ARI SHAPIRO, host:
Tonight's college football national championship game matches the Oklahoma Sooners against the Florida Gators. The subplot involves the match-up between two star quarterbacks, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Florida's Tim Tebow. From Miami, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN: Sam Bradford is part Cherokee Indian and an inspiration to thousands of Native Americans in his home state of Oklahoma. He won this season's Heisman Trophy after throwing a whopping 48 touchdown passes and helping the Sooners set a record for most points in a season. Although, he says he's now used to his sudden fame, Sam Bradford still has Greta Garbo moments.
Mr. SAM BRADFORD (Quarterback, Oklahoma Sooners): You know, most of the times I put on a hat before I go out the door. And if I can go somewhere no one knows who I am, that's great.
GOLDMAN: Which means, he should be OK with his treatment in Miami. Not that he's unknown here, but even with his story, smart and personable Sam Bradford is the second most talked about athlete in tonight's game. His Florida counterpart, Tim Tebow, has such star power that he even rates a mention in church.
(Soundbite of church service)
Reverend ERIC BROWN (Minister, Campus Church of Christ, Gainesville, Florida): Good morning.
Unidentified Congregation: Good morning.
Reverend BROWN: Good to see everyone here.
GOLDMAN: Last October, Eric Brown, the minister at the Campus Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida, led a sermon entitled "Why I Pray for Tim Tebow."
Reverend BROWN: I said I want to pray for him for the same reason that you are praying for me, because you appreciate it when people, especially young people, are trying to live lives of integrity and trying to glorify God.
GOLDMAN: Tebow has lived such a life since he was born in the Philippines to missionary parents. Not just another athlete who praises God after victory, Tebow has taken the message of religion into Filipino slums and into prisons here in the U.S. It's given him a perspective that's evident when he talks to sports reporters.
Mr. TIM TEBOW (Quarterback, Florida Gators): Pressure isn't having to win a football game. Pressure is having to find your next meal.
(Soundbite of Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony)
Unidentified Man: Without further ado, the winner of this year's Heisman Trophy is Tim Tebow.
(Soundbite of people cheering and applauding)
GOLDMAN: In 2007, when he became the first sophomore to win the Heisman, Tebow also became the first player with at least 20 passing and 20 rushing touchdowns in one season. This season was more about leadership than scoring records. In late September, Florida had its only loss. Tearing up, Tebow publicly apologized to Gator fans.
Mr. TEBOW: You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. And you will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. And you will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless.
GOLDMAN: After his pledge, Florida won nine straight games convincingly. Tebow proved he's the best player in America, says his coach Urban Meyer. This week, though, Oklahoma defensive back Dominique Franks danced a little gig on Superman's cape. He said Tebow, the pride of the Southeastern Conference, wouldn't even be the best in the Big 12.
Mr. DOMINIQUE FRANKS (Defensive Back, Oklahoma Sooners): I'd say he'd probably be about the fourth best quarterback in the conference.
GOLDMAN: The Big 12 was a quarterback paradise this season with Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy of Texas finishing ahead of Tebow in the Heisman voting. But Franks' comment still was interpreted as the big diss. The true believer in Tebow turned the other cheek. It's an honor to be fourth best, he said. I'll take it as a compliment.
The football player in Tebow followed up by saying he gets amped up when he plays teams that talk a lot. Bad news for Oklahoma's defense, which has struggled at times. The Sooners will be trying to stop the always supercharged Tim Tebow now playing with a few more amps. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Miami.
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