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Florida’s Tim Tebow belongs in purple and gold

January 12, 2009

by Matt Kane

So, the Vikings need a quarterback? I’ve got a guy for them — Tim Tebow.

If Tebow is willing to leave Gainesville and punch his ticket to the NFL, I would more than welcome him to Minnesota, and I would do nothing to change his style of play.

OK, maybe, I would teach him to end his runs with a slide instead of a beat-down of a defensive back, but that’s about it.

I think we all knew, before Thursday’s national championship game between Florida and Oklahoma, that Tebow was a pretty good college football player. The Heisman Trophy he won as a sophomore, following the 2007 season, showed everyone knew of Tebow’s talent, but he more than proved it again in Thursday’s 24-14 beat-down of the Sooners.

Why do I want to see Tebow in purple and gold?

Number one: He is a good quarterback. The statistics don’t lie.

We all know he has one of the best supporting casts in the country, but Tebow’s statistics are phenomenal. As a starter over the past two seasons, he has thrown for 6,033 yards — 3,286 in 2007 and 2,747 in 2008 — 52 touchdowns, and only 10 interceptions. His completion percentage over those two seasons were 66.9 and 64.4 percent.

All these statistics were accumulated with Tebow’s arm. Let’s not forget about his legs. This year, Tebow led the Gators in rushing with 673 yards and 12 touchdowns.

A quarterback leading a college team in rushing isn’t anything new, but considering Tebow plays for the Gators, a program that produced running backs Emmitt Smith, Fred Taylor, Neal Anderson, Errict Rhett, I think it’s worth noting.

Combined rushing (12) and passing (30), Tebow had a hand in 42 of Florida’s 82 total touchdowns. That means Tebow was involved in 51 percent of the Gators’ touchdowns.

That Tebow can pass and run with power reminds me of a former Vikings quarterbacks — Daunte Culpepper.

Now, wait, I’m not talking about the Culpepper who squeezed into a pair of silver nickers with the Lions this season. I’m talking about the Culpepper who threw 39 touchdown passes and rushed for 406 yards for the Vikings in 2004. In case you have a short memory, like most football fans, I want to remind you of how idolized Culpepper was around Viking nation in the early years of this century. I want Tebow to the Vikings’ new version of Culpepper. With a better ending, of course.

The second reason I want Tebow on the Vikings’ roster: He is a winner.

Even before Tebow took over the starting quarterback position with the Gators, at the start of the 2007 season, he was helping Florida win a national championship.

At the end of the 2006 season, Chris Leak was Florida’s starting quarterback in the national championship game against Ohio State. Leak was the offensive player of the game after the Gators knocked off the Buckeyes 41-14 for the national title that year, but Tebow played a big part in Florida’s win, scoring two touchdowns — one passing and the other running.

In that game, three years ago, onlookers caught a glimpse of what Tebow might become. Over the past two seasons, he has exceeded all expectations.

The Gators’ records in Tebow’s three years at Florida are 13-1 (2008), 9-4 (2007) and 13-1 (2008).

I know, I know, a lot of college football players have won a lot of football games and put up ungodly statistics only to turn into NFL flops. But I don’t see that in Tebow. The characteristic that sets Tebow apart from those busts is his leadership.

From what the television announcers and Tebow’s teammates have said all season, Tebow is truly the clear leader of the Gators.

Before Thursday’s broadcast of Florida’s game against Oklahoma, I hadn’t seen Tebow’s press conference following the 31-30 upset loss to Ole Miss Sept. 27, but, after seeing the footage, I knew I wanted him to lead the Vikings.

Here’s what he said: “To the fans and everybody, I’m sorry. I’m extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida’s never done here. But I promise you one thing: a lot of good will come out of this. You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season and you’ll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season and you’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season. God bless.”

Tebow didn’t just say this to the flock of reporters, he meant it, and he did exactly what he declared he would do.

Recently, following the Vikings’ loss to the Eagles in the NFC playoffs, I’ve been hearing about Vikings’ players being disgruntled on the sideline during the game and in the locker room. How nice would it be to see one of those guys follow a loss by speaking to the media and his fans the way Tebow did last September?

Not that I want the Vikings to lose a game, but, if that loss would allow me to see Tebow address the Minnesota media, I will take it.

When I wrote this column Friday morning, Tebow had not, yet, announced if he was leaving Florida for the NFL draft, so he might not be available for the Vikings to draft. Not knowing is fine with me, and, actually, I would like to see Tebow return to Florida and win a third national championship.

If Tebow stays in Gainesville, I’m willing to wait another year for the Vikings to draft him.