The couple hundred personnel staffing the state Emergency Operations Center here had a surprise guest to lift their spirits on Tuesday after a week of grueling days managing preparation and response efforts for Hurricane Irma: Tim Tebow.
The former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Florida came with Gov. Rick Scott and Scott’s wife, Ann, to the EOC around noon to thank the workers who were coordinating state resources for the storm.
“I’m just here to thank everybody and [tell them I] appreciate all their work and what they’ve been doing and just let them know how everybody is so grateful,” said Tebow, who is a native of Jacksonville, which saw record-level flooding on Monday from Irma.
People are comforted right now because they know they’re loved, they know people have their back and they know they’re not in this alone.
Tim Tebow, former NFL quarterback and Jacksonville native
Tebow worked the room for roughly an hour, barely moving a few feet before he was stopped for a photograph or a selfie. He stopped to grant every request — smiling, shaking hands and talking with each person.
One woman beamed when she met Tebow, hugging him and telling him: “I was born and raised in Gainesville, so I’m geeking out right now!”
The Scotts joined Tebow in touring the facility, also shaking hands and talking with workers.
“You’re all Gator fans, by the way,” Scott jokingly told some workers as Tebow approached.
A few minutes later, when Scott addressed the entire room and introduced Tebow, he joked again that Tebow “wanted to talk about FSU football, I think,” referring to the Florida Gators’ rival Florida State Seminoles.
The remark drew laughs and some friendly “Go Noles” cheers when Tebow took over the mic.
Scott called Tebow “a friend” and said, “he’s called me up constantly during this storm and asked me, ‘what can I do to be helpful?’ He’s helped us get the message out and he’s also been visiting shelters.”
In talking to the crowd, Tebow praised the workers for their hard work and effective response.
“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to everybody in this room and everybody that has been fighting so hard for the state that we love and the people that we love,” Tebow said. “You’ve made such an impact. ... Because of what you’ve been doing and how much you care and going out of your way, and going above and beyond, so many people still have hope.”
“I’m so thankful that people in our state have not lost hope and it’s because of the people in this room,” Tebow added. “People are comforted right now because they know they’re loved, they know people have their back and they know they’re not in this alone.”
Tebow gave a special thanks to Scott, too. “Thank you for taking care of my state,” he said, before the two clasped hands and Tebow embraced Scott.
Tebow and Scott toured a shelter in Jacksonville on Monday night, and Tebow said he visited other shelters in northeast Florida, too.
“What was special is so many people rallied together — and the volunteers,” Tebow said. “At all the shelters I was at, there were a lot of people that were hit hard, but they didn’t lose hope — because there were so many people there supporting them, and helping them, and listening and talking and loving them. They knew there were a lot of people there to support them and they weren’t in it alone and it made a big difference.”
Tebow urged people affected by the storm not to lose hope.
“There are a lot of people that are hurting, and a lot of people who have doubt and fear about the unknown and maybe they’ve lost a lot of their possessions,” he said. “But there are people who love them and are praying for them and are there to support them.”