New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush started the fashion among college football players of writing messages on their eye black patches, using the iconic “619” configuration to celebrate his San Diego area code while he was at the University of Southern California.
But the only man to get more than 100 million Google hits for his eye black proclamations is Tim Tebow, the former University of Florida quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner, and abortion-debate lightning rod.
ESPN has called eye black writings messages of “faith and ferocity” – a way for amateur players to stand out from the crowd and send messages home. (Current New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez put references to his dad’s fellow firefighters on his.)
But Tebow’s statements of faith and his personal tribulations over an anti-abortion ad set to air during Super Bowl add a layer of complexity and meaning to his past eye black messages. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph made an incorrect statement about winners of the Heisman Trophy.]
"I really lean toward something that’s going through my heart," he told the Times-Picayune in December, explaining how he chooses the verses. "If there’s something going through my heart that week, or whatever it is, I think people understand more and learn more from it."
Here are five of Tebow's most memorable eye black messages:
1. Tebow’s favorite: For the Bowl Championship Series title game on Jan. 8, 2009, which the Florida Gators won, 24-14, Tebow wrote one of his favorites, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."
2. Profit a man: Before trouncing the Troy Trojans 56-6 on Sept. 12, 2009, Tebow painted "Mark 8:36" on his eye black: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph incorrectly stated Tebow's sports opponent.]
3. Tribulation and good cheer: Ahead of what became a shocking 32-13 defeat against Alabama on Dec. 5, 2009, in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship game – a game that knocked Florida out of national title contention – Tebow referenced John 16:33: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
4. The gift of God: After that crushing loss to Alabama, Tebow's consolation prize was a matchup against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2010. Before going out to win, 51-24, and obliterating his career-best passing day in the process, throwing for 482 yards, he wrote "Ephesians 2:8-10" on his eye black: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
5. Trials of many kinds: Ahead of the Senior Bowl, an exhibition game in which seniors try to impress pro scouts, Tebow knew of the challenges ahead. Scouts said that despite his college success, he was ill suited for the pros. The game was a rough go as Tebow fumbled twice, threw no touchdowns, and looked out of sorts in the 33-13 loss. His eye black choice? James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
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