When LSU Students Got His Cell Number
In this excerpt from “Through My Eyes,” Tim Tebow (BSA ’09) talks about how prank calls from Tiger fans did more to pump him up than bring him down.
The following Saturday would be my first trip back to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge since Coach Meyer shook his head at me from across the field before that LSU-Florida game when I was in high school. Although we were still in a stunned state of mind that Sunday, a day after the Auburn loss, Louisiana State students took it upon themselves to do their best to make me feel welcome as we prepared for our visit the following weekend.
It started with a few choice voicemails that Sunday afternoon. Not one of them was worth listening to, but sadly they needed to be heard so that appropriate measures and precautions could be taken. Messages like this one: “Hey, Tim Tebow, you’d better tell your family to stay inside because we’re going to find your parents tonight and they’re going to end up in serious pain.” Messages like that — uplifting, positive messages demonstrating good sportsmanship and goodwill toward all.
Of course, everyone on the team had been briefed on what to do if we got messages like that, received intimidating or threatening mail, or were confronted in any way that seemed to jeopardize our safety or that of our families, friends, teammates, or coaches. And so I contacted Coach Meyer and Officer Stacy — Officer Stacy Ettel of the University Police Department was always on hand to keep us safe — to make the coaches aware of what was happening.
By Monday afternoon, the calls were coming in constantly. My cell phone vibrated nonstop, and I had to keep in continually plugged in because the battery was dying every ninety minutes or so, without my ever picking it up at all. Hundreds of calls and text messages were being sent every hour from rabid fans. Crazy, violent, or sexual message, or all three. Really weird stuff from similarly weird senders. Some of them, but not many, were even literate.
It was such a busy week for me and for us that I simply didn’t have the time to deal with getting a new phone with a new number, but I must admit, even though I was no longer taking the calls or listening to the messages, it really got me pumped up to see how much I was in the thoughts of LSU fans. I really was a concern to them and their football team, I guess. In a way it was flattering, but it got old quickly. As best I could figure, someone at LSU or in the surrounding area got my number and gave it out, and I was told that there were announcements at bars around Baton Rouge along the lines of, “This is Tim Tebow’s number. Call or text him and give him a hard time.”
As we were on the bus that Saturday afternoon heading into the stadium, Jim Tartt, our junior offensive linemen, reached over and grabbed my perpetually buzzing phone. He answered, at random, one of the many calls still coming in and exploded at the caller. It wasn’t pretty, but I was glad I had Jim on my side. The caller probably thought it was me letting him have it. Oh well…
I appreciated that the guys were defensive of me — we were all in this together, and now we were headed into the unfriendly confines of LSU. When we were just a few miles out from the stadium, it started getting really crazy. The place and its proud fan base were just going nuts. Fans were banging on the side of the bus as we drove by, and as we were getting closer to the stadium, more and more people were banging on the bus. To its credit, the LSU security detail, which was assigned to us, was doing all it could do, trying to pull people away from our bus. We got down under the tunnel, and there were more of them — sitting and hanging from the stands above us, looking down and screaming at us.
I always made it a point to be the last one off the bus. As guys got off, I would stand at the top of the steps, in position to be able to shake all the players’ hands and give each one a hug before they got off the bus. I was standing there hugging people and watching as Coach Meyer and the defense got off the bus. Coach Meyer was already fired up, when one of the fans, from across the ropes beyond which fans weren’t allowed to venture, threw a beer on him.
Everything started to escalate after that, and I thought there would be a fight right there around the bus between their fans, our players, and our fans who had also gathered there to welcome us as we exited the bus. In the middle of this ridiculous scene were our parents who were right up there at the front of everything, along with my family, of course. If it wasn’t such a potentially explosive and dangerous moment, it would have been laughable — all of this over a football game. Coach Meyer unbuttoned his jacket, dropped his briefcase, and put his hands up in the air to get us, our families, and our friends fired up. Of course, it got the LSU fans going crazy too.
From all the time I’d spend with Coach Miles during recruitment, I knew this whole display would have bothered him as much as it bothered us. It looked like it was going to be a full-fledged pregame brawl. Not exactly the type of warm-up for the game the coaches usually planned — at least for us. It was stunning, some of the things that people were saying to my parents and the parents of other players. Fans were three feet away from them, calmly cursing at them with every four-letter word and more. There were girls who’d come up to my dad and mom and direct vulgarities at them, followed by, “What are you gonna do about it?” For anyone wondering, that is not what I’m looking for in a spouse.