Dec. 13, 2008

By Adam Caparell

NEW YORK – Tim Tebow did not win the Heisman Trophy. And he wasn’t very happy about it.

The 2007 winner, who was looking to become just the second man to win the award twice, had a tough time hiding his disappointment Saturday night.

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford was the one to take home the most prestigious award in college football in a pretty close vote, earning 151 more points than Florida’s Tebow, who finished third in the final balloting. And while Tebow was a gracious loser, congratulating Bradford on the win and saying all the right things afterward, it wasn’t very hard to tell he was quietly seething over the perceived snub.

The normally jovial Tebow was relatively curt in his post-ceremony Q&A with the media. The Florida reporters, who have now covered Tebow for three years, all commented on how they had never seen this side of Tebow. He was chippy. He was brief. And he had a bit of a nervous laugh to him. The consummate competitor doesn’t like to lose at anything, and coming in third place for Tebow was a loss he never really entertained.

“I want to win everything I do,” Tebow said. “Obviously I wanted to win that, but, oh well, you’ve got to get ready to go.”

Bradford had the stats that, in the end, were just too hard to ignore for the 903 voters who cast their ballot. His 4,484 yards passing, 48 touchdowns, six interceptions and Big 12 title catapulted him over second place finisher Colt McCoy and Tebow to become the latest Sooner to win the award.

But Tebow, just like McCoy, was more than a worthy winner this year. His stats weren’t as gaudy as they were last year, when he had himself a record-breaking season, but he did throw 28 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions, and, perhaps most importantly, has the Gators in position to win their second national title in three years.

Now, the talk focuses on how Florida will be facing Bradford and the Sooners in the BCS Championship game in less than a month. It shouldn’t take much motivation to get amped up for the biggest game of the year, but Tebow assured everyone who was listening to him that he wouldn’t forget this year’s Heisman. Nor would his fellow Gators for that matter.

 “Probably to tell you the truth, this is even more motivating for my teammates than even myself just in talking to them,” Tebow said.

Right after the announcement came down, Tebow got flooded with text messages from his teammates, many of them from some of the Gators’ best defenders. And just about all of them were not for public consumption.

“I can’t share those, but they were good ones,” Tebow said.

Tebow’s drive toward what he thought would be his second Heisman started in the Gators’ locker room after the disappointing Ole Miss loss in September. As everyone knows by now, Tebow stewed for an hour and a half before giving an impassioned speech that was a big motivator for him and the Gators as they reeled off nine straight wins in impressive fashion. There may not be a player in the game that takes losing as hard as Tebow and it took him a while – a long while – to get over the loss to the Rebels.

How long do you think it’s going to take for him to get over this one?

“Why get over it?” Tebow said. “Use it as motivation. Just like Ole Miss.”

For Bradford and the Sooners, that’s a bad sign. Tebow said before the announcement that he’d rather with another national championship than this year’s Heisman and he’ll get his shot Jan. 8. While 11 Heisman winners have gone on to win the national championship in the same year, it certainly doesn’t guarantee success.  

Tebow said he gave Bradford a few pointers after the ceremony on how to handle all the attention that will be shown directly on him as the Sooners begin to prepare for the Gators in earnest beginning Friday. There will be plenty of awards ceremonies and dinners for Bradford to attend to while Tebow prepares for his redemption game.

Tebow’s heart was pounding right before Bradford’s name was announced and he knew what he was going to say if he got up to the podium. But that chance didn’t come. This year had a different feeling to it. The uncertainty was palpable.

“I had more of a gut feeling that I was going to win last year,” Tebow said. “I didn’t know. I thought I had a chance. Who knows?”

Tebow never said it, but the old saying “don’t get mad, get even” looks to become his unofficial mantra over the next few weeks. It’s not like to provide any bulletin board material for opponents. But it didn’t take much to read between the lines with Tebow. He wasn’t happy.

And an unhappy and extremely motivated Tebow is only a good thing if you’re a Gators fan.