The Tale of Two Florida Gators-Turned-New England Patriots: Aaron Hernandez and Tim Tebow

By Jim Heath
Aaron Hernandez
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Where exactly does the line between right and wrong blur for some and never others? Head coach Urban Meyer had the opportunity to develop, mentor and watch two great athletes during their careers as Florida GatorsTim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez.

On the field, both were exceptional football players responsible for Florida’s success. Off the field, they were completely different individuals. Tebow used his celebrity as a catalyst to spread the word of his faith, volunteer his time to help others and become a role model for countless people.

Hernandez saw his celebrity as an opportunity to simply help himself.

The problem is, it seems that Tebow was the exception and Hernandez the general rule of Meyer-led Gator football teams. Tebow was the figure for everything positive in Florida, and as long as the Gators were winning – and they were – the shenanigans of Hernandez and other Gators that walked the line to the shady side of what was socially acceptable was “tolerated.”

During his six-year tenure in Florida, there were at least 31 arrests of Meyer’s coached football players. I would venture to say the Gator discipline policy was not exactly stringent. Of course, coaches cannot “babysit” their players 24-7. But does that mean what happens off the field is completely out of a coach’s responsibility?

One can debate that for hours, even days, so I digress. However, I would state an argument that responsible or not, 31 arrests on your watch does not develop, dare I say, a glowing reputation.

Tebow and Hernandez’s paths would cross again in New England. Of course, they have yet to play a down together in New England and chances of that ever happening appear next to impossible.

This time, however, the situation is far different. The New England Patriots wasted no time in releasing Hernandez within a couple hours of his arrest — prior to Hernandez being charged with murder one. The point is that the Patriots let go of an All-Pro tight end without hesitation, without fear of salary cap implications and prior to knowing if Hernandez would actually serve any significant time.

Later, the Patriots organization would offer exchanges for Hernandez’s 81 and 85 jerseys to be replaced with another Patriot jersey of the owner’s selection. The irony of course is that one could easily speculate a vast number of replacement jerseys could be Tebow jerseys.

It is impossible to know the course of events that may have transpired had the Gator’s program had Meyer been as stringent in discipline issues as the Patriots. An argument could easily be stated that proper discipline may have changed the reckless ways of Hernandez.

On the other hand, maybe the line between right and wrong doesn’t exist for some and discipline at an earlier level in Hernandez’s career would have been irrelevant.

These are questions that will never be answered.

However, there is one last piece of irony in the “Tale of Two Gators.” With Hernandez gone indefinitely, who takes his position in the Patriots lineup? Is it possible the replacement will be Tebow? Only time will tell.


Jim Heath is a writer for Follow him on Twitter @jim_heath, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google

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