchise that housed legendary quarterback John Elway. Tebow became the first major college player to surpass 20 rushing and 20 passing touchdowns in a season. In high school, he played part of a football game on a broken leg.

His football exploits pre-NFL were so legendary that a vernacular equal to tough guy Chuck Norris formed around him: “Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas.” “You can lead a horse to water. Tim Tebow can make him drink.” “Tim Tebow can get McDonald’s breakfast after 10:30.” “Every mathematical inequality offi cially ends with ‘< Tim Tebow.’” Even an ESPN.com headline that ran the year he won the Heisman read, “Tebow Defi es History, Runs Away With the Heisman.”

He impacted state laws, with Alabama residents fighting for a “Tim Tebow Bill” to allow homeschooled athletes to play for public schools just as Tebow did in high school. But what made Tebow truly unique was a willingness to share his Christianity so publicly at such a young age. One of his trademarks while playing at the University of Florida were the Bible verses he wore during games on the black under his eyes. The Palm Beach Post reported that, after Tebow wrote “John 3:16” on his eye black during the 2009 Bowl Championship Series title contest, 92 million people Googled the verse following the game. The NCAA later banned players from putting any messages on their eye black, a trend jumpstarted before Tebow by University of Southern California athlete Reggie Bush to display his childhood area code.

Gary Schneeberger, vice president of communications for Focus on the Family, said that while he believes there are people with Christian faith as strong as Tebow’s in the NFL, Tebow has entered the league with a one-of-a-kind platform not yet seen in modern football history.

THE SUPER BOWL CONTROVERSY ...

Order Townhall Magazine's December 2010 issue to read more about Tebow.

 


Elisabeth Meinecke

Elisabeth Meinecke is TOWNHALL MAGAZINE Managing Editor. Follow her on Twitter @lismeinecke.