No question about it, college football fans, Saturday, Dec. 5. 2009, was one great day! Some of the best football of the year, along with much of the nation’s best collegiate talent. Just doesn’t get any better.
But of all the games and excitement, one vision stands out to me more than any of the others. Not on the field; on the sidelines.
In the last few seconds of #2 Alabama’s surprise drubbing of #1 Florida, there was suddenly the image of Florida super quarterback Tim Tebow on one knee, sobbing like a kid.
Now, after a lifetime of preparation for his multi-million-dollar entrance into pro football, heralded the last several years as that special “wunderkind” of player-leaders, and amassing all those straight wins, the loss had to be tough: had to be. I’ll give him that. But only that.
At that moment, Tebow, a team leader if there ever was one, was lost in his own personal pain. But bending over him was one of the unheralded, anonymous Florida players that helped Tebow achieve his exalted status. And the somber, dry eyed, unknown supporting player had his arm around Tebow, consoling the inconsolable star.
Now maybe, looking at this silent tableau, you could say Tebow was reacting as most humans would to a crushing defeat. I say, “no way.”
As the son of missionary parents, Tebow was raised in several countries, exposed to cultures the rest of us only dream about. He was taught his faith from birth and watched his parents practice it until he could participate at a young age.
Eventually he was shipped to the states to start his collegiate football career. At well over six feet and 250 pounds, Tebow had the look of a leader. He developed a single-mindedness about football and became a great player. Getting hooked up with Coach Urban Meyer was God’s gift to both. Florida paid a lot for them and they paid back the investment. With interest.
The first season, Tebow not only was the pride of Florida, reeling in every honor the school and state could bestow, he had a national following and recognition long before any collegiate athlete in memory. He was just plain one-of-a-kind; special.
He was the only college quarterback I’ve ever heard of allowed to sit in coaching strategy sessions, offering advice to those who were supposed to be teaching him. And they listened.
Very, very special in all ways. The unquestioned, unchallenged leader of the Florida team. A career of reaping hundreds of honors. And that’s why the televised picture of him, lost in his own personal grief on that sideline at that moment, is hard for me to accept.
Leaders … real leaders … don’t just show up for the good times to take the tributes. They aren’t expected to just do their job … as Tebow has certainly done … then drop to their knees in tears when victory goes the other way.
At that moment, when the bottom falls out and the crowd turns to follow someone else, leaders are supposed to stand their ground, suck it up and be the one that takes the hits … and maybe a few more than all the others. Just as, in the good times, they took the honors and maybe a few more than the others received.
One of the qualities of leadership is to represent, at all times, the best interests of those following and to set the tone for that moment, whatever that moment may be: victory or defeat. He … or she … is, in all ways, the absolute embodiment of the entire team. Their demeanor should always reflect that and they should never, never forget why and how they became leaders.
Overcome on national television by is own personal pain, Tebow forgot that. Or, since his career to that point had been mostly victory piled on victory, maybe he never learned that. But when the game ended and Alabama took the spotlight, there were a hundred or so on the Florida sideline that needed a leader. On Saturday, at that moment, it wasn’t Tim Tebow.
Yes, he had the right to his despair. Yes, despite all his achievements and all the hype, he’s human. But, like glory and recognition are hallmarks of leadership so, too, are facing tough times with resolve and being the one to whom the other disappointed can rally.
In a few months, Tebow will sign a contract for millions of dollars and begin a larger-than-life career. No one else on those sidelines will be accorded so much. But before he leaves Florida, Tebow still has one more lesson to learn.