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Tim Tebow returns, cautiously, for Florida

In win over Louisiana State the quarterback, who suffered a concussion two weeks ago, has a clear mandate: Be a manager, not a hero.


There is nothing left to see, folks, please clear the area.

Tim Tebow has left the building (camera click, click and click).

Take your cellphones, tweets, theories, second opinions and move on.

The question that wouldn't go away -- Will Tebow play? -- was finally answered.

He did, No. 1 Florida beat No. 4 Louisiana State, 13-3, and it turned out to be anticlimactic and the opposite of extraordinary.

It was certainly not the kind of back-and-forth you would have expected from two Southeastern Conference heavyweights. And certainly not like it was two years ago, when Louisiana State took down Florida in Baton Rouge in a game where loose-slots Tigers Coach Les Miles went five-for-five on fourth-down gambles.

Saturday was a night you tuned in to make sure there wasn't going to be a story that jumped sports onto page A1:

All eyes were on Tim, the super senior quarterback, returning to action two weeks after sustaining a concussion against Kentucky.

Tebow played.

Tebow survived.

There were no dramatic hits, close calls and only a few nervous moments.

Early in the game, Tebow got knocked pretty hard to the ground on a corner blitz by Patrick Peterson. Tebow's head lurched back, but he popped right up off the ground.

"I'm feeling great," Tebow said afterward to the network, SECBS, that pays for the rights to say nobody plays football like they do in the South. "The doctors did a great job. . . . On offense, we didn't execute the best, but we played really hard."

That was it?

Yep, that was it.

Tebow took every offensive snap for the Gators and played sort of like a quarterback who suffered a concussion two weeks ago against Kentucky.

Florida, along with a phalanx of medical experts, insisted it was not going to put Tebow on the field unless he was 100%, but then cut the playbook in half in an obvious effort to protect him.

If he was in no danger, protect him from what?

Tebow was not the fearless warrior who two years ago won the Heisman Trophy and last year led Florida to the national title. He was not the runaway-train Tebow who, only took weeks ago, threw body and soul at Kentucky before the back of his helmet collided with a teammate's knee.

Leaning on a stalwart defense, Tebow completed 11 of 16 passes for 134 yards. He averaged 2.2 yards per carry on 17 mostly cautious attempts.

He threw one touchdown pass and a potentially costly interception near the end while he should have been protecting a 10-point lead.

You knew it wasn't 100% Tebow when the Gators faced fourth and one just inside of LSU's 40. Tebow pulled up behind center, barked out some signals in an attempt to draw LSU offsides, and then walked off the field to make way for the punt team.

Tebow's mandate against LSU was clear: Be a manager, not a hero.

Florida's most popular calls were dive plays up the middle.

It worked out in the end, even if it made for a somewhat contradictory unfolding.

If Florida wasn't ready to let Tebow go full speed, then why did he play at all?

The game was important, but not an end-all. Florida could have lost to LSU and still probably made the national title game if it went on to win the SEC with a 12-1 record.

The decision on whether Florida should play Tebow was hotly debated and crossed over sporting lines.

The Chicago Tribune's editorial board even weighed in with an opinion: "If Tebow plays Saturday, his school will have done him a grave disservice. It will have put football above the health of its star."

The paper quoted Pace University's Dr. Lester Mayers, who said that invisible cerebral dysfunction "persists for at least one month after injury."

The Tribune, which is a long way from Gainesville, opined that Tebow should not play.

A publication in Florida, New Times Broward-Palm Beach, ran a story titled the "10 greatest football careers ended by concussions."

The list included Trent Green, Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Ron Jaworski.

The cable news crawl on the buildup to whether Tebow would play against LSU ran right from the time he left the field in Kentucky in an ambulance right up until game time Saturday against LSU.

A sampling from Saturday:

* Tebow will play if he's cleared to play.

* Source: Tebow (concussion) cleared to play.

* Twitter report from Tony Barnhart, a.k.a. Mr. College Football: "Tebow went through warmups and looked fine. He has been cleared to play. Will he start? We'll know soon."

* Twitter report from Stewart Mandel of "Tebow is on field and throwing to the starting receivers. You know what that means."

It meant Tebow started, and finished, a game Florida might have been able to win without him. It was victory that was only imperative on the Gators' quest to become the first undefeated team in Florida football history.

Tebow played, he came out of it OK, and Florida won.

The exit feeling was not excitement -- it was relief.


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