Commentary

Tebow's drive: To make a difference

QB talks with ESPN New York about building hospitals ... and a career in politics?

Updated: September 18, 2012, 1:17 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

He listens to Frank Sinatra. He honors cancer-stricken kids every time he suits up for practice. He waits patiently for his lifelong dream to be built in the Philippines. He battles dyslexia -- and wins. He looks into the future and sees ... Senator Tebow?

Tim Tebow is more than just an unconventional quarterback who runs the New York Jets' Wildcat offense. He's one of the most popular athletes in America, a rock star who acts like the boy next door. What's he like away from football? In an exclusive interview with ESPNNewYork.com, Tebow provides some insight.

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Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesSenator Tim Tebow? Says the Jets backup QB: "I haven't ruled it out."

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?

A: Probably the hospital we're building right now [in the Philippines, his birthplace]. Lord willing, it'll continue to help kids long after I'm gone. That's what I want out of everything that my foundation does. I want to help kids when I'm no longer here, when I'm dead and gone. I want to help kids when I don't have the energy and the time to help them, but somehow still find a way to make a difference. This hospital is one example of that.

Q: With your popularity, especially in Florida, would you ever consider running for political office after you're done with football?

A: I haven't ruled it out. Whatever avenue I feel like I can make a difference in, I'd love to do. I haven't ruled out anything like that. It won't be anytime soon in my future, but it'll be something I'll at least look at and consider one day.

Q: You were 7 years old when you were diagnosed with dyslexia. What message would you want to convey to someone who just found out they're dyslexic?

A: One of the first things I'd say is, it has nothing to do with how intelligent you are. You can be extremely bright and still have dyslexia. You just have to understand how you learn and how you process information. When you know that, you can overcome a lot of the obstacles that come with dyslexia. When you figure out how you learn, you can accomplish whatever you want.

Q: If someone walked into your house or apartment, they'd be surprised to see ... what?

A: I think you'd be surprised to see the lack of football stuff, especially when you walk in my parents' house. It's not about me or the boys playing sports. My sister's wedding picture is right there. People say, "Hey, can I see the Heisman Trophy?" It's all the way in the back, behind everything else. It has to be dusted off. It's not about me. I'm just the baby of the family. You don't see the trophies or ESPYS or Maxwells or Davey O'Brien Trophy. It's all wonderful -- I have a lot of great memories -- but it's all in the past. We try not to look at it too much. I think that would be shocking to some people.

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Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesThe first thing Tebow does every morning, and the last thing he does every night? Pray.

Q: What's the first thing you do in the morning, and the last thing you do before you go to bed?

A: Pray. I pray to start my day and finish it in prayer. I'm just thankful for everything, all the blessings in my life, trying to stay that way. I think that's the best way to start your day and finish your day. It keeps everything in perspective.

Q: You wear elastic bands around your wrist every day for practice, some with names on them. What's that about?

A: I've been wearing these since my senior year in high school. I actually used to wear a lot more. They're pretty much all related to kids with cancer, kids I've mentored or spent time with when they're going through things. I've rotated what's been on my wrist. I really did it a lot at Florida. I probably had six or seven at a time on each wrist. That was something I could do to honor a kid, but the NFL doesn't let us wear them in games, so I wear them at practice. It kind of takes away some of the special feeling. That's a little bit disappointing, but I still wear them for kids.

Q: Give us a sampling of what music we'd find on Tim Tebow's iPod.

A: I have a good range. I like a little bit of everything. I'd say my top two genres are country, No. 1, and Christian, No. 2. My favorite band is Rascal Flatts. I like Kenny Chesney. I like Eric Church. I listen to Frank Sinatra a lot, believe it or not. I love Johnny Cash. I love Casting Crowns. A lot of people, before games, listen to upbeat music. I really don't have a hard time getting up for games (laughing), so I listen to a lot of calm music, stuff that's very soothing, kind of the calm before the storm.

Q: What's the toughest thing you've ever had to endure?

A: Probably my uncle dying when I was really young, 6 or 7 years old. That was my first experience with death. We were really, really close with him. Every day, we'd spend all day with him, me and my brothers.

Q: What's your idea of a fun day in Manhattan?

A: See some shows. I haven't gotten to see a lot of them yet. I've seen "Wicked" and "Rock of Ages," and I liked both of them. "Wicked" was my favorite. Other times, coming into town for the Heisman and other stuff, I got to see "The Lion King," the Rockettes. Honestly, if I didn't get bothered too much, [I'd] just walk around with friends and family, hang out, laugh and enjoy the city. What's so funny is, my first time here for the Heisman, we walked around the city. I wore a hat and a hoodie. Some people would stop us and say, "Good luck tonight at the Heisman." We posed with all the people, just laughing. We had a great time. Now it's not quite as easy to do that (laughing).

Q: What is your earliest football memory growing up in Jacksonville?

A: My first memory was playing for the Lake Shore Ramblers when I was 12. My first ever game I started as a running back and one of my best friends started at quarterback. After that game, we switched, and that's kind of where we ended up with our careers. [Franchot Allen] ended up playing at West Virginia and I went to Florida.

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Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Getty ImagesTebow's most special moment on a football field? You're looking at it.

Q: Do you remember the first time you asked someone for an autograph?

A: My dad took me and my brothers down to a Florida Fan Appreciation Day. We waited in line and got a bunch of the guys' autographs, but my favorite one was Fred Taylor. We wanted to get Danny Wuerffel's autograph, but we didn't want to wait in line that long. It was actually pretty cool because, a few weeks later, he ended up coming to our church. I was 8 and I got his autograph that day. What was cool about that was, I got it on a church bulletin and I still have that framed in my parents' house in Florida.

Q: What about the first time you signed an autograph?

A: I was 15 years old, and we got done playing a game. Someone came up to me and handed me a baseball and said, "Would you please sign this baseball because I think you have a chance to become something someday?" It was after a football game, but I signed a baseball. It's so funny because I can honestly say I wasn't one of those kids that practiced his signature, so I thought, "How am I going to do this?" My brother and his friends were all laughing. They all said, "That's the worst signature I've ever seen."

Q: Best feeling ever on a football field?

A: Probably coming off the field after our game-winning scoring drive against Oklahoma in the [2009] national championship game, throwing the jump pass to win. I had a pretty fun, special moment with coach [Urban] Meyer. We got to hug, and he told me he loved me and was proud of me. That was one of the best moments.

Q: What's the best time you've had with Mark Sanchez, just hanging out?

A: I had a really good time at "Jets West," with his family, hanging out after our workouts were done, laughing with his family, getting some inside dirt on him, old nicknames and stuff (laughing). That was great. On my official visit [to USC], we had a good time. That was a long time ago. But if I had to pick one, I'd say [last] Sunday, our first game, getting a big win, him having a great game. I think that was a lot of fun.

Q: What's your biggest regret?

A: I don't really regret much. I know there are things that I've done that have been wrong, and wish I could do over again, but I feel it's all made me who I am today, and I'm very thankful for that. In a sports realm, I'd say never beating St. Augustine, which was a high school rival. That's one of my biggest sports regrets. I know high school doesn't matter to some people, but it still matters to me.

Q: What bothers you most about the criticism you receive for the way you play quarterback?

A: I try not to listen to most of the chatter, but you definitely hear stuff. If someone hears something and, without doing their own research, they repeat like they've seen it themselves, [that's annoying]. It's like a little bit of a copycat deal.

Q: Joe Namath recently said the Jets would be in trouble if something happened to Sanchez because you can't be a conventional quarterback unless you improve your accuracy. Thoughts?

A: Joe Namath was a great quarterback for the Jets, and I'm sure he knows football very well. I've never had the pleasure of sitting down and getting to know him. I've had the opportunity to play the game here in the NFL, my rookie year and last year, and did some decent things. I just try to get better every year. I feel like I'm a better quarterback now than I was last year. I felt like last year we were able to do some special things. I feel like, with more opportunity, I'm going to continue to get better.

Q: What's the best compliment you've received on a football field?

A: I had a few guys come up to me last year on another team -- I won't say which team. They said they'd be honored to play for me anytime. That meant a lot to me.

Q: Five years after you retire, what do you see yourself doing?

A: Doing something with my foundation, continuing everything we're doing now and, hopefully, expanding, building more hospitals, making a difference in people's lives. I want to do that while I'm playing football, and I want to do that after I'm done playing football. I want to do that until the day I die because I don't look at that as a profession or a career. I look at that as what I want to do with my life. I love doing it. I'm a natural for it.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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