Sat, Jan 03, 2009 - Page 20 News List

College football hero just Big Brother to orphans


Quarterback Tim Tebow of the Florida Gators is interviewed after their 31-20 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship on Dec. 6 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.


When US college football star Tim Tebow plays in next week’s national championship game, his most far-flung fans will be not only cheering him on, but trying to understand which sport he’s playing.

The 42 kids in the southern Philippines orphanage vaguely understand he is famous. But in a country where basketball, boxing and billiards are king, college football isn’t on the map.

The staff and children at Uncle Dick’s Home — founded by Tebow’s father Bob — mistook the football that Tebow brought during a three-day visit in March for a rugby ball.

They were initiated into the sport by a tape Tebow brought. Since then they have tried to get up to speed by watching games on TV and they hope to watch Tebow’s University of Florida Gators play Oklahoma in the BCS national championship game.

However they’re just not sure yet if it will be on TV live on Friday morning (Thursday night in the US) or if they will have to track down a tape afterward.

And they’re still fuzzy on this newfound sport — even Tebow’s number and jersey colors. Rhodaleaf Catuto, the daughter of orphanage director Raymunda Gauran, ventured white and green for the latter.

The Gators are white and blue, and No. 15 is a hot-seller nationwide, but that doesn’t matter at the orphanage, where Tebow is just known as Kuya — Big Brother — Tim.

“He’s just a very simple guy,” Mrs Gauran said. “He plays with the kids.”

Tebow has visited the orphanage several times.

After all, his roots began there.

He was born when his mother left the town of General Santos near the orphanage and went to a hospital in Manila where she gave birth to her fifth child. She and her husband, longtime missionaries, told him he was a “miracle” baby as he was growing up, and he seems determined to live up to it.

In addition to his football exploits, which brought him the first Heisman Trophy ever given to a sophomore and carried him to a third-place finish in the voting in his just-completed junior season, Tebow has also made missionary trips to Croatia and Thailand, working with underprivileged youth and visiting hospitals and prisons.

While the skeptical wonder if a guy really can be this good, Mrs.

Gauran has no doubts.

“He’s a great preacher,” she said. “People just listen to him.”

Getting there is an ordeal — a five-hour flight from Florida to the US West Coast, about 14 hours to Manila, a short flight to General Santos, then 130km by rugged road to the compound.

His father no longer makes the trip, but Tebow is committed to it. On his last visit, he was invited to assist doctors with some medical procedures.

“It was a great experience for me,” Tebow said after returning home. “Doing those things, taking my platform as a football player and using it for good, using it to be an influence and change people’s lives, that’s more important than football to me.”

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