Updated: May 22
BY: KASSIDY HILL
For the past month, sports deprived fans across the country have tuned in weekly to watch an inside look at the work of basketball superstar Michael Jordan and the NBA Championship run of the 1998 Chicago Bulls. We watched transfixed by a story we already knew, still amazed at the dedication, motivation and sheer unworldly talent that spurned one of the sports greatest individuals and teams of all time. As such, it’s caused us to wonder on some other teams in other sports and contemplate again, who are the greatest of all time in football? Is there a team that was unlike one we’ve ever seen or ever will see again?
The 2008 Florida Gators are arguably one of the greatest teams in all of college football history. The top to bottom talent was matched only by their sheer domination of each opponent. The way they bounced back from a loss, banded together and unapologetically pursued their goal helped them go down in college football lore. As Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators began to prepare for the 2009 season, they set their sights on doing it all again.
It was Tim Tebow’s final season, so fans knew in some way or another, this was the end of an era. But there was still this final year, this “last dance” to borrow the term. Like Jordan’s Bulls, Tebow’s Gators lost some pieces for their final run. There was no more Percy Harvin, but Tebow still had other favorite targets such as Riley Cooper, David Nelson and Aaron Hernandez. The defense was still led by studs such as Brandon Spikes and Major Wright. The Pouncey twins were still holding down the center of the offensive line.
As the season began, the Gators were hot and carrying all the momentum of their National Championship. They thumped any team that dared face them and in a variety of ways. There was the defensive battles against LSU in Baton Rouge and Arkansas at home, then an embarrassing display of offensive numbers against Kentucky, Georgia and others.
The regular season ended with the Gators undefeated, No. 1 in the country in every poll and on a path to repeat. The only real obstacle standing in their way at that point was a date in Atlanta with the also undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide, No. 2 in the country and looking for revenge for the defeat a year before in the SEC Championship. It was a de facto National Championship and everyone knew it.
But it was more than a 2009 Championship on the line. It was a dynasty.
We could debate all day as to who the NBA G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) is; if it’s Michael Jordan or Lebron James or maybe even Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Steph Curry, Magic Johnson or several others. But one thing that is in no way up for debate is the Bulls dynasty. Six championships is a feat few organizations could even hope to pull off and to win them all within the same decade is a run unlike any other. Michael Jordan is at the nucleus of it all, much like Tim Tebow was with the Gators. There is no one way to define a dynasty and it’s somewhat different in college than the pro’s where the turnover is more frequent. But the general acceptance is that winning three championships in five years is enough to earn the title.
Looking back, a dynasty hinged on that 2009 SEC Championship. If the Gators had won, they would have very likely gone on to defeat Texas in the National Championship, much like Alabama did. It would have been their third crystal ball in four years and that era would move from being one of the greatest in Florida Gators history to one of the greatest in college football history. It then begs the question, would it have made a difference in the Heisman Trophy competition the following week?
Instead Alabama won, the Tide’s Mark Ingram took home the trophy and Tim Tebow, in his first autobiography "Through My Eyes" admitted he relaxed in New York knowing it was Ingram’s trophy to win, following his three touchdown performance against the Gators the week before. So instead the Tebow family invited Ingram to spend the time with them gallivanting around the city to help keep the young running back’s mind at ease. Tim Tebow knew the tide (pun intended) had turned and soon so would everyone else.
Alabama, as mentioned, parlayed that SEC title into a National Championship win against Texas. The year after next, they would win a second under Nick Saban (2011 against LSU) and the following year, would run over Notre Dame for a third in four years. It was a dynasty, no doubt about it.
There is a lot of debate in this current sports-less world as to who the greatest college football player of all time is, who the greatest SEC player of all time is, who is the greatest quarterback—basically any way we can think to frame the argument so as to have another topic of conversation around the water cooler. No matter how the question is asked though, Tim Tebow’s name inevitably comes up. When talking about specific Florida Gators, so does Danny Wuerffel.
As storied and inspiring as Danny Wuerffel’s career was in Gainesville— a Heisman winner and the cog to the 1996 National Championship, it’s hard to put him above Tim Tebow primarily due to less championships. Yes Chris Leak was the quarterback for the 2006 championship team, but it’s hard to imagine the Gators winning that title without Tebow who became the greatest role player of all time his freshman year. Wuerffel’s best argument as the greatest is that he inspired the greatest, Tebow. And perhaps this is akin to the Jordan/Lebron debate in that it’s somewhat generational. But for this writer, it’s hard to argue with the production Tebow had in his four years. Danny Wuerffel was an incredible quarterback, a one of a kind talent. Tim Tebow was a one of a kind player. If need be, he would’ve played every snap, running out as linebacker on defense and relishing in the hard hits.
Ergo, this space maintains Tebow is the greatest Florida Gator of all time. But where does he rank in the echelon of college football’s greatest? And how much is that 2009 season to be held against him? It was Tebow’s best statistical year…but it didn’t end with a crystal ball. If it had, would there even be a debate?
These are questions that can’t be answered but the wonderment is what makes it exciting. It’s what makes us tune in to watch a ten part documentary about a two decades old team. It’s what makes us look back and ask “what if?” It’s what makes us grateful to have seen at least a little bit of the greatest the game has to offer.