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"I like Marvel," he said, without further explanation. "My favorite character is the Incredible Hulk."
After playing in ninth grade, Cody missed the next two seasons due to academic and family issues before returning as a senior. "Our first day in pads, of course no one can block him," recalls Scott Jones, his coach at Riverdale High in Fort Myers, Fla. "He's about 405 and can dunk a basketball. He tackles a kid who's 5'9", 145, and lands square on top of him. All I can see is a foot—and it's moving, so I know he isn't dead. After that, we made the Terrence Rule."
The Terrence Rule forbade Cody from tackling his teammates in practice, which did not prevent him from lifting the fullback off the ground later that day, putting the young man over his shoulder, then walking over to Jones and asking, "Is this good enough?"
Cody came into this season as a consensus All-America and is a finalist for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards. He blocked two field goals in the fourth quarter of a 12--10 win over Tennessee—the second of those coming as time expired. Just as Florida opponents suffer from Tebow fatigue, some Gators seemed weary of hearing about Mount Cody in the run-up to the SEC title game.
"He ain't Superman now," said Florida right guard Mike Pouncey. "He can be blocked."
No, Cody ain't Superman. But the Gators' problem, on Saturday in particular and in 2009 in general, was that Tebow wasn't Superman either. The hero of the last two seasons, the folk hero of whom it was written, "Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas," returned to Earth in '09. A combination of new assistant coaches, departed playmakers (Florida never adequately replaced Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy), a wicked concussion suffered against Kentucky on Sept. 26 and a collection of conservative game plans (made possible by a defense that, until Saturday in Atlanta, had been consistently suffocating) had the effect of muting the Chosen One's play in his senior season. Of course Tebow had some statistically monstrous games—against the likes of Troy, Florida International and 6--6 Florida State. At LSU he threw for 134 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. At Mississippi State he threw a pair of picks that were returned for touchdowns. And in the SEC title game he was outplayed by the quarterback whom Alabama fans regarded, not so long ago, as the booby prize after Tebow broke their hearts.
The day before he committed to Florida in December 2005, Tebow welcomed then Alabama coach Mike Shula into his house. For 12 hours. The two got on famously, and Shula allowed himself to hope, even though Tebow's parents, Pam and Bob, were Florida alums, even though there was a Danny Wuerffel poster on Tim's bedroom wall. After Tebow made his announcement, recalls Birmingham News columnist and radio talk-show host Paul Finebaum, "the joke around Alabama was that [Shula] must not have noticed the Gator on the mailbox."
Almost as a consolation prize, 'Bama signed Greg McElroy, who had thrown 56 TD passes as a senior at Southlake (Texas) Carroll High. After sitting for two years behind John Parker Wilson, the Texan's time arrived. Taking over the offense in 2009, he looked to be on autopilot for the first month.
His growing pains, it turned out, had merely been delayed. During a four-game stretch in October, McElroy averaged 126.8 yards passing and threw two touchdown passes. He was 10 of 20 for 92 yards and two interceptions against South Carolina. He was nothing special a week later against Tennessee.
What ailed him? "I'd never experienced adversity at the quarterback position," McElroy reflected late on Saturday. "I ran the table in high school. We killed everybody." The rough patches from earlier this season, inevitable for any first-year starter in the SEC, led him to doubt himself, which led his teammates to doubt him. He got his groove back by reminding himself, "There's a reason you're starting at Alabama." He also realized that much of the joy had been drained from the game for him, and he vowed to get it back. "For a while it felt so businesslike—like a job, an obligation," says McElroy, who has already earned his degree in business marketing and is working toward a graduate degree in sports management. "We play this game because it's what we love to do. You gotta have fun, right?"