Tim Tebow at Texas Easter service

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"Everything about this young man's extraordinary life is special," Sandoval said.

Amanda O'Hara drove about 100 miles from San Antonio on Saturday and got to the church about 4:30 a.m. "to be one of the first ones here."

"I only got about four hours sleep, I was so excited," O'Hara said. "He doesn't hide who he is. Parents should see him as a role model."

The crowd included people dressed in Easter bunny costumes and dressed as Sesame Street character Elmo.

About an hour before the service, Elmo dropped to a knee with a toddler boy to mimic Tebow's on-field prayer pose, which was been dubbed "Tebowing."

Media access to the event was tightly controlled inside the roped off field. Reporters were required to have an escort when walking through the crowd and photographers were not allowed inside during the service. Television cameras were allowed to record only a portion of Tebow's speech and no live video streaming of the service was permitted.

Church officials initially expected up to 20,000 and said Tebow's appearance on Easter Sunday was coincidental. Church spokeswoman Tara Wall said it was Tebow who reached out to Pastor Joe Champion and Sunday was the best date available.

Mike Benaglio, who sat on a blanket with his wife Debbie, welcomed the spectacle surrounding the Tebow phenomenon. "I'm a fan of any pro athlete who stands up for his faith," Benaglio said. "We're thrilled to be part of this. It's not about football. Whatever gets more people over to the cross, I'm in favor of."

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