A crushing blow to Tebow

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 27, 2009 

It seems safe that even the most zealous of Kentucky Wildcats backers did not expect what could be the pivotal play of the 2009 college football season to occur in Commonwealth Stadium.

Yet, with 3:57 left in the third quarter of a game Florida was dominating against the home team, Taylor Wyndham, a little-known Kentucky defensive end, came shockingly clear while rushing the Gators' quarterback from the edge.

A millisecond later, we learned that Tim Tebow is not indestructible.

Wyndham delivered a crushing blow to the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.

On his way down, the back of Tebow's head smashed into the knee of his right tackle, Marcus Gilbert.

As we learned just how silent a crowd of 71,011 could be, Tebow — college football's superman — lay motionless on the field.

And he laid there.

And laid there.

And laid there.

On the Florida sideline, Urban Meyer felt his knees start to quiver. "Imagine how you'd feel if it was your son," the Gators coach said later. "That's exactly how I felt."

Florida center Maurkice Pouncey was on the Commonwealth field directing a plea heaven-ward. "I hadn't seen Tim Tebow laying on his back since he'd been at the University of Florida," Pouncey said. "I just prayed, 'Please, let him get up.'"

After several tense minutes that, for the Gators, had to have seemed like decades, Tebow sat up. Eventually, he walked off the field under his own power.

Midway through the fourth quarter, he rode a cart from the Florida sideline to a waiting ambulance where he was taken to the University of Kentucky hospital. He was being held overnight there for precautionary reasons.

"We believe it's a concussion," Meyer said later.

The Florida coach said it was obviously too soon to know whether Tebow would be cleared to play against LSU in the Gators' next game Oct. 10.

Oh, yeah. With Tebow leading a breathtaking 31-0 first-quarter blitzkrieg, top-ranked Florida smashed bumbling Kentucky 41-7.

Right up until Wyndham's hit put Tebow on his back, the Florida quarterback was using his final appearance in Lexington to add to his legend.

It was late in Thursday's practice that the Gators QB approached Meyer to inform him that he had become the latest Florida player to fall ill in a week when flu-like symptoms swept through the Gators' roster.

"I saw that look on his face," Meyer said. "I've seen that look way too often lately."

Tebow was among 12 Gators who were deemed too ill to fly on the team plane, so they came to Kentucky on different aircraft.

Before the game, Meyer said Tebow took two IVs.

Once inside Commonwealth, Tebow quickly made Kentucky look sickly.

In the same stadium where he threw for four TDs and ran for another in 2007, Tebow accounted for three more scores Saturday night.

He threw for one, ran for two. Using his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame to maximum advantage, Tebow bulled through the UK defense for 123 rushing yards.

"Phenomenal, phenomenal," Meyer said of the quarterback's play.

Though it appeared Tebow might have been unconscious and he was lying motionless, Meyer said that when he got to him on the Commonwealth turf the QB was conscious and able to move.

"He never lost any feeling. ... He was asking 'Did I hold onto the football?'" the Florida coach said. "Typical Tebow."

For Florida, the worrisome factor long-term in seeing its battering ram of a quarterback suffer a possible concussion is that head injuries tend to make other head injuries more likely.

Even if Tebow comes back without complication from this injury, can he play his normal power-running game with the normal abandon without risking another concussion?

If he can't, especially given the Gators' apparent limitations at the wide receiver spot, are Florida's repeat national championship hopes doomed?

"He'll be fine," Meyer said. "That's one tough cat."

Maybe that's so. If it's not, then — what are the odds? — the pivotal play in college football, 2009, will have happened in Lexington, Ky.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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