Having played on two national championship teams at the University of Florida, and having been the first sophomore to capture the prestigious Heisman Trophy, pro quarterback sensation Tim Tebow relishes opportunities to mix with college students—and to inspire them along their path in life.
Two opportunities came in March, just weeks apart; one on a team bus in Wichita, Kan., and the other in a large assembly hall in Lynchburg, Va.
A plane carrying Tebow was refueling in Wichita when a bus arrived with the Wichita State University’s men’s basketball team after their stunning upset of top-seeded Gonzaga on March 23.
Tebow is no stranger to playoff greatness. Two seasons ago as quarterback with the Denver Broncos, he directed an electrifying wildcard victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now a backup quarterback with the New York Jets, Tebow was given the chance to share a brief word with the Wichita State players. In 45 seconds, he congratulated them, applauded their effort and said they will forever cherish their thrilling NCAA tournament victory.
“Some of you might go play in the NBA or you might have great lives, but this is the time you will remember,” Tebow said. “These are the special times in your life, regardless of what you do in the future.”
Tebow added that the players were an inspiration to many people. But he cautioned them that with adulation comes responsibility. “Always remember that and how you carry yourself and your character, how you represent your school, your family, your team, your brothers on the court,” he said.
“I know you don’t need to hear that from me, but I just wish ya’ll luck and we’re praying for you,” Tebow added. “God bless, and ya’ll go do it, all right, guys?”
In his 27-minute speech March 8 at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Tebow had more time to develop his four points. According to a university press release, more than 10,000 students attended the service, at which Tebow focused on how they could make a lasting impact as followers of Jesus Christ. He challenged them to exude passion, to set an example, to model greatness by being a servant and to finish strong.
Excitement is fleeting, while passion lasts a lifetime, Tebow said. He explained that passion is very different from motivation, very different from excitement and very different from getting hyped. “Before a game, you get hyped,” he said. “But you have passion for the Great Commission. There is a big difference.”
Tebow exhorted the students to be passionate about their personal relationship with the Lord. He said passion leads to sacrifice—of time, of energy and ultimately of one’s life. “Are you willing to give up your life for your relationship with Jesus Christ?” he asked the students.
Second, don’t be normal but be an example, the 25-year-old Tebow said. He pointed to Pittsburgh strong safety Troy Polamalu, a fellow believer. During Denver’s playoff victory over the Steelers, Tebow was barreling toward the end zone when he and Polamalu collided on a bone-crushing tackle. As Polamalu was bringing Tebow down, he tugged hard on a bracelet Tebow was wearing.
“As I’m getting up, I’m kinda kidding and said, ‘Troy, a girl with cancer just gave that to me this week, and you broke it,'” Tebow recalled. “I’m expecting Troy to be like most other football players and say something that I probably wouldn’t repeat here. But he looks at me and shakes his head and says, ‘Oh Timmy. I’m so sorry.'”
As Polamalu started to turn away, he patted Tebow on the shoulder and said, “But God bless you, man.”
Tebow told the Liberty students that after every tackle, Polamalu prays. “Wow, what an example that was to me as an NFL player,” Tebow said. “He made a difference in my life by what he said to me. He set an example. Don’t be normal. Be an example to someone else.”
Tebow’s third piece of advice to the students was to aim for greatness by being a servant and living a life of humility.
“The Bible is very clear that the greatest among you shall be a servant,” he noted. “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, while whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Tebow recalled how he was “crazy-competitive” as a 4-year-old T-ball player. After his coach gathered his players before one game and said that “it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s only about having fun,” the young Tebow admonished his coach: “No sir, you’re wrong. It’s only about winning. That’s when you have fun.”
Following laughter from the crowd, Tebow said his missionary parents recognized their son needed to learn some lessons about humility. So they had him memorize Scripture on that topic. “How pride goes before a fall and a haughty spirit before stumbling,” he said. “And how God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud.”
While many people look up to him and even call him their hero, Tebow has his own role models: those missionaries who put their life on the line every day to advance the Gospel and who serve others for the cause of Christ.
Finally, finish strong, Tebow told the students, many of whom began standing in line at 4 a.m. to get a good seat for the 10 o’clock service.
Tebow related the story about how Florida coach Urban Meyer rallied his players around the theme: “finish strong.” That was true for the regular season and the team’s 2008 national championship shot against Oklahoma—playing each game strong till the final whistle. Florida locked up the title 24-14 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
So why should college students, who have their whole life ahead of them, consider finishing well?
“You don’t know when you’re in your fourth quarter. You don’t know how much time you have left,” Tebow said in closing. “Are you ready? Are you passionate about the Gospel? Are you willing to not be average but to be an example? Are you going to be great? Are you going to serve others? And are you willing to finish strong?”