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Tebow bringing his devoted fans to Jets

Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, right, and his brother,

Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, right, and his brother, Robby, laugh after Tebow almost knocked Don Karnes over after Karnes' putt on the 10th hole during the Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic. (April 14, 2012) Credit: AP

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Heartbroken.

That's the word a 17-year-old girl from Loveland, Colo., who has an incurable disease and has undergone chemotherapy and more than 70 surgeries, used to describe her emotions. But it had nothing to do with the Wegener's granulomatosis, a rare condition that has caused her so much pain.

It's because her favorite football player, Tim Tebow, was traded.

In the past month, since he was dealt from the Broncos, she's come to grips with the situation by finding a solution. Bailey Knaub has kept her allegiance to the player and simply switched her favorite team. Now she's chanting J-E-T-S like a lifelong fan.

"I'll follow him no matter where he went," said Knaub, who was one of Tebow's guests at his celebrity golf classic at TPC Sawgrass this weekend. "I'm a Tebow fan. I don't really care where he went, I would follow him no matter what."

Knaub, who spoke at the gala Friday night and gave the blessing before the meal, isn't the only one who has a new favorite team. There were hundreds of fans lining the Stadium Course for the golf outing Saturday, many of them wearing some kind of Tebow textile. Quite a few were already decked out in their new greens.

One woman, from the Jacksonville area where Tebow grew up, was escorting five kindergartners around the course as part of a birthday celebration for her son. All five were wearing Jets shirts with Tebow's name and number -- 15 -- printed on them. Were they Jets fans a month ago?

"Who are the Jets?" she asked.

Tebow said he saw the support and called it "awesome" that so many have embraced his new team.

"Obviously, the Jets fans are very passionate and then to also have some of my fans out here who were incredibly supportive was just great," he said.

But even he chuckled when it was pointed out that many wearing Jets colors Saturday probably were not Jets fans before the trade.

"Either way," he said, "it still feels good."

That's the swell that Tebow brings to the Jets following. Though there are still diehards who have been following the team closely for decades, they'll be cheering side-by-side this season with a new generation of Jets supporters. Those whose devotion to a football team was traded for a fourth- and a sixth-round pick in mid-March.

One of the reasons Tebow has so many followers is because of the way he treats people like Knaub. He flew her and her mother to Florida for the event. Last year, when he spoke about her during a postgame news conference in Denver, she became a bit of a celebrity. Friday night, she was standing in front of a room of celebrities.

"I was so blindsided that he would take such an interest in someone like me," said Knaub, who thought she'd never hear from Tebow again after he was dealt to New York. "It meant so much that he was willing to go out of his way to make sure that a kid had a smile on her face and make her day brighter."

"Bailey is such a sweet girl," Tebow said. "Her determination and perseverance is amazing . . . This is a girl who has had 70 surgeries and fights through things we couldn't even imagine. That's a real hero."

Though the final numbers from the weekend event were not complete, organizers confidently said they raised "significantly" more money than at last year's inaugural event. There was even one family, who wanted to remain anonymous, that bid $100,000 in the auction to spend a day with Tebow.

"It was very humbling," Tebow said. "You don't necessarily feel worthy. That day, I feel like I have to do a few extra things to be special. I've got to try to be a little better, I don't know."

Now it's time to help the Jets get better. Offseason workouts begin Monday and Tebow will fly to New Jersey Saturday night. He even played golf with gloves on each hand Saturday, he said, to avoid getting any blisters on his throwing hand.

One year ago, he was a locked-out quarterback who seemed destined for third place on the Broncos' depth chart. Since then, it's been a whirlwind 12 months that included taking over the starting job, becoming a national phenomenon and hot-button topic, winning a playoff game, and ultimately bringing him -- and his followers -- to the Jets.

"This is a great way to cap it off and start a new chapter of my life as a Jets football player," Tebow said of the past year. "I'm looking forward to starting that training on Monday. It's going to be a lot of fun. And what can I say? It's going to be exciting."

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