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Tim Tebow: Why an athlete, finally, made the cut as a 'Great Floridian'

Tim Tebow joins a distinguished group of 'Great Floridians,' including Thomas Edison and Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez, but, until now, no athletes. Could it be a calculated political move by an unpopular governor in an election year?

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But Tebow, shockingly, is the first athlete to make the cut, from a state that has given us Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to name a few. So, why Tebow?

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The most obvious answer: Floridians really do adore him and seem dogged in their efforts to make him a historical entity. He has a statue at the University of Florida, and his famous “speech” – the one, after a loss, that they say inspired the Gators to their second national championship in three years, hangs on a plaque at the Gators’ Home Turf. Last year, when Tebow was up for a trade from the Denver Broncos, his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars tried their best to generate fan interest in the lagging club by signing him, before he, ultimately, went to the Jets.

The other, less sane possibility: It’s a calculated political move by an unpopular governor in an election year.

Governor Scott has been on a tear handing out “Great Floridian” honors: Tebow included, he’s given out 17 since his inauguration in 2011. And the list has gotten a bit more accessible on his watch: He gave Edison the nod, as well as former governor Jeb Bush and George Jenkins, the founder of Publix supermarkets. (If you’ve ever been to a Publix, you understand that this is heartily deserved. I still miss Publix.)

Last year, he tapped former Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden, who turned the Seminoles program into a national powerhouse, becoming the winningest Division I head coach of all time in the process. Scott couldn’t have a beloved Seminole so recently on the list without giving their bitter rivals, the Gators, a Great Floridian all their own.

This is all silly conjecture, of course, but every shrewd Florida politician knows: Don’t anger a football fan base. Expect a Miami Hurricane to be honored in 2014. Maybe Ray Lewis

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