Updated: May 8
During a storied career, there may be no better picture of the Tim Tebow legend than the rainy day in Tallahassee that born "The Braveheart Game."
BY KASSIDY HILL
In "Braveheart" (1995), Mel Gibson as William Wallace stands before his men and asks them “are you ready for a war?” And to war they go, Wallace painted and bloody, mud and muck and battle colors running down his face and entire body, his passion fueling them as much as any military plan.
The movie is full of historical inaccuracies but the man was real as was his war and the depiction of him in a Scottish skirt and blue paint does give an accurate feel at least to the legend. Many have tried to replicate it; few have been successful.
Tim Tebow was successful.
No, we’re not talking about his Halloween costume in an unquestionable Willam Wallace get-up as an ode to his favorite movie. We’re talking about the rainy day in the state’s capital, when Tebow led a band of men on a mission to Doak Campbell Stadium and cemented himself as myth and legend.
It was the 2008 regular season finale. The Florida Gators had their eyes set on the throne as one of the best college football teams of all time. They had lost a game earlier in the season, a humbling defeat in battle, but they used it to regroup, reassess and make a better plan to win the war.
Heading into Tallahassee against the No. 23 Seminoles, the No. 2 Gators had already locked up a trip to Atlanta the following week to face Alabama in the SEC Championship. A win over in-state rival FSU would definitely help in the BCS rankings where UF was No. 4. But a win the next Saturday over undefeated Alabama would arguably be enough to slip into the title game. So a win over the Seminoles was about pride…but it was about a lot of pride.
Before kickoff, FSU head coach Bobby Bowden knew it was going to be a problem.
“I don’t know what part the weather played, it wasn’t to anybody’s advantage, wasn’t
to their advantage, wasn’t to our advantage. I don’t know what that meant, I didn’t
like it and I don’t think Urban probably liked it either.”
Florida head coach Urban Meyer stood on the other side of the field and watched the rain fall, watched it accumulate and began to worry.
“I know a big part of our game is speed and I sat out there and just stared at that field as it started getting about two to three inches deep of water,” recalled Meyer after the game.
Current head coach and then offensive coordinator Dan Mullen joined him.
“I remember going out for warm-ups and there was standing water on the field. It was like ankle deep,” said Mullen while remembering the game in 2018.
“So I come back in after warm-ups and I'm trying to take my shoes off and clothes because I'm sopping wet. I was just trying to put on something dry, probably going to get wet again. But I'll put something dry on for a little bit and I'm sitting around, and Urban is freaking out.”
Meyer wanted to run the ball the entire time. He felt it was the only option in the deluge. And Florida did run the ball well and often, to the tune of 317 rushing yards, their third highest rushing output of the season. But Mullen had just watched warm-ups and in his trademark laid back style, he told Meyer he had a different plan in mind.
“'What are we going to do? Come on in here, let's look at the game plan. We're just going to snap it to Tebow and let him run up the middle every play,’” said Meyer according to Mullen.
But the young offensive coordinator persisted, “And I'm like, 'Yeah, we do need to change. I looked at our script and I said, 'We gotta throw a lot more.' I thought we could. We're going to really throw it around a lot today.
“And in classic Urban fashion, he’s like, his head’s about to explode. And I’m like, I’ll be honest with you a ball did not touch the ground in warm-ups. For whatever reason, we are on throwing it right now, and it’s raining. So I said, I think we can open up, it’s an advantage to us because we know where we’re going if they’re slipping and sliding, we’re running the routes, we know where we’re going. We were throwing and catching the ball in the heaviest part of the rain that it had all day.”
Mullen’s plan worked, so much so that he admittedly used it again to defeat South Carolina 38-27 during a tropical storm in 2019.
Back in 2008, Tebow went 12-21 and three touchdowns through the air. He connected with Aaron Hernandez twice and the Gators defied physics and opposing strategy to put up 185 yards in the pouring rain, in route to 502 total yards of offense.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better leader,” remarked Bowden after the game.
“After Ole Miss beat them, he stood up and told the press, ‘I’ll never let this happen again’ or something like that. ‘Ya’ll won’t ever see this happen to us again’ or something like that. By golly he lived up to it. He directed everything out there. He’s a tremendous player and a tremendous leader.”
But it was Tebow’s 80 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries that will be the lasting image. Slipping, sliding and purposely bulldozing his way through a defense that Meyer called “one of the Top 10 defenses” Tebow became covered in the garnet paint that covered the battle field. It dirtied his jersey and his face, the deep red giving the appearance of a bloodied warrior. It was amplified as this young and fearless leader ran down the sidelines, jumping and yelling to pump up his team and fans.
A year and a half ago, while compiling an oral history on the 2008 season, I asked Tebow about that day, the game that has since been dubbed “The Braveheart Game.” In true Tebow fashion, when away from the gridiron, he took a beat and pondered thoughtfully on his answer. Then quietly he responded about that moment when he went running down the field, a football reincarnated Willam Wallace.
“You feel it, I’d play with so much heart and there’d be adrenaline so I’d never really like
think through all the stuff I would do.”
While he may not have stopped to think through it all the stuff he would do, that day what he did became legend. A 45-15 win, in route to a National Championship. The Florida Gators were ready for a war that day and that season. Luckily they had the perfect man to lead them into battle.