Tebow took off on a victory lap. Meyer saluted the Florida fans.
It was Tebow’s way of saying goodbye. It may have been Meyer’s, too.
Tebow rose above all the distractions caused by Meyer’s uncertain future and capped a storied college career with his finest performance. It was the best in BCS history, too.
Tebow threw for a career-high 482 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 51 yards and another score, and fifth-ranked Florida overwhelmed No. 4 Cincinnati 51-24 Friday night in the Sugar Bowl.
For Tebow and the Gators (13-1), this certainly was The Big Easy.
“It was incredible,” Tebow said. “Just a great game. It was exactly how you want to go out with these seniors and these coaches in your last game and your last time together. It just really doesn’t get any better than this.”
None of that mattered when the Gators took the field.
Tebow wouldn’t let it.
“This has been the best four years of life,” the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner said.
He completed his first 12 passes, led the Gators to scores on their first five possessions and finished with 533 total yards — more than anyone in Bowl Championship Series history. He topped former Texas star Vince Young’s record of 467 yards set against Southern California in the 2005 Rose Bowl.
“They couldn’t stop Superman,” Gators guard Carl Johnson. “They needed some kryptonite.”
The Bearcats lost their bid for a perfect season and surely will spend the next year listening to questions about whether they belong in the big games against the biggest boys.
Florida, meanwhile, became the first school in the Football Bowl Subdivision to win 13 games in consecutive seasons.
Tebow and his teammates had hoped to repeat as national champions, but a 32-13 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game knocked them out of the title picture.
“We tried to show coach where we should have been,” Johnson said. “We had to make a statement game, not only for us, but for coach Meyer. We had a bad game at a crucial moment, but we’re still Florida, we’re still here and we ain’t going nowhere.”
The Gators spent the last four weeks regrouping from the disheartening loss.
Things got worse when Meyer announced his resignation last Saturday, three weeks after being rushed to the hospital because of chest pain. Meyer changed his mind the following day, and instead said he would take an indefinite leave of absence.
No one knows how long he will be away or whether he will return at all.
“I plan on being the coach of the Gators,” Meyer said. “I know I’m anxious to get home. We’ll address the future at the appropriate time.”
His wife, Shelley, said she had no idea what will happen.
“We just need to take a step back and think and relax and we’ll see what happens from here,” she said. “But this couldn’t have ended better right now, right here. This couldn’t have been a better day ever.”