Last year, our Alligator Army Fiction story was about an UF professor, his young grandson and how Gator football helped them get over the death of the boy's parents. This year is a little different. We are going about 25 years into the future and "Searching for Tim Tebow." If you like short story fiction, read on. If not, no hard feelings.
Tim stood on the field taking pictures with his parents, along with dozens of other recent graduates. With his aunt holding the camera, the Cook family shifted a few feet on the grass so the "2033 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS" banner was over their heads. Tim hit the game winning field goal in all three of Florida's tournament games, the last one in Dallas to defeat Arizona for the Obama Trophy and the National Championship. It made him proud to be on the team that ended UF's 21 years without a national title and added a sixth banner to the top of the Brantley Skyboxes. Of course, it was probably fate Tim would play at Florida; his middle name was Tebow.
Tim didn't think he had a very unique name. A lot of his parents' friends had kids named after UF athletes and coaches; Urban, Donovan, Jeffrey, and a few De'Michaels too. The adults he knew looked at Tebow like he was a God among men. Sure, not many guys won two national titles and two Super Bowls. But the biggest memory he had of Tebow was of him getting pulled off the field by Jaguars coach Jon Gruden and Tebow retiring a few weeks later. While people debated if he belonged in the Hall of Fame, Tebow had since moved to the Philippines and never been back to the States. In a few days, Tim was going to be in the Philippines too.
Tim's girlfriend Halle was six when Tebow led the Jaguars to their first Super Bowl. For ten years, Jacksonville felt like the center of the football universe and Halle was convinced Tim Tebow was the greatest man alive. After Urban Meyer took over the team in Tebow's second season, the Jags led the NFL in scoring and attendance each season. When they won their final Super Bowl in 2020, the Jags were the first team to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Meyer retired after the season because of his failing health and Tebow was never the same. Jon Gruden came in after doing TV for a few seasons and got rid of the Hybrid offense Meyer invented for the Jags and was copied all over the league.
It was Halle's idea to go to the Philippines as a graduation gift for Tim. She was interested because her master's thesis was on the Filipino government wiping out the country's communist rebels. He didn't really care where they were going. The NFL wasn't much of a possibility and sociology graduates were not in high demand. Tim had no idea what he was doing next, but he knew he wanted to be where Halle was.
Tim Tebow won three SEC Championships and two National Championships, but that did not compare with what he did for the Jaguars. After back-to-back 6-10 seasons, the Jags were not drawing well and potential buyers were angling to bring the team to Los Angeles or San Antonio. In the 2010 draft, Jacksonville had the fifth pick and Heisman Trophy winner Colt McCoy in their sights. But they traded the pick to Seattle. While heads spun over the Jags deal making, a thought popped in the heads of Gators fans. When Jacksonville picked Emmanuel Moody at 12, Gator fans started thinking about what would come next. By the time the Jags picked Tim Tebow at 18, and Jack Del Rio said he'd play quarterback, the Jags had sold 10,000 season tickets. David Garrard was removed after a 0-5 start and Tebow took the helm, finishing the season 7-4. It wasn't enough to save Del Rio's job, but the team was not packing moving trucks. When Urban Meyer became head coach, the last potential bidders backed off.
The Jacksonville offense took the running game of the spread and the New England Patriots passing game. Using this offense, the Jags made the playoffs two seasons later and won the Super Bowl in Meyer's fifth season. Tebow broke his leg the next season and Jacksonville struggled for the next two campaigns as Tebow attempted to return to his old self. Meyer tweaked the offense again, and the Jags made the playoffs three more times. Tebow's eleventh season was his best as a player and Jacksonville was 14-2, but the fifth seed since 15-1 Houston won the division. The Jags played perfect ball in the playoffs, winning at Cleveland, Miami and Houston. Following the Super Bowl win over Minnesota, Meyer had heart surgery and retired.
It did not take long for Gruden and Tebow to butt heads. Gruden scheduled a pre-draft mini-camp for Tebow's annual pilgrimage to the Philippines, one that now included about a dozen Jaguars. Gruden refused to budge. When he threatened to fine Tebow and the rest of the players for missing the camp, Tebow instead wrote a check on behalf of each player to the Jaguars charity in the amount of the threatened fines. After Tebow won that battle, Gruden signed Kevin Kolb and Matt Cassel to compete with Tebow for the starting job because he, "Don't know if Tim can run my offense." Tebow could, even if the simple language of Meyer's offense was replaced by Gruden's offensive verbiage. But Kolb was fantastic in preseason and Gruden wanted him to start, but he also did not want to be remembered as the first coach to bench a Super Bowl MVP.
Through 10 games, the Jags were 6-4 when Tebow had only 175 yards in a loss to the Saints. Tebow had turned his ankle in the game and Gruden used that as an excuse to start Kolb the next Monday Night in a rematch versus Minnesota. After Kolb was ineffective in the first half, Gruden faced a locker room revolt unless Tebow was put back in. On two consecutive drives, the Jags rolled to inside the Vikings' 20 yard line. But both times, when the Jags were in danger of just a field goal, Tebow ran in for the TD. In eight minutes, Tebow turned a 14-6 deficit to a 20-14 lead. When Tebow ran off the field after the last score, Gruden got in his face, yelling that Tebow had changed three plays at the line and was missing open receivers. Tebow took off his helmet and jammed it into Gruden's chest, shoving the coach back several feet. As Tebow walked into the tunnel and off the field, Gruden smiled. Jacksonville lost the game 38-20 and Tebow was named the third quarterback, effectively ending his season. While several teams expressed interest in him, Tebow left to run his father's ministry in the Philippines.
Tim Cook was a fairly bright kid, but Halle was a genius. The first in her family to graduate college, she got her graduate degree in Political Science at UF. She put herself through grad school by tutoring athletes, one of them being Tim. It was a big gamble getting involved with him, but they got away with it.
Halle thought about this as their plane landed in Manila. They had already had a few days planned out, and a few just spent in bed. Walking through the terminal and to their taxi, Tim saw what he thought was a huge number of Gator clothes; the shoeshine boy with the UF hat, a few tourists with Gator polos and a very good sign, their cab driver.
"Are you from America?" The cabbie asked in a light accent as Halle and Tim climbed in the back.
"Yeah, we are. From Florida, Florida Gators," Halle said.
"Oh, yes! Florida Gators! Timmy Tebow! Timmy Tebow!" The driver couldn't contain himself. As they navigated the bikes and cars of Manila's streets, the driver talked about meeting Tebow as a teenager. Apparently, the biggest men ever to come to the Philippines were Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Tim Tebow. "But, you know, Timmy isn't an American," the driver said, spinning to look at his clients at a red light. "He's one of us!"
"So, have you seen him lately? Because, he hasn't been back to Florida in a while," Tim said.
"Well, that's because he is doing a lot here. You know, he saved us."
Halle and Tim looked at each other, assuming that since the driver met Tebow as a kid, it must have been a religious coded thing. Neither of them was very religious and the last thing they wanted was to be lectured by a Filipino cab driver.
"You heard of the CPP?"
Halle's eyes lit up. "Yeah, the Communists!" Tim swung his head around in shock. He couldn't believe he went to a third-world country to be attacked by communists. "My thesis was on the Filipino government taking out their terrorism ring." Tim still looked a little freaked out.
"And do you know who did that?"
"Yeah, General Agbayani routed their last forces in the west. Right?"
"Well, that's only part of it," the cabbie said as they pulled into the Hyatt. "Our friend Timmy had as much to do with it as President Agbayani." He got out and opened Halle's door and popped the trunk, to unload. "Do you have anything planned for tomorrow? Any sightseeing? I must explain. I own this taxi company and we provide sightseeing tours as well. But for you, I'll set you up with something special."
Tim leaned into Halle. "This guy is creeping me out. Can we just go upstairs so we can start fooling around?"
"What do you mean by special? I mean, I've studied the Philippines a lot, so it's not like we don't know what's going on," Halle said.
"You know what's going on?" The driver slammed the trunk and leaned against the car. "Because, if you did, you'd know what Timmy did for his people. And you'd be able to ask him about it tomorrow if you meet me back here at 9am."
"Wait, what?" Halle was intrigued, Tim annoyed.
"I told you, I met Timmy when I was a young man. You think I would lose contact with a guy like that? We are very good friends!"
Tim's head was spinning. First, it was dealing with communists and now it was his girlfriend getting swindled by a taxi driver. "You know what, we're very tired. We're going to check in and get some rest."
Tim grabbed the bags and started for the door before Halle stopped him. "Fine then. Nine o'clock, here." She turned for the door leaving Tim stunned. "Tim, pay the man. And leave a tip."
Tim pulled out $40 bucks for the ride, double the fare. The driver shook his hand. "Sir, I'm Tony, it was very good to meet you."
"Yeah, yeah, you too." Tim found a bellhop to cart the bags to the front desk and Tony got back in the car.
"Oh, Mr. Cook!" Tim turned around at the driver yelling his last name. "Those were some beautiful kicks! The whole nation was rooting for you!"
Tony drove off. In the hour since he landed in Manila, he had seen three people in Gators clothes, started thinking his girlfriend led him into a country with communist terrorists, and had her agree to meet with a strange taxi driver the next day. Now, he was getting complimented for kicking field goals. He started laughing. The only way this trip would be stranger is if they actually did see Tim Tebow.
The Philippines is a democracy, but barely. Their federal system looks like the United States' model, but democracy never meant freedom. In the years since World War II and the end of American rule, the Philippines had gone through various stages of chaos. Ferdinand Marcos ruled for nearly 20 years, holding onto power for much of his last decade thanks to Martial law. His successor was installed only after massive protests and United States government convincing Marcos to flee. At the start of the century, more protests kicked out another corrupt president. Since that time, the Philippines had benefitted from its traditional alliances with the United States and their Asian trade partners. But as each president moved closer to making the nation truly secure, communist rebels would start another attack. What began as skirmishes in the countryside, turned to terrorist attacks in Metro Manila. This was the Philippines that Tim Tebow came to following his NFL career. Gone was an eclectic mix of Asian, American and Spanish influence and in its place was a security state. Every taxi was a potential bomb, every backpack was a deadly weapon. Not even a visit from Pope Adrian VII in 2022 could turn the tide; a suicide bomber struck when the Popemobile passed on Manila's main road, Epifanio de los Santos Avenue.
"That was our low point," Tony said as they pulled the Hummer onto South Super Highway. "200 people died that day," Tony shook his head again. "Imagine if the Pope drove down Broadway and something like that happened in New York."
Halle was transfixed. A few weeks ago, she was studying all of this and now she was hearing it first hand. Meanwhile, Tim was stunned he was in a Hummer.
"So, uh, Tony," Tim asked, polishing the interior with his hands. "How did you get this car? I thought when GM went bankrupt, these cars were all destroyed for parts?"
"This was a gift from Timmy. He had a few of these. Of course, I had it convert it to battery, but I love it."
"What was the gift for?"
Tony got serious again. He adjusted himself in the seat and started talking about when Tebow returned to the Philippines. Tony was one of the kids in Bob Tebow's orphanage and had earned a level of trust among the family. Tebow spoke with him shortly after the bombing about what he could do to erase the violence that was surrounding Filipinos.
"I told him, it's more than just religion now," Tony said. "I think he came back thinking he would just keep open his father's ministry. But, that had been around almost 40 years by then. Maybe when I was a kid, and Timmy was born, his father was an important man in the countryside. But it became the CPP man. The guy with a bag of cash for the suicide bomber family. I had an education. I wasn't going to be a communist. I had something to live for."
Tebow ended up doing something he would have never done had his father been alive; he closed the family's missionary offices. The orphanages and schools would stay open, but the money committed to religious practices was diverted. Some went to helping local teenagers learn how to start businesses or college scholarships. The rest was for Tony and his friends.
"We figured out how the communist leaders functioned and Timmy helped us attack them because the military couldn't chase these guys. He never asked what the money was used for, but he knew."
They pulled off the highway and drove through Carmona, which looked like a lot of towns in Florida; pastel colored homes, some farms and a high school football field.
"Do the kids here play football?" Tim asked.
"Yup. My son is a little bit younger than you and he wants to play at Florida. Of course, when he realized a football scholarship was impossible, he settled for the academic one. But, that was something else Timmy did; before him, no one in the Philippines thought of sports as a way out."
Other than boxer Manny Pacquiao, there were no Filipino superstars. The kids being targeted by the communists were poor and uneducated. Tebow felt he could change that on his own. Tebow used to get in his Jeep and drive into CPP-controlled villages with bags of sports equipment. The CPP thought they would use the kids as propaganda, but it was the opposite. Instead of the kids becoming propaganda or suicide bombers, they became shortstops, cornerbacks and point guards. Tebow did this all over the Philippines. It was a miracle he was never kidnapped, especially since he never carried a gun.
Tim and Halle hung on every word, and when they heard Tebow never had a gun, all they could say was, "Wow."
As Tim and Halle peppered Tony with more questions about Tebow and the Philippines, they drove out of Carmona and through lush green fields. They had been driving for about 4 hours and finally came to their destination. Up ahead, a gate separated the dirt road from a little blue house. Tim spotted a flag with a Gator head on it, and nudged Halle who was leaning into the front seats. At the gate, Tony got out and spotted someone in the front yard. It was a petite Filipino woman, very good looking and in her 30s.
"So, you think this is the maid? I wonder if Tebow's inside or something." Tim tried to look around the trees, hoping for a glimpse of someone.
"You know, maybe that's his wife."
"No, I think he would have married some sorority girl or something," Tim said.
"Yeah, you were interested in those girls too and now you're with a black chick in a rural town in the Philippines. People's tastes change."
"Shut up, he's coming to the car!"
Tony walked to their side window and did not look too excited. "I'm sorry guys, Tim's not home today. Business in Manila. I'm sorry I dragged you out here."
"No, no way man," Tim said. "So, is that Tebow's wife? Can we meet her?"
"Um, yeah, come on out."
Tim and Halle introduced themselves to Lori Tebow, a native of Carmona and a Florida Gator grad. "I was there when he was with Jacksonville. The guys on the team used to make fun of him for dating a college girl. But when they saw me, they all wanted to date me!"
She led them inside the little cottage. With the exception of the Gators flag, there was very little memorabilia of Tebow's time in Gainesville or Jacksonville. The house was very basic with the only decorations paintings Lori had made.
"We get to watch all the games, so we got to see you nail those kicks in the playoffs Tim," Lori said. "Tony, did you tell Tim what you did when they won the Arizona game?"
All eyes were on Tony, who went from being a 40-something taxi owner to a shy kid. "I might have gotten a little emotional." They all started laughing. "Hey, my kid is going to go there. I can be happy."
They talked a little more about Gainesville, football and the Philippines. Tim and Halle met Tebow's two sons, Robby and Peter, who were far more interested in soccer than football. After about an hour, they thanked Lori for her hospitality and got back on the road. Halle curled up with Tim in the back seat, a little disappointed but happy to see what her hero had done. Tim was thrilled. It was always funny having ‘Tebow' as a middle name. Now, it was entirely an honor.
Around 6pm, they pulled off to eat at a seafood restaurant in San Pedro. The restaurant was nearly empty and one of Tony's discoveries while driving around this part of the country. They had been sitting down for about 10 minutes when he walked in.
He was wearing a blue blazer over an orange polo and khakis. He looked a little like the Western businessmen that were all over Manila. But the chin, the massive shoulders, even the slight limp, was a dead give away. The hair was the same and so was the smile.
"So this is Tim Tebow Cook? The most clutch kicker in Gator history?"
Tim got up to greet Tebow and was taken in by Tebow's massive arms. It wasn't as much of a hug as it was being wrapped up like a gift. Tears started to fill his eyes when he introduced Halle, who was sobbing. Tebow leaned forward, taking in Halle, trying to console her.
"I'm sorry, I'm such a girl," she said. "I just, I'm just very emotional."
"Don't worry about it," Tebow said, leaning away to look at Halle. "But the last time I made a woman cry was when I tried cooking for my wife." He was such a charmer.
Tebow and Tony hugged as well, and Tebow took the empty chair at the table.
"So, you came all the way to the Philippines to see me?"
"Well, no, not exactly," Halle said. "I got my poli sci masters and I've wanted to come here."
"Yeah, and I like hanging out with her, so I came," Tim said. "But it was Tony's idea to come out here, we wanted to come by and say hello."
"Well, I've met Gator fans before in Manila, but never has one of my boys tried to drop a pair off at my house!"
"What were you doing in Manila," Halle asked.
"I had some meetings with the President. He wanted to know what I thought of some proposals in terms of rural education. A little boring."
"Yeah, but after everything," Tim said, "isn't boring good?"
"Oh, well it looks like someone has gotten their history lesson today," Tebow looked at Tony, who was taking a swig of Bud. "Yeah, boring is good now. Very good."
They asked about his ministry and about the communists and terrorism. He asked about school and Gainesville. Tim and Halle could not get over that they were hanging out with Tim Tebow. And in the Philippines, of all places.
"How come you never come back to Florida?" Tim asked.
Tebow took a sip of his iced tea, and looked around a bit before coming back to Tim.
"You two feel a connection to Gainesville, right?"
"Well, yeah, of course."
"That's the way I feel about the Philippines," he straightened in his chair, talking with the same hands that dominated football for 15 years. "I was born here, this is in my blood. I love Gainesville and I love Jacksonville. But those were just stops for me. I was coming back here. It just so happened I came back earlier."
"God put me in this spot for a reason and I have to act on that. What I'm doing now, I could not do in Florida. God started my life here and it will end here. But, I have to improve the lives of my people. I couldn't do that by just raising money in the States."
"Yeah, but, people have been searching for you."
"If they are people who are worth anything, they wouldn't have been searching for me. I've always been here."
Tim and Halle would visit a few more times before the stress of starting a family ended their trips to the Philippines. For their last visit, Lori gave them a painting she had done of her husband; Tebow was standing on their back porch, looking across his farm. It was one of the few pictures of Tebow without a forced smile or hate towards his opponent. He was proud, as always, but at peace too. Tebow had done something bigger than winning football games. But his whole life had been that way. Now he was living it.