BRADENTON -- The final tally of Tim Tebow Broncos jerseys was two.
The final count of Florida jerseys was endless.
That was who the Salvation Army was appealing to when it first reached out to the Heisman Trophy winner about speaking at its 2015 Evening of Hope at Bayside Community Church.
The Salvation Army sold more than 900 tickets to the event at $75 each, most of which went to people who worshipped Tebow when he was tearing apart the Southeastern Conference as a Gator.
"Last year, it was a complete different-style of an event. Last year it was a seated-type gala dinner," said Christine Smith, director of community relations and development for the Salvation Army in Manatee County. "We knew we'd definitely need more than 125 seats."
The evening, though, began with someone who had to root against the guest speaker once a year. Pastor Randy Bezet, a Louisiana State fan, shared a story from a trip to Baton Rouge, La., when he saw Tebow play. Somehow, Tebow's phone number had been going around campus and LSU students were calling and texting the quarterback with taunting messages. When Tebow scored his first touchdown, he pantomimed a phone to his ear, telling the crowd to, "Call me."
The night's emcee, WWSB's news anchor Scott Dennis, then introduced Tebow after sharing his own memory of the quarterback, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League last month. Dennis is a UF fan and when Tebow was drafted by Denver, he bought a bunch of Broncos gear. When Tebow was traded to the Jets after two seasons, Dennis gave all his Tebow Broncos paraphernalia away.
"To the Salvation Army," he quipped.
And then Tebow climbed onto the stage.
The 27-year-old focused most of his nearly 45-minute speech on his time at UF and eventually in the NFL. He recalled how he ended up choosing Florida, with his parents, siblings and coaches trusting him to make a smart decision before he prayed and settled on the Gators.
"I actually came really close to going to LSU. I came even closer to going to Alabama," he told the crowd as the audience responded with jeers for the two rival schools. "And then I got right with the lord."
There were laughs.
The way he remembered the story, he first called then-Crimson Tide head coach Mike Shula to tell him that he wouldn't be coming to Alabama. But he couldn't get then-UF head coach Urban Meyer on the phone before he went on ESPN. He said he had second thoughts before finally choosing Florida, and even then he questioned himself.
He discussed how sometimes God won't make His plan easily clear and that was an example.
Tebow's speech was rife with religious messages: "How do 94 million people not know John 3:16!" he exclaimed when telling the story of his famous eye black -- but the partisan message was kindness.
During Tebow's one appearance in the 2011 NFL playoffs, when he was the quarterback for Denver, he wore a bracelet that was made for him by a girl with cancer. During one of Tebow's runs, he was dragged down by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who broke the bracelet. Tebow jokingly started giving him a hard time and told him the story about the bracelet.
"Oh Timmy, I'm sorry," Tebow recalls Polamalu saying. "God bless you."
"I'm just like, 'God bless you, too, freak,'" Tebow said, drawing more laughs from the crowd.
It was a moment of kindness Tebow didn't expect on the football field, as he said, no one in NFL locker rooms ever says: "Hey, bro, you're really kind" -- and it was a moment that reminded him that there's never an excuse not to be friendly.
He capped his night, though, by telling a story away from the football field, from one of his trips to the Philippines, where he was born and where he opened a children's hospital last month. He was visiting a school and said he noticed three children who were in another room, missing out on the chance to meet the athlete.
Tebow approached them and said he realized one of the children's feet were backward. The school, Tebow said, was ashamed of the disabled child, Sherwin, and wouldn't let him meet Tebow. Sherwin's friends, whose kindness touched Tebow, stayed in the other room with the boy rather than meeting one of their country's most famous athletes.
Tebow spent some time with the three boys and when he left, he told Sherwin he couldn't wait to meet him again in heaven.
"I can't wait," Tebow recalled Sherwin saying to him, "to run with you in heaven."