This Saturday is Tim Tebow's last game in the Swamp. It will be an emotional day for both him and Gator fans, and there will be a temptation to sum up his career already. Tony Barnhart has already taken a stab at just that.
However, Tebow's place in history is still very much in flux.
I know a lot of instant historians have tried to put Tebow in the top five or ten best players ever. A lot of that centers on his absurd stats from 2007. However, as time has grown between then and now, a lot of his place in the pantheon is based more on things like leadership and "being a winner," however you're supposed to define that.
Tebow is not the most gifted at the things he does. Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson were better runners. Peyton Manning and Danny Wuerffel were better passers. David Greene even (gasp!) won more games as a starter. It is the whole package of things that makes Tebow stand out. Or at least, it did.
Ultimately the details of this season will fade from memory, but a lot of what has been used to build up Tebow has eroded some in 2009. He is no longer fully automatic on third- and fourth-and-short, and no longer is the offense he runs automatic in the red zone. His decision making has seen better days, as indecision has caused him to hold onto the ball for too long on many occasions. He's turned it over more this year than in his previous two. The defense has won a couple of games where Tebow's offense couldn't get much going without rifling its feet over and over.
The second Heisman is pretty much out the window at this point. If Alabama wins out, Mark Ingram will take it; if Florida wins out, Colt McCoy will probably take it. All the superlatives ring a little less true, as I just chronicled. What is left is the "leader" and "winner" titles, and it will take more than beating the worst FSU team in roughly 30 years to cement things for him. Yes, it's always a big deal to beat up on the Seminoles to the younger generation of Gators of which Tebow is a part, but him ending his home career still leaves a lot left.
For much of the off season, I tried to fight the notion that 2009 Florida was a reincarnation of 2005 USC. Everything I said to that regard still stands. However, the one thing that most people don't consciously recognize is that those Trojans didn't fall short because they choked or bowed to pressure; that team simply faced a better one and lost. There's no surprise, mystery, or shame in that. Texas was just the better team that year.
I don't know exactly how good every team stacks up, but this I do know. Florida is not as good overall as it was last year, loss to Ole Miss be damned. Alabama is better than it was last year, and Texas is real close to where it was a year ago. It's possible that Tebow's quest to win a third national title in his four years will end the same way that USC's 2005 quest ended: simply at the hands of a better team. That will not mark a failure on his part, just the reality that preseason storylines can sometimes be flawed. Imagine that.
So don't buy into any sappy retrospectives you might see. About the only one that makes sense to write this weekend, assuming Florida wins, is that he will have led UF to only its second 12-0 start to a season ever and he will have extended the school's winning streak. That's about it.
What happens in Atlanta is a major part of his legacy, and should Florida win that one, the events in Pasadena will be even bigger. Just grab your barf bag if Florida does make it to the national title game. All the stories about one of the game's best players finishing his career in one of the game's most hallowed venues with a championship on the line will be too much for even me, a born and raised Gator, to bear.