The No. 1 Florida Gators were 4-0 and hoping to repeat as national champions heading into a tough Southeastern Conference road contest against the No. 4 LSU Tigers on Oct. 10, 2009. Just two weeks earlier, Heisman Trophy winning starting quarterback Tim Tebow went down with a severe concussion that had him under intense treatment every day leading up to the game.
The talk of the college football world was whether Tebow should, could and/or would end up playing in the game with plenty of talking heads providing their opinions one way or another. In the end, it came down to doctor evaluations and the presence or absence of headaches that would decide if he would be allowed to step on the field.
Though head coach Urban Meyer said publicly as the game approached that Tebow would play as long as he was medically cleared by Florida’s team of doctors, the decision went down to the wire.
In his memoir Through My Eyes, released on Tuesday, Tebow details his final conversation with Meyer on the topic and how he felt leading up to the game:
For me, it was easy. I was going to do everything I could to get out there—by doing what the medical professionals were telling me to.
After a number of tests, the doctors cleared me to play the morning of the game, but Coach took me aside before we got on the bus to Tiger Stadium.
“I’m not going to let you play,” he said. He had tears in his eyes—he knew how much it meant to me.
“I have to play,” I responded.
He cut me off. “I keep asking myself, if you were Nate, would I let you play? I keep saying, ‘No.’ I can’t let you play.” He really wanted to win, but he was unwilling to take a chance with my health.
“But they cleared me, and I haven’t had headaches in days,” I countered. “There’s no reason for me not to play.”
“No, Coach. No headaches.” A headache had been starting to set in, but for all I know, it was from stress or a migraine, not the concussion. […]
I was praying in the locker room that the headache, which had been getting worse and worse, would simply go away. It didn’t. I could barely see by the end of the pregame warm-ups, it was hurting so badly.
Meyer told the media on Oct. 5 that Tebow had been headache- and symptom-free for several days, a statement that has been confirmed by the player and was undoubtedly true at the time. In fact, speaking with a concussion specialist not associated with the team or school, OGGOA was told that once an athlete is fully recovered, the risk of him playing is no different whether they return to the field in 10 days, two weeks, six months or a year. The key – the doctor said – was remaining asymptomatic up until kickoff.
Whether Tebow’s headaches were caused by stress – like he suggests – or were a symptom of his concussion two weeks prior, he relates in the book that the pain went away and his head cleared the moment he stepped on the field. More importantly, he says it never came back and did not affect him at all.
The Gators’ defense stole the show that night in Death Valley, holding the Tigers to 162 total yards. Tebow ended up carrying the ball 17 times for 38 yards and completed 11 of 16 passes for 134 yards, a touchdown and an inexplicable interception late in the game.
Through My Eyes, in which Tebow “writes about life as he chooses to live it, revealing how his Christian faith, family values, and relentless will to succeed have molded him into the person and athlete he is today,” is available in bookstores nationwide and on Amazon.com in hardcover and digital editions.