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Applaud Tebow for a stellar career -- just don't hand him the Heisman

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For his final game in The Swamp, Tim Tebow chose two verses from the book of Hebrews to highlight on his eye black. The first verse said this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

A great cloud indeed. A stadium-record crowd packed Florida Field for the Gators' 37-10 win against Florida State. Millions more watched expansive coverage on ESPN's College GameDay that pushed the Tebow lovefest so far past its saturation point that many outside Gator Nation probably tasted a little bile before they changed the channel.

We get it. We do. You hate it when we write so glowingly about Tebow. You hate it when we mention that he might be one of the greatest college football players ever.

All the anti-Tebow sentiment is reminiscent of a 2004 profile of U2 singer Bono that Chuck Klosterman wrote for Spin. Klosterman couldn't wrap his brain around whether Bono's saintly aura was just a façade created for and by the media or the inner glow of a genuinely excellent human being. That led to Klosterman asking an interesting question, the gist of which was this: Whether it's genuine or a performance, does it matter as long as the saintly act was committed?

Tebow's on- and off-field exploits have landed under a similar microscope. Sure, he scores a ton of rushing touchdowns, but they're mostly one-yard runs. That's a fine argument, except that plenty of other players have been handed the ball on the 1 only to run into a wall. Sure, he raises money for his dad's orphanage in the Philippines, but he does it only to make himself look better. Even if that were true, how many orphanages have you raised money for this year?

Whether you consider him genuine or fake, Tebow, at the end of the day, is a Heisman Trophy-, SEC- and BCS-title winning quarterback who goes to class, goes to church and circumcises people less fortunate than him. More people should be so intolerable.

Some Florida fans suggested this week that fans wear eye black Saturday to pay tribute to Tebow. Thousands complied, including Florida's First Lady, Shelley Meyer. The wife of Gators' coach Urban Meyer set her eye blacks squarely on the Tebow haters when she chose 1st Timothy 4:12 as her verse:

Let no man despise your youth, but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in spirit, in faith, in purity. If Tebow was telling the truth at SEC media days in July, he's got the purity part down pat.

Alas, Florida State couldn't provide the foil for Tebow and the Gators that Texas A&M provided for Texas on Thursday and Auburn provided for Alabama on Friday. This undefeated heavyweight barely broke a sweat. FSU coach Bobby Bowden's final game in The Swamp -- no matter what, he won't be the head coach in 2011 -- was a disaster, and the Seminoles' sixth consecutive loss to Florida tipped Bowden's career record against the Gators below the .500 mark.

Tebow shredded the Seminoles (17 of 21 for 221 yards and three touchdowns; 15 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns), and those gaudy numbers probably tickled the voting fingers of several Heisman Trophy electors. That said, a fair assessment of Tebow as a human being also should include a fair assessment of his play this season. This assessment will come in the form of a plea to my fellow Heisman Trophy voters: Let's not go crazy and hand Tebow the Heisman, even if the 24-hour news cycle plus a wide-open field have changed the criteria. This year, the award probably will go to the most outstanding quarterback or running back on a good team who most recently played a great game on national television. Tebow rolled up some impressive stats Saturday but those numbers came against an atrocious defense.

Also, remember to include only 2009 stats in your evaluation. The Heisman isn't a lifetime achievement award. Tebow produced 55 touchdowns in 13 games when he won in 2007. Through 12 games this season, he's produced 30. If Tebow wins, they may as well rename the award the John Heisman and Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Trophy.

If Florida wins the SEC and BCS titles this year, Tebow certainly will deserve a lot of credit. But more credit should go to a defense that has allowed 9.8 points a game this season and held one of the ACC's most productive offenses to 55 total yards in Saturday's first half. Florida had an excellent defense last year, but Tebow had enough weapons on offense that his unit could take over a game. That isn't the case this year. Florida never found adequate replacements for offensive stars Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, but the Gators defense is so good that it has allowed Tebow to manage even when he can't mangle an opposing defense.

That fact has emboldened Tebow's critics, who swear he's completely overrated. But if Tebow is such a spotlight-seeking glory hog, why has he allowed this to happen? We know he can crank out 55 touchdowns in a season, so why hasn't he tried to force passes and run up bigger numbers? Why has he been content with simply winning?

In the fourth quarter, when the crowd realized it might be watching Tebow's final drive at Florida Field, popping flashbulbs followed the Gators down the field. The light show cried out for a Pink Floyd soundtrack. When the Gators got near the goal line, Tebow turned to the sideline and hopped, hoping Meyer would notice and call a jump pass. Meyer did indeed call that throwback play, but it fell incomplete. So with the light show raging, Tebow barreled in from -- you guessed it -- 1 yard out. The speakers should have blared Run Like Hell.

When it was over, Tebow made his customary circle around the field. Blonde tweens cried. Teens with braces squealed. The FSU band waved a thankful goodbye with the Tomahawk chop, and Tebow reciprocated with a chop of his own. Grown men swore they'd never wash their hands again. And then Tebow disappeared into the tunnel.

Tebow is running with perseverance the race marked out for him. After winning this critical stage, he deserved his victory lap.

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