ATLANTA -- Though it was only midway through the third quarter, Tim Tebow was visibly upset along the Florida sideline. Alabama had just registered another first down. Disgusted and frustrated, the Gators' quarterback threw his paper water cup to the Georgia Dome turf.
This was not the way he had envisioned his final SEC championship game ending. He had planned to quickly reverse Saturday evening's 19-13 halftime deficit to Alabama, much as he had willed his Gators from behind against the Crimson Tide a year earlier in this same contest.
That victory, of course, led to a national championship win over Oklahoma and further advanced Tebow's legend as the best college player ever.
But this wasn't last year. Instead of that halftime hole closing, it had opened wider, the Tide scoring early in the third to lead 26-13.
And now they were at it again, mercilessly running the ball and the clock, eating up almost all of the period, leaving Tebow to throw nothing more dangerous than a paper cup.
"I felt it slipping away when they scored their third touchdown," he would say at the close of the Tide's 32-13 win. "No one gave up or batted an eye or started arguing. But it was frustrating. To say it wasn't would be a lie."
It was tough to put much blame on Tebow for this defeat. Florida defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap's suspension for a DUI arrest early Tuesday morning erased the Gators' best pass rusher, freeing Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy to calmly pick apart the Florida secondary.
"(Having Dunlap) would have made a difference," Gators coach Urban Meyer said. "How much? That's always speculative."
But with Florida forced to play catch-up the entire game, Tebow never looked crisp or comfortable. And with the Tide scoring at will, he could no longer nibble away, content to pick up 5, 6, 7 yards at a time. He needed big chunks of real estate, and he needed them in a hurry.
Finally, with 11:51 left in the game, Tebow proved to be completely human. Looking to hit Aaron Hernandez in the end zone, he instead hit Alabama defensive back Javier Arenas dead in the numbers, that interception all but officially sealing the Tide's trip to the BCS title game.
"I thought I could fit it in there," he said after finishing with 247 passing yards, one touchdown and that pickoff. "I should have thrown it over (Arenas') head."
Not that Alabama was complaining.
"It's Tebow," reserve defensive back Chris Rogers said. "He's a great guy. But we're tired of him. We wanted to send him out on a great note."
Tebow being Tebow, he took the high road on what was probably the lowest moment of his college career. First, he sought out winning Tide coach Nick Saban to congratulate the victor.
Then he put all this in a perspective rarely heard following the a college football game of this magnitude.
"Obviously, I'm emotional after games and it means a lot to me," Tebow said. "But at the end of the day it's not really what matters. We're playing a game -- and although it's extremely important and it's fun, it's still just a game. It's not life and death, and it's not the most important thing in the world."