GAINESVILLE — The Essential Gator was getting closer now, the yards clipping beneath his feet as he approached, the noise rising with every step he took.
The game was over, if you can still refer to these Florida-FSU get-togethers as games, and all that remained was the approval. After all, this was the guy who had enabled all of the celebrations the past few seasons.
And so, on a brisk November night, he ran toward an end zone filled with fans wearing blue jerseys. The crowd called his name, and fans waved their posters, and the sound of it all was a bit like gratitude.
No, it was Urban Meyer.
Say what you will about Tebow, who had his own victory jog and heard his own thanks after Saturday's 37-10 domination of FSU. Tebow has been a great player at UF, and after he played his final game at the Swamp, the fans could not chant his name often enough. There has never been a more beloved Gator than Tebow, and it is not hyperbole to suggest the last four seasons have been the Tim Tebow Era.
That said, the most important Gator of them all is, and has been, Urban Meyer.
And the bad news for FSU fans? Despite all of the reports, despite all of the rumors, and despite all of the talk of yesterday's dreams, it turns out that Meyer is not a graduating senior, after all.
After all, this is Meyer's stadium, this is his program, and this is his state. One more win and the SEC will be his conference. Two more and this will be his nation.
At this point, is there a better coach in the country? Is there a better program for him to work? Think about this: When the polls come out, it will be the 75th time since Meyer has taken over at Florida. And in each one of them, the Gators have been ranked.
In other words, Meyer has things going at Florida. All of the momentum in the state, and perhaps in the South, is flowing toward him. He has made Bobby Bowden look old, made FSU fans restless, made Steve Spurrier look replaceable, made Miami just another program, made Notre Dame look antiquated, and he has made everyone else envious.
So tell me again. Why, exactly, did people ever think he was going to leave?
Look at the difference between Florida and FSU on Saturday. The past three seasons, Florida has won this game by a combined 90 points. There has never been a three-year run with that sort of margin, not even in the early 70s when Florida had back-to-back wins of 42-13 and 49-0.
Meyer will tell you it was this game, back in 2005, that turned things around for Florida. After UF's 34-7 win, he said, the recruiting started to click, and the momentum began to shift. Conversely, it doesn't seem like a coincidence that FSU has slipped.
In the seasons since, Meyer has drained the rivalry out of this series. His teams have won five straight, and only one of them — the 21-14 victory in 2006 — has been by less than 27 points. How bad has it gotten? So bad that, down 30-0 on Saturday, Bowden called for a field goal on fourth and 2 late in the third quarter.
When your state rival is kicking field goals to keep from getting shut out, you no longer have a rivalry. You have Texas-Baylor.
It's odd, though. Meyer has rarely been the first name that comes to mind when you think about Florida. That's Tebow. Around here, Tebow's presence sort of sucks the attention from everyone. From the defense, for instance. From the offense. And the coaching staff. In Gainesville, Tebow casts a shadow that is sort of like winter in Oslo.
For all of the praise Tebow gets, and deserves, it starts with Meyer. It is Meyer's offense that maximizes Tebow's skills.
Here's how turned around it gets. In some places, the logic was that Meyer might leave because Tebow was graduating. Here's a news flash: Tebow wasn't going to be at Notre Dame, either. For that matter, neither was Meyer.
Saturday night, it would have been easy to look past Meyer toward Tebow, too. After all, Tebow threw for three touchdowns, and he ran for two more. Tebow also was the guy making the emotional victory lap around the Swamp, further endearing his legend with every step. Yeah, the backlash crew, the ones who hate Tebow because he gets so much attention, aren't going to like hearing about this one.
College football is a coach's game. And the way he recruits, the way he is organized, the way he is driven, Meyer is going to be fine.
For those fans who shed a tear over Tebow's final home game, well, that's understandable.
For those who shared a smile that Meyer is standing pat, that made some sense, too.