Blog #364: The Remarkable Story of Tim Tebow’s 3:16 Game

Tim Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner as the top college football player in the United States. He was a National Champion of US College football, as well as a first-round draft pick in the National Football League. Upon retiring from professional football he became a leader of a life-changing foundation. Why? Because he is a follower of Christ. And, he is one more thing: an author. In one of his books, Shaken, Tebow tells of a remarkable event filled with coincidences (or, more likely, God-moments). It was 2009 and Tebow was playing college football at Florida. He was weeks away from competing in the highly televised national championship football game when God led him to write John 3:16 under his eyes for all the world to see while he played. What happened next was no coincidence, but God working through a small act of courage that He used to do amazing things. Tebow writes,

“When I was at the University of Florida, going into my junior year, we were getting ready to play a rival. And I was in the training room and I was getting stretched by one of our trainers. And I looked over and I saw some of my teammates putting eye blacks under their eyes. And so I started to think – you know, they’re, like putting their mom’s name or their area code and different things like that. I started to think, you know, “I wonder if I could put an eye black and put, grab a silver sharpie and and put something on there that could be encouraging or inspiring or – I don’t know – uplift somebody.” I started to think, “Well, what should I put?” I started to think, “Well, God bless?” And I was like, “Ah, I don’t know.” And then I thought of Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I was like, “That’s an awesome verse for a football player. That’s what I’m going to go with.” So I put Philippians 4:13 under my eyes and we went out there and played. And honestly, it really wasn’t a big deal. A couple local newspapers wrote about it, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. But I kept wearing it under my eyes every single week. And, as most of you know, fans in the SEC are extremely passionate about your teams. So the next couple weeks they start selling it at the Gator bookstore, on the sides of the streets. They’re selling Philippians 4:13. I’m seeing fans and they’re like, “Alright. Go Gators! Philippians 4:13!” I’m like, “You don’t even know what that means.”

I actually had one guy come up to me. His name was Phil and he said, “Did you put that under your eyes for me?” “What? No. What does the 4:13 mean?” But I kept wearing it under my eyes the entire season. And we get to the SEC championship game against Alabama. We’re getting ready to run out of the tunnel. And as a football player, so often it is really tunnel vision. It’s the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. You can’t afford to step back and look at the big picture because you can just lose focus. So, so many times, it’s just locked into the next thing I have to do. Well at this moment, I really felt like God was putting it on my heart to change the verse. I was like, “Really? Right now?” But I kind of stepped back for a second and realized that if we won, we’d be playing in the national championship and that would be maybe the biggest stage that I would ever get to change the verse and put something meaningful on there. So we were blessed to win and the next six weeks leading up to the national championship game, I was contemplating, really agonizing, over what verse I was going to go with. But God kept bringing to my heart and my head John 3:16. Because as a Christian, that’s the essence of our Christianity, it’s the essence of our hope. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” That’s what we believe in as Christians. So I decided that’s the verse I’m going to go with.

Two nights before the game, I go into my parent’s hotel room in Miami, Florida. And they open the door, and I was like, “Alright, Mom, Dad, I’m gonna change the verse.” And my mom’s super supportive and my dad’s like, “Have you told Coach Meyer?” Because Coach Meyer says he just likes his routines, but that dude is so superstitious it’s ridiculous. If we win with long socks, next week they’re even longer. Whatever is working he’s going to stick with it. So, he was like, “You really need to talk to him.” So, next day we have our walk through. After the walk through finishes, I was like, “Hey, Coach Meyer, can I talk to you?” He’s like, “Yeah. How is your arm? Your leg? You feeling good? You got the game plan down?” “Yeah, yeah. I’m good. I’m good. Um, you know the verse I wear under my eyes?” He’s like, “Yeah, Philippians 4:13. I love it!” I was like, “Well, I’m going to change it tomorrow night to John 3:16.” “WHAT? What are you talking about? You can’t change the verse. That verse got us here!” I was like, “No…” So I explained to him why I wanted to go with John 3:16 and he understood and he was supportive. And honestly really, after that moment, I didn’t really think about it.

The next night, I just went out there and we were blessed to win the national championship. And two days after that game, I was sitting in Ballyhoo restaurant eating grouper with my mom, my dad, one of my aunts, and Coach Meyer. And Coach Meyer gets a call from our PR guy at Florida, and he’s like, “Mhm. Mhm. Mhm. Alright, bye.” And I looked at him and I was like, “What was that all about?” He told me who it was, our PR guy, and he said, “Timmy, he just told me that during that game 94 million people googled John 3:16.” And honestly, my first thought was, “How the heck do 94 million people not know John 3:16? It’s like, it’s Sunday school, bro. That’s the first thing you hear.” But it was just so humbling for me sitting in that restaurant, thinking about how big the God that we serve really is. Like, really, how big the God that we serve really is. So many times we put Him in a box. We put Him in a box. But no, the God that loves us, the God that created us, the God that has a plan for us, the God that wrote a poem about your life, He is a big God that wants to do amazing things. And when we just turn around, and say “Hey, here God.” It might not feel like a lot. Guess what? He can perform miracles. He can do amazing things. And I really believe the God that we serve wants to do amazing things in us and through us.

What was really cool about that game is it was on January 8th of 2009. Well exactly three years later, January 8th, 2012. Exactly three years later to the day, we just happened to be playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. I didn’t think of John 3:16 one time, so I can’t take credit for it. I had nothing to do with it. I just went out there and tried to do anything I could to try to win a playoff game. And we were blessed to win this crazy game in overtime. After the game, when we were done celebrating, I changed really quick, and I was going down the hall to do my press conference. And I was really looking forward to it, because I love talking to the media.

And so, I was getting ready to turn left and go into these curtains to talk to the media. And Patrick, our PR guy, steps in front of me and says, “Timmy, did you realize what happened?” And I was like, “Yea. We just beat the Steelers. We’re going to play the Patriots. Like, let me do this.” He was like “Timmy, did you realize what happened?” I could tell he was being serious, so I was like, “Patrick, what’s up man?” He looks at me and says, “Timmy, this is exactly three years from the time you put John 3:16 under your eyes.” I was like, “Oh really? That’s awesome. That’s really cool.” He says, “No, you don’t realize. During the game, you threw for 316 yards. Your yards per rush were 3.16. Your yards per completion were 31.6. The time of possession was 31.06. And the ratings for the night were 31.6. And during the game, 90 million people googled John 3:16 and it’s the number one thing on all social media right now.”

And I was just standing in that hallway, thinking, “God, I didn’t know that You were doing anything.” Like, I thought that was like three years ago. But it’s amazing how big the God is that we serve. He took something that I did three and half years ago, to make a decision to put Philippians 4:13 and then change it for one game. But I thought, “Hey, this is really cool. We impacted some people, but it’s done.” But no, God has an awesome plan. He has an awesome plan and you might not even see what He’s doing. You might not even know how He’s working. But the amazing thing is, when we step out and we show a little courage. We step out and we show a little boldness, what God can do with it in our lives, through our lives. But He’s a big God. He’s a big God and He can perform miracles. He can perform miracles. I really believe that He wants to.

You have to understand, the God of this universe loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. If He loves you that much, is He not going to want to fight for you? Is He not going to want to fight with you? Is He not going want to come through for you? Now that doesn’t mean that life is going to be easy. It’s not. But it means that it’s going to be worth it. It means that it’s going to be worth it.”

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