Tim Tebow bears uncanny resemblance to Steve Young

Hmmm, let's see: a left-handed quarterback who sees a larger purpose than football in this life, and the one (we hope) after.

Except: he may not have the arm to make it big in the NFL and runs too much, which is going to get him killed at the next level.

Also: ministers to the less fortunate, is stubborn as a mule, leads with his head, constantly needs grass clumps picked out of his face mask, treats his body like a pinata.

And: so hyper-competitive he'd cry at his locker for an hour after a crushing defeat, then collect himself and responsibly face the media.

Tim Tebow in Gainesville?

. . . Or Steve Young in Tampa?

"They don't really talk too much anymore about how he ran around without his helmet," Tebow said of Young, who took his crazy feet to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Life for Tebow is tremendous -- the skeptics keep it from being almost perfect.

Approaching his last fall as quarterback for the Florida Gators, already a Heisman Trophy winner, already a two-time national champion, Tebow recently sat in a Los Angeles hotel room and signed photos of himself in his No. 15 uniform, caked in mud from helmet to hip.

A good game for most quarterbacks is getting out of a game with a clean uniform -- but not this guy.

Tebow already belongs on any short list of the best college football players of all time. His full biography consumes Pages 134, 135 and 136 of the Florida media guide, but the sampler-plate includes: 2007 Heisman Trophy winner; three-year completion percentage of 65.8; 67 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions; 2,037 yards rushing; and 43 touchdowns rushing.

If Tebow wins a second Heisman and a third national title, the best-of-all-time designation should pretty much be his.

Tebow was in L.A. for the ESPYs and is hoping to return in January for the Bowl Championship Series title game at the Rose Bowl.

"That's where we'd love to be," Tebow said, peering out his hotel window in the general direction of the Arroyo Seco.

"Why come back?" is a question Tebow hears all the time.

He also gets: "What's left to prove?"

Tebow has a couple of reasons:

One is an undefeated season.

"Florida's never had one," Tebow said. "It's not the only thing on our minds, but would we love to do it? Absolutely."

Two is to fulfill a promise to play four years in college.

"The motivation isn't what everybody thinks about -- winning another Heisman or another national trophy," Tebow explained. "It's everything. It's trying to be one of the best teams in Florida history. It's finishing out strong with the guys I came in with. It's loving being a Gator."

Tebow says the disparity of opinion as to where he projects in the NFL draft -- Gil Brandt of NFL.com has him as a top-10 pick as a quarterback; ESPN's Mel Kiper has Tebow projected as a tight end -- had little to do with his decision.

"We may have talked about it 30 seconds out of six hours that we were there for lunch," Tebow said of an off-season meeting with his parents and Florida Coach Urban Meyer.

"We talked about the platform I had as quarterback at Florida, the opportunity I had to affect so many kids around the country that look up to me."

The knock on Tebow as a pro prospect is that he's not polished enough as a passer and plays mostly out of a shotgun formation, instead of under center, which NFL systems demand.

There's also the concern that his punishing running style will land him on the injured list the second he runs into Ray Lewis.

The suspicions seem warranted in light of Alex Smith, who played in the spread offense for Meyer at Utah but has not succeeded in San Francisco after being the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.

Writing from the vantage point of a reporter who has chronicled Tebow and also knew Young when he was running for his life with the USFL's Los Angeles Express and later the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the similarities are uncanny.

For sure, Young, at 6 feet 2, 215 pounds, was smaller and faster than Tebow, who is 6-3, 240. An opposing team's scouting report found after a San Francisco game in the 1990s revealed Young to be the 49ers' speediest player -- on a roster that included Jerry Rice.

Long before he became a Super Bowl MVP and Hall of Fame player, though, Young heard what Tebow is hearing.

Young's first pass at his first L.A. Express practice in 1984 fluttered so much you thought it would be shot down by a hunter.

Young's highlight reel from his early NFL days in Tampa Bay was mostly Keystone Kops, with the quarterback running for his football life.

Once he was traded to San Francisco, though, and mentored by Bill Walsh while watching impatiently behind Joe Montana, Young's skills were harnessed and honed.

Young and Tebow don't know each other, but they share a kindred connection.

When Young returned a phone call and was told how much Tebow reminded this reporter of a young him, he responded, "I'm flattered."

Hyperbole alert: Tebow has a long way to go to become No. 8, but so did Steve Young before he became Steve Young.

Can Tebow possibly survive in the NFL?

"It cracks me up," Young said. "We're horrible at picking quarterbacks. Everybody is. It's a hard thing to pick. So they take the ones that are 6-5, 230 and can throw it through a brick wall. I don't understand. You see so many things in Tim guys in the NFL don't have. He's a rare commodity."

The draft "experts," remember, took Tom Brady in the sixth round, Montana in the third, and Ryan Leaf with the second overall pick.

Young says Tebow will have to adjust his game.

"You think he's dumb?" Young asked. "He's going to learn very quickly that the game is a different game than it was in college."

Most running quarterbacks, Young says, don't put in the tedious time to improve their throwing skills -- but he thinks Tebow will.

"Guys that move around are not willing to pay the price to do the job," Young said. "You can't circumvent that truth. I went to law school. It was memorization, study, repetition."

Tebow's passing touch has already improved. His accurate passes while he was under pressure, not his runs, were the key to Florida's win over Alabama in last year's Southeastern Conference championship game.

Florida this year has implemented more packages where Tebow will take snaps from under center.

Young said he needed to see more of Tebow.

"Passing in the NFL is delivering the ball at the right time in the right place," he said. "If you can't do that, you'll find your way out of the league. To me, that's the only issue. Everything else is comical to me. 'OK, what don't you see?' "

Tebow has never met Young, but his eyes got wide when comparisons were mentioned.

And it's not just on the field. Both players have an extraordinary outlook and worldview. Young, at Tebow's age, was more concerned about feeding the poor than lining his pockets, proven by his six-figure checks going un-cashed for months.

Tebow spent another off-season ministering in the Philippines.

"I've watched him for a long time," Tebow said of Young. "And not just because we're lefties and can scramble around a little bit."

Their early career playing styles are almost mirror images.

"With him the play was never over," Tebow said. "He was going to fight, scratch and claw to make a play. He'd do that because he's a tough player. He would be the first one up. He was tough, resilient."

Tebow and Young share an almost insatiable and passionate appetite for athletic confrontation. On the field, with their blood pumping, they're sharks.

Young wore, like a hair shirt, those painful playoff defeats against the Dallas Cowboys.

Tebow, after a one-point loss to Mississippi in Gainesville last Sept. 27, could not be consoled.

"I was sitting at my locker for an hour," he recalled. "Coaches were sitting with me for a while. When they left, my parents came. And every time my parents came and gave me a hug I'd break down more."

Instead of sneaking out a back door, though, Tebow collected his thoughts and faced the media, delivering what became known in Gators lore as "the promise" speech.

The words came straight from his gut.

"I'm not a big fan of scripting anything," he said. "I think most of the things that happen that are special to people come from the heart."

What Tebow said that day was, in part, "You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season . . ."

Florida did not lose another game en route to the national championship.

No one knows whether Tebow is going to make it as an NFL quarterback -- he's still trying to make the most out of Gainesville.

But there's one left-handed passer out there who would take a flier.

"Why wouldn't you?" Young said. "If Tim goes in the fourth round, that's ridiculous. He's a player."






AP top 10

1. Florida

2. Texas

3. Oklahoma

4. USC

5. Alabama

6. Ohio State

7. Virginia Tech

8. Mississippi

9. Oklahoma St.

9. Penn State



By the numbers

Some of Tim Tebow's

statistics at Florida:


career touchdown passes


career interceptions

65.8% three-year completion percentage


career rushing touchdowns


yards rushing


Heisman Trophy


national titles

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