GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida and LSU have had some epic battles in Death Valley, including the 1997 and 2007 matchups.
But neither of those games drew as much hype and anticipation as the 2009 showdown between No. 1 Florida and No. 4 LSU. They won the last three national championships in college football and were highest-ranked teams to play in Tiger Stadium since 1959.
The Gators owned the nation’s best winning streak (14), while LSU had won 32 straight games at home. But all the storylines that week took a backseat to Tim Tebow.
On Sept. 26, 2009, the UF quarterback took a double-shot to the head at Kentucky and left the game with a concussion after laying motionless on the field for several minutes.
Tebow spent the night in a Lexington hospital and his health status became one of the biggest stories in all of sports, especially in the days leading up to the game.
“It was a stressful week,” Tebow told SEC Country. “The whole week was so stressful trying to convince everybody that I could play, for them to let me play, hoping that I was going to get to play … just a stressful week. But it ended good, so it was fun.”
The Gators had a bye week between Kentucky and LSU, which gave Tebow extra time to recover from his concussion. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner could not watch TV for the first four days and missed an entire week of practice.
Tebow returned on the Tuesday of game week, but after Wednesday’s practice, Florida coach Urban Meyer was planning to start backup quarterback John Brantley against the Tigers.
“It wasn’t one of the hardest weeks of preparation because they didn’t really let me prepare like I usually would have,” Tebow said. “I usually would have been in the film room studying so much, but they were literally kicking me out because I was supposed to be resting my brain and not studying and staying in dark rooms. It was a terrible week.”
But UF doctors cleared Tebow to play hours before kickoff Saturday, and he became a game-time decision for Meyer.
“You know Tim,” Meyer told reporters after the game. “It was, ‘Let me play. Let me play.’ Nonstop.”
Tebow got the green light from Meyer and avoided missing the first game of his college career. However, it took a couple possessions for Meyer to get comfortable with his star quarterback playing.
On Florida’s opening series of the game, Tebow completed his first pass for 8 yards but was nailed on the throw. The back of his head hit the ground and jerked forward.
“I remember the first drive Patrick Peterson blitzed off the left side and we did a waggle left protection,” Tebow said. “Patrick hit me, I got knocked down and I just remember I threw it to the left sidelines, but Coach Meyer was the whole time staring at me.
“He didn’t even watch the play because I got knocked down and I was looking from the ground. He was just so worried because that was the first time I got hit after the concussion.”
But Tebow hopped up, showed no effects of the concussion and took the offense on a 13-play, 82-yard scoring drive.
“I gave him a thumbs up,” Tebow said. “Stop worrying so much. I’ll be all right. We won, so it was good.”
Behind a conservative offensive game plan and a Florida defense that allowed only 162 yards, the Gators defeated LSU 13-3 and got their first victory in Death Valley under Meyer. Tebow threw for 134 yards on 11 of 16 passing with a touchdown and an interception.