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NEW ORLEANS -- The script underwent some serious last-minute revisions.
|The loss to Alabama in the SEC title game ended Tim Tebow's quest for a third national title.|
The storybook Florida career of Tim Tebow was supposed to end, in storybook fashion, in Pasadena, Calif. Not here. Nice place to visit, New Orleans, but not really what the Gators quarterback had in mind ever since he announced he was coming back for his senior year.
Tebow was supposed to be the biggest star on the biggest stage, taking on Texas for a third national title. He was not supposed to be reduced to supporting-actor status against Cincinnati in the Coaching Chaos Bowl (also known as the Allstate Sugar Bowl).
Alabama forced a rewrite in early December. Then Urban Meyer added his own staggering plot twist at the end of December.
And so the script was changed. But the scriptures remain the same.
Which, if you're Tim Tebow, is the biggest thing.
College football's most prominent God squadder stands 60 game minutes from life after Florida. As a Gator, he has smashed records of all kinds. He has been part of two national title winners and three Heisman Trophy ceremonies. (In fact, he has more Heisman votes than all but two players in college football history, 1967 runner-up and '68 winner O.J. Simpson, and 1974 and '75 winner Archie Griffin.)
Yet for a player of his stature and accomplishments, the surest part of what lies ahead is not football.
He might make it as an NFL quarterback. He might not.
(And if you thought there was a sharp divide between Tebow lovers and haters now, wait until people start seriously sizing him up as a draft prospect. He will be the most argued-about player in America between the combine and the draft. Already, some respected analysts have said he has no chance, but Hall of Fame QBs Bob Griese and Jim Kelly have offered their stamp of approval.)
Regardless how that NFL thing turns out, he undoubtedly will be a difference-maker away from the game.
"His frame of mind is already that life is larger than football," said former Florida quarterbacking great Danny Wuerffel. "Most athletes, it's four or five years after their careers have crashed that they start to think along those lines."
Wuerffel's viewpoint is important here because he has been a role model for most of Tebow's life: as a quarterback who won a national title and a Heisman Trophy in 1996 as a Gator, but also as a Christianity-based charity activist.
|Danny Wuerffel will be one of three Heisman Trophy winners to anchor the College Football Hall of Fame's class entering this year. He won the award in 1996.|
After an inglorious NFL career, part of which was played here in the Crescent City, Wuerffel took over Desire Street Ministries in New Orleans from founder Mo Leverett. The organization's Web site describes Desire Street's mission as "transforming impoverished neighborhoods through spiritual and community development." Wuerffel went into one of the poorest areas of the city and went to work.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out Desire Street's headquarters and Wuerffel's house. That forced a relocation to Atlanta, but it also served as the catalyst to think even bigger. Desire Street rebuilt in New Orleans while expanding its reach to other cities.
"Our goal is 12 thriving and sustainable urban ministries around the Southeast by 2015," he said.
Tebow is poised to be this generation's Wuerffel -- perhaps with a better pro career along the way. He spoke enthusiastically Monday about the future -- his lifelong goal of becoming an NFL quarterback, but also plans beyond the gridiron.
He wants to start his own nonprofit organization. Maybe boys' and girls' ranches, or orphanages. And he'll continue to do the kind of good deeds he did for Kelly Faughnan earlier this month.
Faughnan is a 20-year-old from Virginia who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008. Before the tumor was surgically removed, she asked to go to Disney World and perhaps time it with the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show, so she could see her favorite football player in person.
At a Disney function the day before the awards show, Tebow was introduced to Kelly. He spent 45 minutes talking to her, then spontaneously invited her to walk on the red carpet with him into the awards show.
"With all the Make-a-Wish stuff and Dreams Come True, those are some of my favorite things to do in the world," Tebow said. "To make kids feel better and have a special day, it puts a huge smile on my face and theirs. For a kid to say his wish is to spend a day with me, it's extremely humbling and overwhelming. I take a lot of pride in making them feel special."
Tebow has been able to make an amazing number of people feel special in the past four years. There are many more people to be touched in the years to come.
First, he will wear a Florida uniform for the last time Friday. He said taking it off after the game probably will be the hard part -- the finality of it. But it's time.
"I think that I kind of have mixed feelings," he said. "Finishing up the last game means starting a new chapter and closing another."
The script of this final collegiate chapter was altered in recent weeks. But given the good work Wuerffel has done here, and the good work Tebow aspires to do, maybe a curtain call in New Orleans is the right ending after all.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.