According to Tim Tebow, the best part about being the "NCAA Football 11" cover athlete isn't seeing his face plastered on the front window of every video game store in the country. It's the chance to play his favorite game before anyone else. "I've been playing this game since I was 6," Tebow told me during his photo shoot. "But they made so many big changes this year, I needed to find out the secrets before it came out."
That's why Tebow made the trip to EA Sports' Orlando studio, spending half his day posing for pictures, the other half hunkered down in various gameplay producers' cubicles learning the ins and outs of this year's groundbreaking title. The difference? Try a brand-new locomotion physics engine that allows players to move and react realistically on the field, including running with momentum and leaning forward to truck defenders. Best of all, the game finally nails the difference between a player's speed and acceleration, giving guys with higher acceleration ratings the ability to burst out of their stances at the snap.
But playing games and smiling for cameras wasn't all Tebow was up to in Florida. The quarterback's other mission was to hunt down "Madden NFL 11'" ratings guru Donny Moore. Tebow wanted to put in a good word for his cyber self in hopes of boosting his stock a few points, especially when it comes to his speed and trucking ability. And it looks like the face-to-face time with Moore worked to Tebow's advantage.
"Tebow will be the best trucking quarterback in 'Madden' this year," said Moore after the meeting. "He's not the most elusive, but in terms of breaking tackles and power, he will be able to put down his shoulder and run over a few defenders. A lot of this is fluid, but right now in 'Madden 11,' we have Tebow at 80 speed and 92 acceleration. Trucking, carrying the ball, like I said, he's going to be better than any quarterback coming into the league."
I had the chance to sit down with Tebow after his grueling day in the gaming spotlight (the photographer made the poor guy dive toward the camera about a hundred times) to get his thoughts on working with EA Sports, his new throwing motion, and whether or not his leadership skills will transfer over to an NFL locker room.
As for Tebow's review of "NCAA Football 11"? "Awesome," he said with a wide grin after throwing a touchdown on Heisman difficulty. "The game is so much better than last year, I can't even believe it."
Jon Robinson: Are you a big gamer?
Tim Tebow: I've been playing the college football game since I was about 6 years old, and I still really enjoy playing the game. I don't play too much during the season, but in the offseason and summer, I definitely like to sit down and enjoy the games.
Jon Robinson: What was your reaction the first time you saw yourself in a video game?
Tim Tebow: First thing I thought was, I'm faster than that. [laughs] I wanted to call some people and get my speed rating bumped up a little bit. But it's fun to be a part of the game. It's something that exciting, and it's a little surreal to be honest, because you're playing as yourself in a game that you grew up playing. As a kid, I always looked up to these guys who were on the cover of the college game, so it's a really fun experience for me just to be involved.
Jon Robinson: What did you think the first time you saw your video game character throw an interception?
Tim Tebow: To be honest, I don't actually play as Florida a lot. Even the last four years I haven't played as them too often because they're really good in the game and it's too much of an advantage for whoever is playing as them. Usually we pick lesser teams. But the other day I was playing against my brother and he was playing as Florida, and he was trying to scramble around, he was running to his left and threw all the way back down the field to his right like 80 yards. I was like, "There's no way I could've made that pass." So sometimes the video games exaggerate a little bit. But my brother was like, "What, are you doubting yourself? You don't have confidence?" It was pretty funny.
Jon Robinson: Not very many people know this, but video games are also a big part of your charity work. Can you explain how they use games like "NCAA Football" at hospitals?
Tim Tebow: It's exciting to be with EA Sports because when you look at their brand, it's very positive. It's great for young kids, it's great for everyone to sit down and play a good video game. That's something that's uplifting and something everyone can have fun with. We spent the last year building a play room at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, and these games are going to be a big part of it. These games give these kids who are going through some of the most dramatic things in their lives -- they have brain tumors, they have cancer, they're going through radiation and chemo -- but these games give these kids the opportunity to get them out of their lives for a few minutes and just dream and have fun and play and put smiles on their faces. That's what it's all about for me. That's why I wanted to partner with EA Sports. It just gives these kids the chance to have fun. If a sick kid can just get away for a few hours, you have no idea how much that can just brighten his spirits. That can give them the confidence and the strength to keep fighting whatever they're going through.
Jon Robinson: As a quarterback, is the game realistic enough to where you can sit back and actually read the defense?
Tim Tebow: That's what I try to do, but then when you're playing against the gamer gamers, where that's all they do is play, all they see is like 'The Matrix' in there. They're not playing the same game. They're having defensive ends or linebackers making crazy plays that they never would in real life, so that can be frustrating. But it is realistic enough to where you can look and see, is it one-high, is it two-high, is it man-to-man, is it zone? You can get a little bit of a read.
Jon Robinson: Your success on the field at Florida led you to the cover of the video game. Is there a play you think back on that defines your career?
Tim Tebow: Oh man, I think it depends on who you ask. Some memories and moments stand out more for some people and they're different from others. I think people look at the jump pass or maybe the games against FSU.
Jon Robinson: When I think about your career, two things stick out: The jump pass and the time you got knocked out.
Tim Tebow: How does me getting knocked out stand out to you? [laughs]
Jon Robinson: To me, that's what makes football so popular. On one hand, you have the jump pass, the national championship and all its glory. On the other, there's that danger where any play could be your last.
Tim Tebow: I think what makes football so popular goes so much more beyond that. You're going to have injuries, danger and glory in every sport. What makes football unique is that every person on that team needs to count on everybody else. It's the ultimate team game and you have to depend on your coaches, you have to depend on your support staff, you have to depend on your teammates. There's not many sports where you have to do that. Think about the big sports. If you have a great pitcher in baseball, you don't have to have the best team to win. In basketball, if you have one great player, you have a chance to win just about any game. But in football, it doesn't matter. One single great player doesn't make anything for a team; it has to be a team. I think football is the greatest team sport there is because you have to depend on your brother next to you.
Jon Robinson: Everyone always describes you as a locker room leader. How do you see your role evolving in the NFL? Is it different leading a bunch of college kids than trying to lead a group of grown men?
Tim Tebow: When you go to an NFL locker room, I think the first thing you need to do is earn the players' respect. That's my No. 1 objective, to go in there, work hard, keep my mouth shut, and grind as I try to understand the offense. I'm just going to go in there and work hard, work to earn their respect, and then I'll go from there.
Jon Robinson: At the combine, the teams always like to ask players a bunch of strange questions, like would you rather be a dog or a cat. What's the strangest question somebody asked you at the combine?
Tim Tebow: Whether I'd rather be the quarterback for their team or the governor of Florida.
Jon Robinson: You can always run for governor after you retire.
Tim Tebow: [laughs]
Jon Robinson: You've recently adjusted your throwing motion in order to release the ball quicker. How tough is it for you to change something like that when you've been throwing the same way since you started playing?
Tim Tebow: It wasn't like I was totally changing everything. It's just making a few adjustments like holding the ball a little higher and making my release a little bit quicker. Those adjustments take muscle memory, so it's all about practicing it over and over and over. You find the drills you need to work on, then you do it every day, over and over and over again until you do it thousands and thousands of time so you create that muscle memory. That way, when you go out and throw, you go out to practice, you're not thinking about it. It's just muscle memory. It's locked in so when you go out there, that's just how you naturally throw.
Jon Robinson: Do you think this is something the coaches at Florida should've worked with you on, helping prepare you more for the NFL? Or do you see their job as trying to prepare you for your college season and the NFL is your business?
Tim Tebow: The coaches at Florida are great coaches and they did an incredible job with me and the rest of my teammates. They're the reason why we had so much success at the University of Florida and they did a great job. I truly believe that they are the best coaches in college football. Me moving on, that's something that I need to work on personally, but that doesn't reflect on the coaches at Florida.
Jon Robinson: So you don't think they should've changed your throwing motion?
Tim Tebow: They were probably just worried about trying to beat Alabama. [laughs]
Jon Robinson: Why do you think you're such a polarizing figure?
Tim Tebow: I just think I've been truly blessed to be at the University of Florida and have had a little bit of success. In today's society, people look up to football players. Don't ask me why; that's just how it is right now, so I've been blessed to have a platform. And I think that platform is more than just a platform; it's a responsibility, an obligation to be a good role model to young kids growing up in today's society. I hope people are out there saying positive things about what I'm doing, but I know that's not always the case. I honestly just try to worry about what I can control, and I can't control all of that.
Jon Robinson: So what's the best thing about being a video game quarterback as opposed to playing the position in real life?
Tim Tebow: You can always find those plays in every game that work for a touchdown or a big gain all the time and no matter what the defense tries, they can't stop you. Only downfall is sometimes you might cramp up a little on the thumbs.