Over the years, Steve Spurrier has been able to recruit his share of noteworthy players, but he wasn’t able to talk Tim Tebow into walking away from the New York Mets to join the 73-year-old coach in the fledgling Alliance of American Football. To hear Tebow tell it, though, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Tebow was speaking with reporters Saturday, his first day of spring training this year with the Mets, when he was asked whether it was “hard” to turn down a chance to play in the AAF. Spurrier had said last week that he “got in touch with Tim before I took the job” with the Orlando Apollos but that the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback had told him, “Hey, Coach, I’m going to keep swinging the bat and see what happens.”
“It wasn’t very hard,” Tebow said of turning down AAF officials, including league co-founder Charlie Ebersol, “and they’ve called a lot.” He added with a chuckle, “Coach Spurrier keeps calling — and I love Coach Spurrier.”
The pair of college football legends, arguably the most important figures in the history of the Florida Gators’ storied program, would have made for quite a draw in Orlando, just over 100 miles south of their former stomping grounds in Gainesville. In addition, if Tebow harbored any hopes of returning to the NFL, the AAF could have provided an excellent opportunity to showcase his skills, but he said Saturday that it was “easy” to decline the league’s entreaties.
“Even though it was an awesome offer, and it was great, and humbling, I’m all-in on baseball,” Tebow said. “No way could I stop and not give this the chance after everything that I’ve worked for.”
Spurrier never coached Tebow, having ended his extremely successful run at Florida several years before Tebow arrived in 2006. In fact, the coach was running a rival SEC program, South Carolina, at that point, having failed to make his mark in two seasons with the Redskins.
Tebow became a first-round pick by the Denver Broncos and led the team to some success, including a playoff win in the 2012 season, but he was quickly discarded in favor of Peyton Manning and traded to the New York Jets.
Tebow lasted just one season with New York, and although he kept his NFL dream alive for a few more years, he never played a regular season down again. He earned some derision in 2016 by announcing that he was switching to baseball, despite not having pursued it seriously since his junior year of high school, and signed with the Mets.
After a rocky first year as a professional, Tebow showed notable improvement last year until he broke his hand in July. Now slated to start this season with the Mets’ Class AAA affiliate in Syracuse as the organization tries to quickly push the 31-year-old outfielder through the minors, he showed Saturday that he hasn’t completely lost his football-player mind-set.
Talking about an ankle injury he suffered on the first day of spring training last year, Tebow elicited laughter when he told reporters, “I didn’t run, or I didn’t play one snap of outfield."
Asked whether he ever thought he could get this far, with a call-up to the majors later this year a “very real” possibility, Tebow replied: “This journey isn’t defined by just getting there. I think, shoot, I’ve already enjoyed it enough to say it’s worth it, the whole process.
"Would that be awesome? Of course it would. It would be such an amazing thing and it would be so enjoyable, but at the same time, regardless of what happens, I know that I’ll enjoy it every day, and I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”
Tebow, who works as a football analyst for ESPN and SEC Network, confirmed that he was practicing his swing while attending January’s Sugar Bowl between Texas and Georgia. He said he flew his personal hitting coach, former major leaguer Jay Gibbons, to New Orleans and took some cuts at Tulane University between TV appearances.
“That’s how much I’m into this,” Tebow said of his dedication to baseball.
“You’re talking about a guy where what we’re trying to do is very difficult to do — nearly impossible. For him to do what he’s done already, to me, is an amazing thing,” Gibbons recently said of Tebow to the Athletic. “I’m not the guy that’s going to doubt Tim Tebow, with his heart and his drive. I would never doubt that guy.”
Tebow told reporters Saturday that he had counseled Kyler Murray on the 2018 Heisman winner’s decision between football and baseball. After being drafted in June by the Oakland Athletics and agreeing to a contract that let him return to Oklahoma for a season as Baker Mayfield’s replacement, Murray lit up scoreboards and stat sheets, and he announced last week that he was “fully committing my life and time to becoming an NFL quarterback.”
Calling Murray a “really good young man,” Tebow said, “I think it was a really tough decision for him. He loves two sports, and I can really relate to that. He went with something that he’s been really good at lately, dominating. When we talked about it — and we did talk about that — I just gave him the advice to follow your heart. Whatever you’re passionate about.
“You know, don’t do it for your agents, or your friends, or sometimes necessarily even your family,” Tebow added. “Don’t let other people define you.”
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