Tim Tebow was always "The Chosen One" as a Gator — he was even that in 2005, when ESPN aired a documentary with that subtitle in high school. He committed to Florida with as much fanfare as any recruit had to that point. He sparked a low-grade quarterback controversy by outplaying Chris Leak in Florida's 2006 spring game. And he really got the hype about his prodigious talents going in the third game of that fall, when he ran for a pivotal first down against Tennessee.
But Tebow's career didn't get weird until he met the weirdest team in college football.
Hello, LSU. Hello, jump pass.
That wasn't the first weird game between Florida and LSU, to be clear.
The 1960 game featured Florida snatching an LSU quarterback's wristband and using the knowledge gained to stage a comeback. A Catholic priest gave an invocation asking God to stop the rain "if it be Thy will" before a 1972 game between the teams in Gainesville; instead, it rained harder, and a 4-4 Florida team tied a top-10 LSU team in the storm. The 1989 meeting saw fireworks at Tiger Stadium — and a Florida win in what was called the first "overtime" game in college football history.
Even the standard-issue beatdowns were a bit odd in their timing. LSU handed the defending national champions just their third loss since the beginning of the 1995 season in 1997, one year after a shellacking; Florida gave the 2003 Tigers their only loss, one year after a 36-7 pounding at home that was the Gators' largest defeat in the series since 1971.
Oh, and Urban Meyer cried after Florida's 2005 loss to LSU, out of a mixture of his team finally coalescing — the Gators would go 4-1 to finish the season — and frustration at losing twice in three weeks for the first time since 2002 at Bowling Green.
But Tebow's arrival (which came one year after Les Miles came to Baton Rouge), and the debut of the jump pass, turned what had been a decent pairing of SEC teams with some memorable games in its past into a great rivalry — and a profoundly weird one.
Practically every meeting since has been notably weird.
Chalk it up to The Curses of Les Miles and Tim Tebow.
In 2007, LSU fans got Tebow's phone number and besieged him before the game. He responded by scoring a touchdown and holding an imaginary phone to his ear — and then LSU proceeded to win what many considered one of the greatest college football games ever, with Miles repeatedly charging Jacob Hester into the line to go 5-for-5 on fourth down.
In 2008, Florida faced unbeaten No. 4 LSU in its first home game after the Gators' loss to Mississippi and Tebow's "Promise" speech. On the third play of the game, a deflected Tebow pass landed in Percy Harvin's arms, and Harvin took it to the house. Florida built a 20-0 lead in the first half, then responded to two LSU touchdowns by scoring 31 of the final 38 points, winning 51-21 and topping 50 points against LSU for the first time since that 1996 thrashing.
In 2009, Tebow came back from a concussion suffered two weeks prior (probably unwisely), and played poorly in his return trip to Death Valley at night. But Florida scored the game's lone touchdown on what appeared to be a pushoff by Riley Cooper, and the Gators' defense held the Tigers (again unbeaten and No. 4) to 162 yards of total offense in a 13-3 win.
In 2010, well, this happened:
No night did more to make Florida fans irrationally scared of orange uniforms.
In 2011, Florida went to LSU without both starter John Brantley and presumed backup Jeff Driskel healthy, making Jacoby Brissett the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Florida in a non-Trey Burton situation. And the Gators got destroyed to such a degree in their 41-11 loss that punter Brad Wing taunting on a fake punt run in for a touchdown had competition for best way to rub salt in the wound from a jump pass run by LSU.
In 2012, Florida ran the ball approximately 3,817 times in the second half and got an incredible forced fumble by Odell Beckham, Jr. from Matt Elam — who taunted Beckham with a "go to sleep" gesture and annihilated Loucheiz Purifoy after a great play by the corner earlier in the game — to beat ... unbeaten and No. 4 LSU.
Tigers fans: You're lucky you're not two spots higher in this week's AP Poll.
In 2013, Florida went to LSU for Tyler Murphy's second road start, and promptly lost Matt Jones for the season, saw Murphy take the sacks that produced the shoulder pain that would eventually end his season, and suffered such indignities as Damien Jacobs having his helmet ripped off more than once. Still, inexplicably, Florida only trailed by eight midway through the fourth quarter, then drove into LSU territory down 11 late in the period.
This is perhaps the least notably weird game in the series since 2006, and Florida still would not die, despite Mack Brown leading Florida in rushing. (Whenever Mack Brown led Florida in rushing, it was an accident.)
In 2014, well, this all happened:
Colby Delahoussaye hit a 50-yard field goal with three seconds remaining — after officials called a timeout that gave LSU 10 seconds to spike the ball and stop the clock, after a tipped pass by Jeff Driskel became an interception that gave LSU new life, after Florida forced a three-and-out to get a chance at a second game-winning drive, after Florida got a game-tying field goal on a drive keyed by an unfathomable Driskel bomb to Demarcus Robinson and submarined by a stunning drop in the end zone by Tevin Westbrook, after LSU converted a third and 25 on a 41-yard pass (with a personal foul against Florida tacked on for good measure) and scored a go-ahead touchdown on an absurd one-handed catch, and after Florida turned an incredible Andre Debose punt return into a touchdown on a great Driskel throw to Robinson, all in the last 10 minutes of play — to give LSU the 30-27 win.
And that was just the final 10 minutes of play in a see-sawing game that followed a trying week in which Treon Harris, a surprise hero (and the Gators' likely starter) for what he did to help Florida win at Tennessee in relief of Driskel, spent most of the week suspended, as police investigated a sexual battery complaint against him that was lodged on Monday and withdrawn on Friday.
Here is how weird that game was: Andre Debose was arguably the best Florida player in that game! And it was arguably his third time being Florida's best player against LSU in his 19 years as a Gator!
Basically, Florida and LSU have played the nation's weirdest rivalry over the last decade. It's been so weird for so long that I wrote a version of this post in 2012 — just three years ago, but long enough that virtually none of the embedded videos work — and things got stranger. It's been so weird that Florida starting five different quarterbacks against LSU since 2009 isn't even the weirdest part of Florida starting five different quarterbacks against LSU in six games: No, the weird part is that Tebow probably shouldn't have started in 2009, and I suspect Driskel probably wouldn't have started in 2014 had Harris not been suspended that week.
And while both Miles and Tebow showing up almost simultaneously isn't the reasoning for all of the nuttiness that has happened since, it's definitely played a part.
Whatever happens in Death Valley this weekend, it's bound to be weird.
Hell, normal would be weird for Florida-LSU.