The bond between quarterback and receiver is a natural one. On every passing play in a game both are relying on one another to make an effective connection. Denver quarterback Tim Tebow and Buffalo wideout David Nelson did that in their four years together at the University of Florida. That bond still exists today, but on Saturday they'll be opponents.
"Not only was he a teammate of mine, but he was one of my closest friends in college," said Nelson. "We stay in touch. Just like with any other friend I want him to succeed until we play him."
Nelson's first encounter with Tebow happened in the Gators weight room leading up to their freshman season, and the receiver wasn't sure what the fiery quarterback was all about just yet.
"The first time you meet him you're kind of like, 'What's wrong with that guy? There's something off about him,'" Nelson said. "Just because of the way he went in to the locker room: it was like his first week there as a freshman and he was just jumping up and down, screaming -- just getting after it in the weight room. Most guys are in the weight room just to be in the weight room, but he was actually all about it and was as enthusiastic as you can be. We were all like 'What's wrong with this guy?'
"As we got to know who he was and what he's about, we realized it wasn't fake. It was really genuine and that's how he approaches everything in life. He goes full speed ahead in everything he does and that's why he's been so successful."
The NFL phenomenon that Tebow has become is of little surprise to Nelson. He witnessed four years of it at Florida, from winning a Heisman trophy as a sophomore to a pair of national titles which included the now memorialized 'promise' to push his team harder than any other.
"He's very motivational, he's very intense," said Nelson. "He approaches the game differently than anybody I've ever seen in the game of football. He's done a great job of getting his teammates ready to play. He's one of those guys where he knows attention is going to be on him, but he does a great job behind the scenes letting his teammates know that he appreciates them. So he tries to put some of the attention off of him and to his teammates behind the scenes."
"Maybe it's just that I really love playing the game and that I really care about my teammates, and ultimately care about being a good role model and setting a good example for the next generation," said Tebow. "But I also care about what I do out there. I give my heart and soul and try to be a great teammate."
Bills head coach Chan Gailey saw all of those qualities in Tebow as a high school junior, which is why he tried to recruit him to Georgia Tech, where he was the head coach at the time. Having attended the University of Florida with Tebow's father, Bob Tebow, and both being members of the Fellowship of Christian Ahtletes, Gailey wasn't surprised with the impression the younger Tebow left on him.
"He's a great person," said Gailey. "He's a strong Christian and he doesn't mind letting everybody know that. I think there are a lot of people that admire him for who he is and what he does on the field. But you had an idea that this guy was a unique guy. He's had it hard now. He's been in the limelight since he was a sophomore in high school. And that's not easy to handle. And he's handled it extremely, extremely well."
Despite knowing him as well as he did Gailey still took the time to have Tebow come up to Buffalo for a pre-draft visit leading up to the 2010 draft, saying the visit only reinforced what he already knew about him. Some of that comes through when Tebow recalls the day he spent with Gailey at One Bills Drive.
"I've always had a lot of respect more so for who he was as a person than who he was as a coach," said Tebow. "We respected that as well. He just handles himself with such class and such dignity. I'm thankful that he's a man of high character and honor. But what a great place it was. It was very exciting for me, I got an opportunity to talk with Jim Kelly, and what a great opportunity that was…just the tradition in Buffalo and just how they're so used to winning, and the past, and everything was very exciting for me. I was very thankful that they were even interested in me."
Nelson speaks with Tebow frequently. Both of them just spoke on the phone Monday. Most of their conversations are just about catching up and asking about one another's families. It's clear that Nelson respects his former teammate for who he is, just as much as what he's done as a quarterback.
"I know what he does and I know how he does it, but to me he's another guy," Nelson said. "And he's a guy that I've seen through the ups and the downs."
Naturally that respect is mutual.
"He's a great player and I'm so happy for him and the success he's had," said Tebow of Nelson. "What a great guy he is and what a great player he was with me at Florida. I'm so proud of him and how hard he's worked and how much he's had to overcome coming into the NFL when there were a lot of doubters for him. He just worked and he's made a bunch of huge plays for the Bills and he's just continued to work."
Nelson last saw Tebow in person in the second week of the preseason when the Bills played the Broncos in Denver. Back then he was the team's third-string quarterback. Now he's helped lead Denver to the brink of a playoff berth and a possible AFC West title with a 7-2 record as a starter.
"To see him go through that, seeing him grow as a person, as a leader, as a quarterback from his freshman year in college to where he is now I've seen the process, so I know the person behind what everybody else sees," Nelson said. "It's not so much of a surprise to me because I know how hard he's worked to get where he is. But to me, I just see Tim out there playing.
"He may not be your conventional every day NFL drop back quarterback, but he's going to win football games. He's wired differently. He believes in himself differently than anybody I've ever seen. He approaches the game of football differently than anybody I've ever seen. When the game's on the line, he believes and he wills his team to victory and he gets the job done."