Tim Tebow knelt on the sideline, stared across the field and helplessly watched Alabama celebrate the Southeastern Conference championship.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tim Tebow knelt on the sideline, stared across the field and helplessly watched Alabama celebrate the Southeastern Conference championship. His eyes red and watery, Tebow bit his bottom lip repeatedly as he tried to control his emotions.
Tebow's tears might have been the indelible image of Florida's season, one that started with talk of perfection and essentially ended on a cold, December afternoon in Atlanta.
"It's not how you want to go out," Tebow said.
It's not how he wants to be remembered, either. As the bulky, left-handed quarterback prepared to travel to New York for a third consecutive Heisman Trophy ceremony, Tebow made it clear he wants to be known more for what he accomplishes off the field than anything he does on it.
His 2007 Heisman Trophy, his two Maxwell Awards, his Davey O'Brien Award, his two SEC championship rings and two national titles, they're all special. But they compare little to the smiles Tebow puts on the faces of sick children, the faith-based messages he delivers to prisoners and the reactions he gets from fans seeking autographs, photos or handshakes.
"Those will probably be even more special to me than some of the games and some of the wins and the championships and what not," Tebow said. "Because you know what? At the end of the day, it's more special to be able to use football as a platform to make someone's day."
Tebow's mantra draws praise from his teammates and coaches, but also raises eyebrows outside Gainesville. Three years of Tebowisms and Tebowmania have been followed with some Tebow Fatigue — people tired of hearing about the too-good-to-be-true quarterback.
That's one reason Tebow doesn't expect to become the second player to win a second Heisman Trophy on Saturday night.
"I'm competitive in everything I do, so obviously I want to win," Tebow said. "When you get up there, it becomes more of a, 'Yeah, I want to win this now sort of thing.'"
He's more of a long shot now than in the previous two years. Tebow became the first sophomore to hoist the famous bronze statue two years ago and finished third behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas' Colt McCoy last season, while receiving the most first-place votes.
He could have made a strong push for college football's most prestigious award with a big game — and a victory — last week against Alabama.
Instead, Tebow and the Gators endured some of the same offensive problems that plagued them all season. The 32-13 loss included dropped passes, red-zone struggles and more indecisiveness in the pocket by the quarterback. Tebow completed 20 of 35 passes for 247 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, and ran 10 times for 63 yards.
It wasn't nearly enough.
"On that day, they were a better team than us," Tebow said. "They played with a little bit more heart and determination, and that's something that's very tough to swallow because usually that's a little bit of our edge and they had it."
The loss was especially tough on Tebow, a fiery leader who carried the Gators to the national championship in 2008. He broke down near the end of the game, losing his composure for the second time in two weeks. He also cried during Florida's senior day ceremony.
"You want to end your career on a good note," Tebow said. "Our dream was to win the SEC and go have an opportunity to play in Pasadena for the national championship. That was our goal and something we put a lot of work into. And when you take pride in what you do and you care so much about it, you're going to be passionate and it's going to mean a lot to you and it does mean a lot to me.
"It was tough to swallow, something I cared so much about for my teammates, my coaches, for myself and the fans. That was a dream for us and a goal that we fell short of."
Nonetheless, many believe Tebow will go down as one of college football's greatest players. A three-year starter, Tebow has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 8,803 yards, with 85 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He also has 2,896 yards rushing and 56 more scores.
"He'll always be in the argument," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "Here's a guy who is a fullback and a nifty quarterback as well. What a combination that is."
Throw in Tebow's charitable service and his family's missionary work, and Gators coach Urban Meyer can't recall a better ambassador of the game.
"His mission outside of college football is unparalleled as far as I'm concerned," Meyer said. "It's almost like selflessness is now a cool thing. Kids realizing to give back, and if you can brighten someone's day, you do it. The impact that he's made on this team is phenomenal."
Tebow still gets a chance to add to his legacy in the Sugar Bowl against No. 4 Cincinnati on New Year's Day. Tebow wants to finish his college career on a winning note, then do all he can to play quarterback in the NFL. More importantly, though, he wants to use the attention — even the reaction to his tears — in a positive way.
"With being scrutinized and being someone who gets some attention, you've got to realize there's going to be pros and cons," Tebow said. "Some of the cons are having to deal with all of it, having to see it all on TV and having your friends and family reading about it.
"The pros are I can go visit practically any kid I want (in the hospital) and make them smile in there. The pros are that I can go into prisons and share with inmates and actually have them listen to me because I play for the Gators. The pros are having opportunities to go around the country and speak to people and make an influence on their lives. I think the pros far outweigh the cons."