He may perform his heroics these days in a Denver Broncos jersey, but the most talked-about player in the National Football League is likely to remain a Florida brand his whole gridiron career.
Quarterback Tim Tebow was a University of Florida Gator before he was the darling of the Mile High City. And what a Gator.
While his miraculous 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime last Sunday shocked the nation, sent the Pittsburgh Steelers home for the season and propelled the Broncos into the second round of the NFL playoffs, millions of Floridians have seen it all before -- and then some.
Two national titles, a Heisman Trophy, 48 wins including four shellackings of the Florida State Seminoles -- all stuff of which legends are made in the Sunshine State.
"He wasn't selected in the first round of the NFL draft for nothing," said Steeler Head Coach Mike Tomlin. "The show he put on in Florida for four years eclipsed most feats I've seen in sports anywhere."
But it is, perhaps, in his identity as a Christian and an all-around "good guy" that he is doing the most to build his own personal franchise. As former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino points out, "He's such a wholesome good guy who takes responsibility for his mistakes and isn't afraid to cry and stomp along the sideline firing up his players -- that's what's getting him noticed."
That, and "Tebowing," the national craze Tebow touched off by dropping to one knee, elbow bent, with forehead resting in hand. It isn't a touchdown dance, it's a prayer, and it is visible in virtually every game he's played since high school.
Tebow, in his second season with the Broncos, took over as starting QB after the fifth dismal game. The Broncs were in the cellar of the AFC western division with a 1-4 record. Over the next eight games Tebow led the team to a 7-1 record and first place in the AFC West. Most of the wins were last-minute, come-from-behind nail-biters.
Fourth-quarter comback feats became known as "Tebow time." Bronco mania was back and Gator fans were plunged into bitter-sweet nostalgia.
"Tebow should be a Jacksonville Jaguar," said Justin Albright, a Jags fan and bank teller in Tallahassee. "We could've kept him in Florida and packed the house like the Broncos do Mile High."
According to a December 2011 survey from the Zillow real estate information company, good-guy Tebow was named the most desirable celebrity neighbor for 2012, upstaging Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and Jennifer Aniston.
He was voted America's favorite active pro athlete, according to a poll conducted by ESPN, selected for the month of December ahead of Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Last Sunday's game on CBS averaged a 25.9 household rating/43 share, according to Nielsen, the highest-rated first-round NFL playoff game in 24 years. After the game, mentions of Tebow on Twitter set a peak rate record of 9,420 tweets per second on the social-media site.
Politicians, including presidential candidate Rick Perry and former candidate Michele Bachmann, have referenced Tebow in speeches. Reporters continue to ask him which candidate he endorses for the White House in 2012. He keeps mum.
So much notoriety. How much is it all worth?
Tebow currently has endorsement deals with Jockey underwear, Nike and EA Sports. Those three contracts net him about $1 million to $2 million a year. But sports-marketing expert Bob Dorfman claims his marketing income will increase to as much as $5 million next year -- in fact, double that if he continues to win.
"He's become an icon; he's bigger than football," Dorfman, executive creative director at San Francisco's Baker Street Advertising, told Advertising Age magazine earlier this week.
"But that's the thing with this guy -- he keeps defying logic. Everybody keeps waiting for him to fail but it doesn't happen. He has the kind of marketing potential that could put him in the Tom Brady or Peyton Manning category" as a $10 million a year man.
Meanwhile, many Floridians, and even some of the folks closest to Tebow, say it isn't easy to separate Florida from the 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound quarterback's accomplishments.
Tebow's mother Pam, for example, said in a recent interview, "I think part of Timmy's orange and blue heart will always be in Florida."
Here's a piece of Florida Gator trivia Touchdown Tim is fond of sharing:
The Gators have had three Heisman Trophy winners. All were quarterbacks, all were sons of preachers. Steve Spurrier's dad was a minister in Johnson City, Tenn.; Danny Wuerffel's dad was an Air Force chaplain. And Tebow's parents were clergy, both missionaries, in the Philippines.
In fact, Tebow continues to make annual pilgrimages to the Philippine orphanage his father founded.
Said former UF offensive coordinator Charlie Weis -- now head football coach at Kansas, "One big lesson the Gator tradition taught me is, from now on, high school quarterbacks whose fathers are preachers go straight to the top of my recruitment list."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.