GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Four words.
Tim. Tebow’s. Last. Game.
Florida would not play for a second straight national championship. Undefeated and second-ranked Alabama took care of that by handing the No. 1 Gators a decisive 32-13 loss in the Southeastern Conference title game.
Now, all the Florida football focus was zeroed in Tebow and wanting to see one of the most iconic players in college football history go out with a bang, as the Gators (12-1), having dropped to No. 5 in the polls, looked to a New Year’s Day finale against undefeated and fourth-ranked Big East Conference champion Cincinnati (12-0) in the 76th Sugar Bowl.
No way No. 15’s pre-game storyline could be upstaged, right?
To the time capsule we go.
FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT (ELSEWHERE ON JAN. 1, 2010)
• In Peshawar, Pakistan, Taliban militants underscored their determination to prevent Pakistani citizens from forming armed militias to keep them at bay, as a suicide bomber rammed a truck loaded with hundreds of pounds of explosives into families and children crowded on a playground in the northwest, killing at least 75 and wounding scores more.
• Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh remained hospitalized in Hawaii after experiencing chest pains similar to a heart attack, according to the guest host, Walter Williams, on Limbaugh’s nationally syndicated radio show.
• In Washington, a federal judge dismissed all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a crowded intersection in Baghdad in 2007.
• In Jacksonville, Fla., Bobby Bowden was set to coach his final game at Florida State, when the Seminoles (6-6) faced West Virginia (9-3) in the Gator Bowl. Bowden took a record of 388-129-4, plus 12 conference and two national titles, into the bowl.
The day after Christmas, the biggest story of the year rocked the college football world.
UF coach Urban Meyer resigned due to health reasons.
The news broke a day before UF was set to leave for New Orleans. Meyer, with two national championships in five seasons, had been admitted to the hospital in the days following the loss to Alabama complaining of chest pains.
"I have given my heart and soul to coaching college football and mentoring young men for the last 24-plus years and I have dedicated most of my waking moments the last five years to the Gator football program," Meyer said in a statement. "I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to reevaluate my priorities of faith and family."
Then came the day the Gators were prepared to leave for New Orleans ... and things went haywire again.
Meyer changed his mind, announcing instead he would take an indefinite leave of absence after the bowl game. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio would take over day-to-day operations of the football program.
The idea of Meyer getting away for a while belonged to Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, who didn’t really think the coach would buy into it.
"It was a long night for everybody in Gator nation," Foley said. "The intent here is to make sure Urban goes and deals with the issues we discussed last night.”
Meyer discussed those issues with his family. Again.
“I’ve accepted this offer to improve my health,” he said.
The Florida coach, it seemed, was in burnout mode and needed some time away.
“I love my players. I’m not ashamed to say that,” Meyer said. “I love Florida and I want to win this game in the worst possible way. Not for myself, not for our staff, not for Steve or whoever, but for the players.”
The players, led by you-know-who, wanted to win, too. Meyer was clearly on their minds, but they followed their coach’s lead as far as the big picture was concerned.
“It’s the last game of our senior class ... and who knows with Coach Meyer?” said Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner. “There are a lot of reasons for us to go out and play our best. We want to finish 13-1. We want to finish strong.”
The Bearcats, meanwhile, had some coaching drama of their own.
After leading his team to the first unbeaten regular season in school history, Coach Brian Kelly bolted UC to fill the vacancy at Notre Dame. Offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn was promoted to interim coach, but Quinn had his own distractions having agreed to leave after the bowl to take over as head coach at the University of Buffalo.
Cincinnati had tabbed Central Michigan’s Butch Jones as their next head coach, but was scheduled to join the team until after the bowl.
Once the two teams took the field in the Superdome, all that coaching-carousel stuff became a sidebar, at best.
It was, after all, Tebow’s last game.
Tebow’s farewell was fitting, to say the least.
Try a career-high 482 passing yards and an offensive eruption of 659 yards -- both Sugar Bowl records -- in a 51-24 wipeout of the Bearcats.
Tebow fired three touchdown passes and ran for 51 yards and another score to cap his magnificent career. For the Gators, who finished with a school-record 13 wins, the game was about redemption after falling short in their quest for perfection.
Twelve completions to start the game. Scores on their first five possessions. Tebow alone accounted for 533 yards of total offense, more than any one player in Bowl Championship Series history, topping the 467 yards Texas quarterback Vince Young cranked out in the 2005 Rose Bowl national championship against Southern California.
Tebow threw touchdowns to tight end Aaron Hernandez, plus wideouts Deonte Thompson and roommate Riley Cooper (7 catches, 180 yards), the latter an 80-yarder that marked the longest TD strike of Tebow’s career and helped stake the Gators to a 30-3 lead in the third quarter. They coasted home from there.
“I want to thank my teammates and coaches. I love them all. ... We wanted to end on a good note, so it was very special to go out this way, with these seniors and this coaching staff. It’s extremely special for all of us.” -- Tebow.
“They cemented their legacy. And Tim Tebow will go down as one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- player in the history of college football.” -- Meyer on UF’s seniors.
"They couldn't stop Superman. They needed some kryptonite." -- UF offensive guard Carl Johnson.
“You’re going to have some drops now and then, but you’ll settle for seven and 180.” -- Cooper.
"We just need to take a step back and think and relax and we'll see what happens from there. But this couldn't have ended better right now, right here. This couldn't have been a better day ever." -- Meyer’s wife, Shelly, on her husband’s future.
“It doesn’t help, you know?" Quinn on the Cincinnati coaching changes and accompanying distractions for the Bearcats leading up to the game.
"Guys were anxious to get it done. That game in Atlanta hurt. I told the guys we would get another opportunity to play like we know how to play, and I think we did that today." -- UF senior linebacker Brandon Spikes.