Despite a strong preseason showing, the quarterback finds himself without an NFL team

By Steve Helling
Updated September 05, 2015 01:15 PM
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Cal Sport Media/AP

By all accounts, Tim Tebow finished his NFL preseason on a high note.

On Thursday night, the quarterback was firing on all cylinders, throwing 189 yards and two touchdown passes for the Philadelphia Eagles.

He was accurate and confident. In short, he looked like an honest-to-goodness NFL quarterback.

But was it enough to get him a spot on the roster? (The team had four quarterbacks in the preseason, but only needed three. Tebow and Matt Barkley were competing for the third spot.)

As it turns out, neither Barkley nor Tebow were retained. Barkley was traded to the Arizona Cardinals while Tebow was cut on Saturday, PEOPLE has confirmed.

It’s a crushing blow to Tebow, who turned 28 last month. Over the years, he has made no secret of his desire to be a quarterback.

“Playing in the NFL is a lifelong dream,” Tebow told PEOPLE when he began practicing with the Eagles. “I wouldn’t work as hard as I do if I didn’t care so much about it.”

After Thursday night’s game, he echoed those sentiments.

“Sometimes, when things are taken away, you realize how much you really do love it,” he told reporters in the locker room. “The time away made me love [football] that much more.”

And despite the high stakes of Thursday’s game, Tebow said he wasn’t anxious. “I’m not going to worry about what I can’t control,” he said. “It’s a blessing to come out here and play the game that I love.”

Tebow has trained relentlessly to return to the NFL. He maintains his 6’3″, 244-lb frame through intensive cardio and weight training. He also carefully watches his diet.

“When I’m in good physical shape, I feel mentally and spiritually better, too,” he told PEOPLE in March. “It has become my lifestyle.”

Tebow reacted to the news on Saturday, thanking the Eagles for their support.

The Bible verse reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

No matter how much Tebow loves the game, he maintains that football isn’t the most important thing in his life – and he knows he has no shortage of opportunities even if he’s not on an NFL roster.

Hours before Thursday’s game, he announced that the Tim Tebow Foundation will again sponsor proms for people with special needs next Valentine’s Day weekend. Last year, the foundation sponsored 44 simultaneous proms; this year, it will be more than 100.

“We want to show these amazing people that they are loved, valued and ALL kings and queens in God s eyes,” says Erik Dellenback, executive director of the Tim Tebow Foundation. “Our prayer is that this event will change the face of Valentine’s Day weekend from simply a celebration of love, to a celebration of God’s love for people with special needs.”

“Football really means a lot to me,” Tebow told PEOPLE earlier this year. “I wouldn’t work as hard as I do if I didn’t care so much about it. But it’s not the most important thing for me; I want to focus on helping others. I want to build a legacy that is greater than football.”