"Celebrated QB Tim Tebow is Getting the Royal Treatment in Gainesville." Six years later, Tebow begins the same process with the Jets. The only real change is the return to a green jersey from an orange and blue one.
Everything we are now seeing in New York, we've already seen here in Gainesville. To any Tebow skeptic or concerned Jets fan, read the following and see if it seems similar at all. And believe us, it worked out...very well.
Celebrated backup QB arrives with much excitement? Check.
On this Wednesday, a woman with a football and a Sharpie waits along Tim Tebow's late-afternoon walk to the locker room.
Two young boys hold posters for Tebow, a freshman quarterback, to sign as he leaves practice. Soon, a teenage girl tucks herself inside Tebow's golden left arm as a camera captures the moment.
"Any time," said Tebow, a grin frozen on his face.
Behind the small crowd, Chris Leak, Florida's undisputed starting quarterback, walks past with the fanfare of a student manager. Linebacker Brandon Siler, among the best at his position in the country, earned only a wave from the fans a few minutes before.
But demand for Tebow, whose first snaps at Florida Field come in today's Orange and Blue Game, trumps them all. Although he struggles with throwing mechanics and knowledge of the offense, he finishes the spring just as he started it: the prince of Florida football.
Scenes like the one earlier this month happen at every practice session and popped up on campus soon after he arrived in January. Before and after classes, fellow students would pester Tebow to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
"You just try to be nice to everybody," he said.
Team officials want to limit access to the media and the "circus"? Check.
But Tebow's chances to show off his personality haven't often stretched beyond university grounds. Spurred by the wishes of coach Urban Meyer, athletic department officials spent the spring limiting his access to the public.
Despite receiving dozens of interview requests, UF sanctioned one interview with Tebow after an April 8 intrasquad scrimmage. It lasted four minutes. And when reached on his cell phone, he typically declines to chat on the record.
In addition, the athletic department turned down several organizations, including a Texas church, that requested Tebow as a public speaker.
New backup QB already accustomed to the media frenzy? Check.
ESPN cameras have followed Tebow for parts of six months in 2005 to document the recruiting process. The experience has produced a poised young player who appears as comfortable talking to a tape recorder as to his 10 teammates in the huddle.
Celebrated coaches express that it will be good for the new backup QB to learn behind the starter? Check.
Still, most coaches agreed with Meyer that a quiet year won't hurt his progress.
"The best thing that could happen to Tim is for Leak to have a great season," said Skip Holtz, a Notre Dame assistant with Meyer and now coach at East Carolina. "And Tim can just sit back and learn."
Concern for his shaky throwing mechanics and learning a new offense in the off season? Check.
His execution, though, has fallen short of that description. A talented runner, Tebow has shaky throwing mechanics and, like most freshmen, needs more time in the offense.
Time is short, of course, with Leak and Tebow the lone scholarship quarterbacks for the season. And the circumstances have prompted the coaches to drill him harder than most true freshmen.
At a practice last Saturday, Tebow made a rushed read to his left and fired an off-target pass. "What's the coverage?" Mullen screamed. "When do you throw that?"
Tebow shrugged, unhooked his chinstrap and stepped away as Leak took charge of the next play.
Tebow and his coaches know he's popular. But they also know, and care much more, that he's far from polished.
And what can we expect? Tebow winning over skeptical teammates through his hard work and dedication? Check.
Talk of Tebow's weight-room prowess preceded his enrollment. This winter, Tebow picked a strange lifting partner: senior defensive tackle Marcus Thomas. Tebow's workouts pushed him near (or, according to some, past) 240 pounds, more than 10 pounds heavier than coaches hoped.
Still, his work impressed teammates. Take the night earlier this semester when redshirt freshman guard Ronnie Wilson needed a partner for a tug-of-war against two defensive starters.
"Tebow jumped in there," sophomore wide receiver Nyan Boateng said, "and they just blew [the defense] out. I was like, `Man, that's our quarterback?' That's when I knew he was for real."
And how did the 2006 season turn out? With a National Championship win against Ohio State. Chris Leak's play was elevated as the starter and Tim Tebow was instrumental as a back up who entered the game with an array of special plays in critical first down and scoring situations.
And in 2007? Tebow became the first player in college football history to score 20 rushing TDs and 20 passing TDs in a single season, and then became the first sophomore to win the Heisman trophy.
And in 2008, he led the Gators to another National Championship and won something called the "Manning Award".
Give our boy a shot, and who knows, history might just repeat itself, again. Makes you wonder what the "Manning Award" looks like at the Pro level? Or do they call it a Super Bowl ring?