Maybe this is understandable. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, Tebow is among the greatest players in college football history, and Meyer's success in recruiting him—a shining coup in that dark first year in Gainesville—changed plenty of lives, none more than the coach's. Used to be, Meyer talked about retiring at 50. He doesn't anymore, and in August he signed a six-year extension worth $24 million. Used to be, he didn't like his Florida squads very much, not even the one, packed with Zook holdovers, that won that first national title. Now? "I love my team," Meyer says. He says it all the time.
Tebow did that. His arrival made Meyer's life easier just when it seemed to be getting harder. He was a key piece to winning two national titles, and then, when it seemed last winter that it all might end, he made Meyer's life easier again. Tebow decided in January to return to Florida for his senior season, and "the big reason is [that] I wanted to be with Coach Meyer another year," he says. "I wanted to be loyal to him, I wanted to finish strong for him."
Tebow told Meyer just that in his office the day he decided to come back, causing Meyer's eyes to fill and the two men to hug hard. Cynics will say this is because Meyer wants to win. But it's also because Tebow, combining smashmouth aggression with brains, is the player Meyer would have loved to have been. It's because Tebow, by marrying a charitable nature with an in-your-face streak, exemplifies better than anyone else Meyer knows how to be both a hard-ass and a softy. He has made Meyer more spiritual, less anxious, and, Shelley says, he's the one person alive who can ease the sting of a loss. "He just helps Urban feel better about everything," she continues. "Urban knows Tim's in control of that team. There's a comfort in that that Urban's never had before."
On Oct. 10, two weeks after Tebow suffered a concussion, Meyer allowed him to play against LSU. It became the most controversial game of the season. The approval of the Gators' medical staff and of Tebow's father, Bob, buoyed Meyer, but in the end it was his call. "To say I was completely at peace would be incorrect," he says. "But I thought we could manage the game." Indeed, Florida won and Tebow emerged seemingly unscathed.
That night, after speaking to the press and embracing Tebow's dad, Meyer found himself a corner under Tiger Stadium. With a cellphone pressed to one ear, he dropped onto a plastic chair and opened a bag of chicken nuggets. No one paid him much mind; Shelley and their daughter Gigi hovered nearby, heads bent, fingers tap-dancing on keypads. Meyer took a few bites. After a time, he stood and led his girls toward the idling bus. In their path a huge man stood waiting, his fandom somehow expressed by a long blond wig, a black bra and Gator-orange Crocs. He held his hand high to be slapped, but Meyer, eyes fixed, blew on past, the picture of just how content and driven and untouchable, in the end, normal can be.
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