The SEC championship game had been over for hours. Alabama had demolished Florida. There would be no repeat national championship, no perfection for the Gators and the Gators' quarterback. In a Georgia Dome elevator, two sportswriters, tired of the quarterback's story, were gleeful.
"There goes Tebow's legacy," one of them said.
Tim Tebow plays his final college football game in New Orleans on New Year's night. It wasn't what he had in mind. Alabama ripped the last chapter out of his storybook. Urban Meyer, the coach Tebow loves, has health issues. The NFL is next, but where, what? There is suddenly uncertainty.
But not in his legacy. For that is not just in record books or trophy cases. It's deep inside hearts. We could tell you a hundred Tebow stories. Instead, we'll tell just two. We'll tell you about Boomer and Kelly.
Boomer is 7, Kelly is 20. Boomer lives in Atlanta, Kelly lives in northern Virginia. They've graced Tim Tebow's life, they're two of his heroes, to hear him tell it.
Wednesday afternoon, Boomer Hornbeck and his mom, Brooke, were driving from Georgia to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl. Boomer expects he'll see Tim.
"Yes, sir," Boomer said.
Boomer has cerebral palsy. Doctors told Brooke her only child would never sit or walk, but they didn't know Boomer, though walking is a struggle and he can't really use his left side much. "Never complaining, always smiling," Brooke said.
She's a Florida graduate. Boomer wants to play football for Florida, then in the NFL, then coach the Gators after that. After his big surgery last year, he was in a half-body cast. He insisted his cast be orange and blue. Brooke doesn't know how Boomer handled the pain, but during therapy, he kept saying he was "going to meet Tim."
The Hornbecks once lived in Naples, where Boomer's grandfather is chairman of an annual charity banquet. Urban Meyer was the keynote speaker last year. Boomer came down to see him and took a few halting steps. Meyer melted. Boomer told him to say "Hi" to Tim Tebow.
"Say 'Hi' yourself," Meyer told Boomer.
So, the day before the Gators opened this season, Boomer came down from Atlanta and met Tim. Brooke thought it would be for a few minutes. It turned into hours.
Tim complimented Boomer on his walking, then pushed his wheelchair around the stadium. The next day, he wheeled Boomer out for warm-ups before the game and into the locker room after it. Everyone wondered about the lucky little boy with Tim Tebow.
"He was nice to me and stuff," Boomer says. "He told me to be brave."
"He's an inspiration," Tebow said.
They hooked up later in the season, before another home game. Boomer sat with Tim at the team dinner and chapel. Florida arranged tickets to the SEC title game and now the Sugar Bowl.
The night Boomer's friend went down in the Kentucky game, all still on that field, Brooke was looking at the TV, crying.
"Mom, God will take care of him," Boomer said.
Now, about Kelly - and her date with Tim Tebow.
Kelly Faughnan was born with issues, just like Boomer. Her hearing was severely damaged. The tremors, which began when she was about 12, persist. Her mom and dad, Janet and Jim, took her to the best doctors. When Kelly moves, the tremors are liable to start. It's hard to live a normal life, high school, dances, a job, college, too hard sometimes. But there's still that special Kelly light.
"Kelly is, and really has been her entire life, a fighter," Jim said.
"Kelly is an amazing young lady," Janet said.
Late last year, Kelly underwent surgery for the removal of a tumor in her brain stem. Surgeons got the tumor, saving her life, but it didn't stop the tremors.
Anyway, Kelly and her kid sister Katie came up with the plan before surgery. Katie to Kelly: Ask Mom and Dad for anything, because you'll probably get it. So Kelly asked to go to Disney World. After a while, she picked out the exact time, December, to coincide with the ESPN college football awards show, broadcast from Disney World. That way, she could meet Tim Tebow.
Janet and Jim smiled. They told her not to get her hopes too high.
"Kell, if you just see him, consider yourself lucky," Jim said.
A few weeks ago, they went to Disney. And Kelly heard about a private banquet for the award nominees being held at the ESPN Zone restaurant the night before the awards, so she had to go. There she was, wearing an "I Love Timmy" pin someone had given her, as Tebow entered the restaurant. He was running late. He waved.
Later, Kelly, Katie and Dad are staring through a glass partition, watching Tebow. That was as close as they'd get, Jim figured. Oh, well. An ESPN producer, apparently tipped off by a security guard, came up and asked: Kelly, would you like to meet Tim?
Would I like to meet Tim?
Tebow sat with her. He listened to her story and she listened to his. They talked for a long time.
"She's had a tough go of things, but he made her feel special," Jim said.
Finally, it was time to go.
"Kelly, are you busy tomorrow night?" Tebow asked.
"Want to walk down the red carpet with me at the awards show?"
So it was that 20-year-old Kelly Faughnan of Clifton, Va., went to a royal ball. Cinderella had nothing on her.
"It was a dream come true," Kelly said.
Of course, she needed a dress, not a dress, the dress. Her and Mom found a silver gown, spaghetti straps. Kelly met Tim and he told her not to be nervous. Everyone there and watching TV wondered who that pretty girl was with Tim.
"It was a lot of fun," Tebow said.
"To see her glow like that," Jim said.
Timothy Richard Tebow plays his final college football game Friday. Boomer will be in the Superdome. Kelly will be at home in her No. 15 jersey she got for Christmas.
"The one thing I'll never forget is he told me never stop believing," Kelly said.
Legacy? Don't look in football record books. Ask two other children of God. One lives in Atlanta, one lives in northern Virginia. One is named Boomer, one is named Kelly. They'll talk about their friend Tim Tebow. That's the legacy, the one that really matters. And it isn't going anywhere.