It's hard to put an exact time frame on when an athlete becomes a cultural figure who transcends their sport. Usually, the honor -- if it really is an honor -- results from a series of events or a general persona.
For Tim Tebow, "The Promise" was one of those moments. Tebow, considered by some (including his head coach) to be the greatest player of his generation if not of all time, was already on his way to iconic status when the Florida Gators lost to Ole Miss in September 2008. But the same tears that would earn him so much scorn after the 2009 SEC Championship Game helped make The Promise so effective, and helped propel it into college football lore.
It was a perfect example of what fans either loved or hated about Tim Tebow. In the "God bless" tucked at the end, those who admired the quarterback for his religious devotion found another instance where he used his platform as a witness; those who couldn't stand him saw a discomforting religiosity. The entire speech was a testament to Tebow's competitiveness for his fans or an example of his arrogance and entitlement to his critics.
But if Florida had lost another game in 2008, The Promise would not have been remembered. It certainly wouldn't have become nearly synonymous with Tebow's legend and Florida football under his watch. It would have been another college kid getting emotional after a loss, nothing more.
|TUESDAY: What a Decade It's Been; Mike Price's Trip to Pensacola|
|WEDNESDAY: The Zook Experiment; Georgia Hires Mark Richt|
|THURSDAY: The Best Game; Auburn's Rise and Fall; Rivalry of the Decade|
|TODAY: The Worst Game; The Rise of the Nicktator|
What followed, though, was one of the more impressive runs in college football history. Florida annihilated every team remaining on its regular season scheduled by a combined 414-97 margin, including defeating LSU 51-21, waxing preseason favorite Georgia 49-10 and handing Steve Spurrier the worst loss of his coaching career in a 56-6 victory over South Carolina.
And while the margins against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and Oklahoma in the national title game weren't by dozens of points, they were still impressive wins. Tebow lead a fourth-quarter rally to clinch the victory against Alabama, seeming to live up to his words: you will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season.
It sparked a cottage industry and was, perhaps most famously, engraved into a plaque at the Florida football complex. Did it really matter all that much to Florida's third national title season, the second of the decade? That doesn't really matter; the mystique of the moment comes from the fact that Tebow's statement was prophetic and might have mattered.
In fact, one can argue that Florida didn't play with quite the same spark this year. Some Florida fans and bloggers have even dared to use the words "lazy" and "entitled" to describe the 2009 team -- instead of the word they most often chose to describe the 2008 Gators: "Driven."
Love it or hate it, The Promise isn't going anywhere. If nothing else, it now stands as a monument to the difference between the last Gator team and this one.