The cover story of Sporting News magazine this week includes an "as told to" essay by Tim Tebow, explaining first-hand what went into his decision to return to Florida for his senior year. It comes down to two things:
(1) His "platform." He could be a bench-warming rookie in an NFL that doesn't seem to either (a) want him or (b) know what to do with him (yet...give it a year). Or he could be the biggest name in sports this fall, the biggest star in college football. Everyone is paying attention to what he is doing, and Tebow knows (and likes) that.
Exhibit A: The impact his "John 3:16" eye-black being the No. 1 most-searched term on Google the day after the national title game. Both he and his parents recognized the influence Tebow has... as a college football immortal, not necessarily as a pro rookie.
Note especially well that nowhere in his discussion of his "platform" does Tebow talk about religion, evangelism or proselytizing. That is one of Tebow's greatest (and most underrated strengths): He does not impose his very very very strong religious beliefs on everyone through his massive media platform. He is much smarter -- much more opportunistic (and I say that admiringly, not negatively) -- than that.
(2) The history. Urban Meyer put the kibosh on the "undefeated" talk, but it is obvious -- both in this essay and, say, during The Promise speech -- that is Tebow's goal is to be part of the first team in Florida history to go undefeated.
And I think he recognized all the talent coming back -- not just Spikes, but the entire two-deep on defense; the sick recruiting class; the weapons on offense -- and recognized that this was his (and probably Florida's) best shot ever at going undefeated, which would not only be a first for Florida football but would put this Florida team near the top of the greatest teams of all time.
Meanwhile, I think Tebow recognizes that, as it relates to his own individual legacy, going unbeaten would be the crowning achievement of a "greatest ever" career.
I know Meyer wants them to stop talking about that -- and they did, reverting to their standard "Win the SEC East and win the SEC title, then the national-title opportunity will come naturally as a result of that" talking point. That's fair. But I think everyone from Tebow to Meyer to Spikes to Dunlap to fans knows that this team has the chance to be "all-time" special.
And if that wasn't enough: If Florida doesn't go unbeaten, you can bet that at least two other powerhouse teams will (Texas/Oklahoma, USC/Ohio St, Penn State) and even if Florida is the best team in the country, if they are 12-1 to Texas' 13-0 and USC's 12-0, the Gators will be shut out of the national-title game. An unbeaten season is the ante to play for a national title.
What do "platform" and "history" combine to create? LEGACY. I think Tebow thinks of his legacy in two parts: On-field and off-field. What kind of impact is he leaving on the game, and what kind of impact is he leaving on society?
It gibes with his priorities (God, family, football -- in that order), and he needs both to optimize each. Without the on-field greatness, the off-field potential is diminished; without the off-field myth-making, the on-field aura isn't nearly as impressive. This is the core of why he came back.
Tebow, in his own words, goes further to explain himself than any magazine profile -- or blog.
(By the way, in one of my other lives, as a Sporting News columnist, I led my daily column today with an overview of the factors that will go into Tebow being considered the greatest college football player ever, playing off the Tebow cover story in the magazine. Nothing you haven't heard from me before, but it all gets summed up for SN's "national" audience. Check it out here.)