TALLAHASSEE — Here is a place that understands glory.
The glory of national championships. Of Heisman Trophies. Of a legend on the sideline.
And here is a crowd that appreciates the importance of a moment.
The signature play of a college football season. Or the defining performance of a career.
Yes, here is a program that has just about seen it all.
And still, the celebration that followed Florida State's 31-7 victory against Florida early Saturday evening felt like something totally different. Almost like validation. Maybe even vindication.
In a way, it felt like rebirth.
"It was amazing. The night was electric. We felt like we had just won the national championship," FSU punter Shawn Powell said. "It's something this team needed, this program needed, this community needed. This was something all of Seminole Nation needed.
"It lets the fans know that we're coming back."
The head coach and quarterback hugged near midfield, each with tears in his eyes. Senior Kendall Smith held a replica alligator head aloft in the end zone. Linebacker Nigel Bradham was lifted into the bleachers by fans and stood with his arms raised in the night.
None of these players had ever known the feeling of beating Florida. Many of the students at Doak Campbell Stadium had never witnessed it.
And just when it seemed the night could not get any better, the scoreboard lit up with video of Maryland scoring a touchdown to take a commanding lead against North Carolina State in a victory that would eventually send FSU to next week's ACC Championship Game.
"This is why I came here. I had an opportunity to go to Florida, but I chose to come here because I felt it was my home," said Bradham, who is from nearby Crawfordville. "I haven't seen this since I was in middle school. Words can't explain the way I feel right now."
It had been six years since FSU had beaten UF, and it seemed like six centuries since the Seminoles had been relevant this late in a season. The school that defined excellence in the 1990s had grown so stale in the past decade that it had drawn far more headlines for an embarrassing academic scandal and a messy parting of ways with a coaching icon than anything it had done on the field.
And, no, the Seminoles are not all the way back. They are not yet conference champions, and they are a long way from national champions.
But, today, they are meaningful again. This morning, they have no need for rationalizations or excuses.
After going 6-15 against UF, USF and UM in the past decade, the Seminoles have beaten Florida and Miami in the same season for the first time since 1999. Once again, FSU can legitimately claim to be the best college football team in the state.
"Florida has been as good as anybody in the country for the last six years," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "This puts us at 9-3, it puts us in the ACC Championship (Game), and that makes us relevant for BCS bowls so that puts you back in national talk. I ain't saying we're here to win it, but we're heading in the right direction.
"We're becoming a factor again in this league, and we're becoming a factor in this state. I don't say that arrogantly, but our kids are doing a great job and I'm very happy for that."
For the moment, it didn't matter that Florida has fallen as hard and as quickly as ever before. At this time last season, the Gators were undefeated and the No. 1 team in the nation with a third national championship in four seasons looking like a real possibility.
Yet, starting with a loss to Alabama in last season's SEC Championship Game, the Gators have gone 8-6. The offense is a mess, and the defense is barely better. Depending on the outcome of a bowl game, this could be UF's worst season in more than 20 years.
But none of that diminishes FSU's victory today. Nor does it wipe out Florida's dominance in recent seasons.
It simply means, for the first time in a long while, that FSU seems worthy of being back in the conversation.
"Since I came here, I had a lot of hopes and dreams of things that changed pretty quickly. A lot of things didn't work out in our favor," said Smith, a linebacker from Bushnell. "But to be a senior today and be one of the people who helped start a new legacy of Florida State beating Florida, and giving the team confidence to do more of the same in years to come, I'm pretty proud right now."
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.