Ironically -- or perhaps not ironically at all -- it came off the field, after a loss, the worst loss of Tim Tebow's career and a loss where Tebow took personal responsibility, after falling short on its make-or-break play.
The Promise was entirely unexpected -- Tebow was walking away from the podium after a seemingly routing post-game press conference, then came back. (If Tebow had planned to do it all along, I will give him even more credit.)
He re-approached the podium and began the 107-word statement that is arguably the most legendary speech in college sports history:
To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, I'm sorry.
(Note his apology is directly to "fans" and "Gator Nation." And that he leads with an apology.)
I’m extremely sorry.
(Re-emphasis of the apology.)
We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here.
(Shift to a team-centric "we," then right back to the personal "my." And the goal being something unprecedented. File that away, and you can begin to understand the frustration that brought him to tears after the 2009 SEC championship game.)
I promise you one thing: A lot of good will come out of this.
(There it is, the operative word: "Promise." And a seeming contradiction: "Good"... from a devastating loss? It raises fan hopes. It is condolence.)
You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season.
(A very internally focused pledge: He puts it on himself. But is it just about him? No: He is going to push the rest of the team, too. But what about everyone else...?)
You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.
(There you go: Not just Tebow giving a promise -- he has now bonded the entire team to this covenant. And I am being intentionally specific with my language in putting it in terms of something explicitly religious, like "covenant" -- there is nothing stronger or more important in Old Testament religion than that. It is Tebow's covenant with the fans. It is the team's covenant with the fans.)
(This ending doesn't just put a superficial stamp of spirituality on The Promise -- it seals that covenant, invoking the ultimate authority in Tebow's life -- and the lives of the vast majority of fans.)
We know what happened next: Inspired (or perhaps merely framed) by The Promise, the Gators went on to destroy everything in their path en route to the national championship. The Promise would not have been "The Promise" without its fulfillment.
Here's what I said a month ago, when laying out, in advance of his Swamp finale, that The Promise was Tebow's greatest moment ever at The Swamp:
It can be argued that without the blown 4th-down conversion, there would be no "Promise." And without the "Promise" (along with the win-or-die mentality that went along with the loss), there would have been no run to the 2008 national championship.Perhaps you can argue that The Promise was merely a vow that Tebow and his teammates would try their best -- out-work every other team -- rather than guarantee a win. The presumption is that by working harder than anyone else, the team would fulfill its championship potential.
(Back in August, I had a friendly argument with the Sentinel's Andrea Adelson that The Promise would trump even an unbeaten 2009 season in defining Tebow's legacy. We'll never know now, but falling short of an unbeaten 2009 certainly re-affirms the unmatched importance of The Promise.)
As a measure of competitive drive and leadership, The Promise is unparalleled in sports -- even Namath's equally famous "guarantee" was more braggadocio than template. Regardless, it is critical to the mythology and reality of Tebow that The Promise culminated in a championship.
There is no revisionist history. The Promise begat the run to the championship. The reason why it was immortalized outside the stadium -- before Tebow had even left campus -- was because it was that transcendent, that much of a code to live by.
And then there is this: The Promise is as much of a mission statement defining Tim Tebow's entire career as it was merely his greatest moment.
The Complete Top 10
10. Commits to UF
9. I'm Coming Back!
5. The Virgin
4. Taunting Oklahoma
3. John 3:16
2. The Jump-Pass
1. The Promise