GAINESVILLE — As if there weren’t enough expectations weighing upon the psyche of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, a Gainesville minister this week decided to pile on a little more.
There is a church located less than a half mile down the road from the football team’s practice field. Tebow passes the Campus Church of Christ every day. On Monday, two days after the Gators’ most surprising loss since 2004, this is what the church’s roadside bulletin board read in big, bold letters: “Why I pray for Tebow/Matt 6:13”
The Bible verse, Matthew 6:13, states: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
When asked about the sign, the church’s minister, Eric Brown, said that the message had nothing to do with sports. The sign’s intention was not a football metaphor, Brown said. The sign is to be taken literally.
”I’m going to pray that [Tebow] is true to his faith because if he falls and gets caught up in some kind of scandal it will be bad for Christianity,” said Brown, who does not know Tebow personally. “I hope Tebow sees the sign.”
Tebow and the No. 12 Gators fell eight spots in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. Tebow took the loss to heart. He cried after the game and then issued a resolute statement at the end of his postgame news conference.
”To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, you know what, I’m sorry, extremely sorry,” Tebow said. “We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here. But I promise you one thing. A lot of good will come out of this.”
Tebow paused and choked back more tears before reeling off a list of promises. It was raw emotion and Tebow tried to say it all at once, as if to avoid being cut off by the lump in his throat.
”You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season,” Tebow said. “You’ll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.”
The Gators called an emergency practice Sunday night, an unprecedented move since Urban Meyer took over the program in 2005. Tebow vowed to work harder, but his effort is not what is lacking, just his execution. Against Ole Miss, Tebow couldn’t complete a downfield pass. He overthrew wide-open receivers twice in the first half and twice on the final drive of the game.
Meyer expects a better performance Saturday when the Gators (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) play at Arkansas (2-2, 0-1). Tebow and his receivers have worked extensively on timing and execution this week, according to receiver Percy Harvin. Harvin had 13 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown last week.
”Normally, [Tebow] doesn’t miss us,” Harvin said. “Our offense, we were off our game and that’s something we’ve got to work on, but we’ll get it done.”
Most are expecting Florida to take out its frustrations on a struggling Arkansas team. Florida hasn’t played Arkansas since the 2006 SEC championship game, and the Gators haven’t scored more than 30 points in a month. But Florida is still a 25-point favorite.