GAINESVILLE — By night's end, it was easy to see how South Carolina had succeeded Florida as the SEC's Eastern Division champion.
For sure, the Gamecocks had the better defense.
And the better quarterback.
And the better running back.
And … the better coach.
That's right: All these years later, Steve Spurrier was a genius again at Florida Field.
What a sight. What a night. What a colossal embarrassment for the Gators.
They not only lost a chance to redeem their season with a possible Southeastern Conference championship, but they lost at home to South Carolina for the first time in program history and then watched as the most famous Gator of all stood with his finger raised while listening to another band's alma mater.
And it is now permissible to wonder just how mediocre the Gators have become. They are .500 in SEC play for only the second time in the past 23 seasons, and all four of their league victories have come against teams with losing records in the SEC.
UF coach Urban Meyer has now lost 12 SEC regular-season games in six years.
Spurrier lost 12 SEC regular-season games in 12 years at Florida.
The comparisons are probably not fair, but on a night such as this, they are unavoidable.
So measure them however you wish. You could say Meyer has won two national championships to Spurrier's one, and that's a pretty persuasive argument. Or you could say Spurrier won SEC titles at a faster rate than Meyer, and that should carry weight as well.
If you really want to break it down, you could point out Meyer is 63-14 as the UF coach. And danged if Spurrier didn't manage to go 63-13-1 in his first 77 games with the Gators.
The truth is they share a few lines on a resume but little else.
Meyer is fanatical about squeezing more hours into a workday. He is maniacal about preparation. He has little interest in wasting time on booster clubs or interviews or anything else that takes him away from his team and his game plans.
On the other hand, Spurrier is the guy who likes to come in later and go home earlier. On the afternoon of his biggest game at South Carolina, he was sitting poolside at a Hilton Hotel enjoying some sunshine before heading to Florida Field.
Yet, in the end, there is some redemption to this night even for a man as accomplished as Spurrier.
A decade has passed since he last celebrated a first-place finish. In between was an ill-fated tenure as the head coach of the Washington Redskins and too many forgettable seasons at South Carolina.
So late in the game, when it appeared the victory was secure, Spurrier removed his headset and whispered to one of his assistants. Within minutes, a couple of players had arrived with a cooler of Gatorade to douse their head coach. Soon, a pair of linemen were carrying him away on their shoulders. Spurrier was asked afterward if he had to orchestrate that particular celebration.
"We haven't had many championships," Spurrier said. "So we have to coach them up a little bit."
As he was leaving the field, Spurrier looked like the prodigal son returning home. He stopped briefly to talk with UF surgeon Dr. Peter Indelicato then embraced former Florida running back Errict Rhett. Underneath the bleachers, after his postgame news conference, Spurrier shared a few quiet moments with UF athletic director Jeremy Foley.
"Obviously it's special," said Steve Spurrier Jr., who is on his father's coaching staff. "I can't speak for him as to what it means, but I imagine you could say it was quite unique to be here and win."
And there was nothing accidental about this loss for Florida. The Gators were outplayed, outmuscled and outsmarted.
Do not blame John Brantley.
Do not blame Steve Addazio.
This is Meyer's team, and this morning it is Meyer's problem.
For, ultimately, it was Meyer who decided Addazio would succeed Dan Mullen as offensive coordinator. And it was Meyer who had three years to evaluate Brantley in practice and failed to recognize his shortcomings.
"They've struggled a bit this year, they know that," Spurrier said. "But they're still a very good team."
The problem is the standards are higher at Florida.
Meyer understands that, for the bar was set long ago.
And, all these years later, Steve Spurrier came back to nudge it up a little bit more.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.