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THE BIG 1 EASY // The world must finally watch Florida flaunt it

So this is what it feels like when the dreams too rich to dream come true.

The Gators poured from the bench, full of themselves and celebration, not necessarily in that order. They rushed to the center of the field, and they looked at each other, and they well, they hopped.

This wasn't exactly a dance. It was a bounce. Ninety-five players in white and blue, bobbing up and down in ecstasy. They grinned, and they held their helmets aloft, and they well, they hopped some more.

Forgive the Gators. They're kind of new at this national championship stuff. Besides, it's the only flaw they allowed America to see Thursday night.

The Gators won the national title in the Sugar Bowl. Don't worry about anything else. Their 52-20 swamping of previously unbeaten FSU removed all worries.

This is the moment their fans had dreamed about all those years before they had the right to dream it. All those years UF was a serf in its own conference, what right did it have to think about riches such as this?

This was the game that, despite the crimes of Charley Pell, despite the misdemeanors of Galen Hall, the Gators could not buy. This was the game that, despite the excellence of Emmitt Smith and Jack Youngblood and John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez and Wilber Marshall and Scot Brantley and, yes, Steve Spurrier, it could not win.

These fans had sat and watched, those who could stand it, as FSU danced that wild, spasmodic dance of champions. As Miami did it, four times in all. As Nebraska snuffed out their dreams a year ago. Every year, it was some team. Every year, it was another team.

Finally, it was the Gators' turn, and the world could watch. They waited an eternity for this. Ninety seasons, most of them spent chasing the elusive SEC title. Nineteen coaches, most of them unknown to all but historians. Two dozen bowl games, most of them defeats. Fourth and dumb against Georgia. The probations. The sight of rivals winning titles.

But just before midnight Big Easy time, the wait finally ended. Florida has a title, and the rest of the country is looking at Gator tail.

Oh, for the longest time, you wondered. The Gators darned near illegally motioned themselves out of this game in the first half. In the end, however, they turned this into their type of game rather than FSU's, and that made all the difference. In the end, they not only beat the Seminoles, they darned near Nebraskaed them.

All the things that had gone wrong in the first meeting had been repaired by the Gators. The special teams that were so horrible were crisp. The defense that could not tackle Warrick Dunn smothered him completely. Ike Hilliard, almost invisible in the first game, was superman in this one.

Style points

But most important was the protection of Danny Wuerffel. By going so heavily to the shotgun _ a formation Spurrier never had much use for _ Wuerffel had time to throw. And his wide receivers simply were better than the FSU defensive backs.

You want to know how good a night Spurrier had? By the time the Gators got around to the obligatory Gatorade shower, with two minutes to go, he had slipped away to put on a jacket. Nothing took him by surprise all night.

If the Gators indeed waited the longest of the state schools to win their title, they at least won on style points. FSU won its title in confusion, when the field was cleared and Nebraska missed a late field goal. When Miami won its first title, it did so when Nebraska missed on a late two-point conversion. The Gators? They not only won a title, they made their rivals watch the celebration.

Okay, it needs to be said somewhere that there will be a little talk from the other four schools with one defeat. That's natural, but it's not rational. Not after the Gators steamrolled the No. 1 team in the nation like this. Ohio State was ranked behind the Gators going into the game, and what it did in the Rose Bowl was not as impressive as what the Gators did by beating the Seminoles.

And while you feel a little for FSU, which beat Florida a little more than a month ago, both sides knew what the stakes were coming into this. No, the Gators owe a few favors _ to Texas and Ohio State, who combined to salvage a season that had slipped away _ but the championship is theirs.

If you are an FSU fan, the shame of it all is that the Seminoles could have beaten any other team in the country Thursday. Ohio State or Arizona State or BYU or anyone else. No one else has these receivers, this quarterback and _ say what you want about him, this coach. This time there would be no goal posts to shred, no fans pouring joyously across the field.

Instead, there were only players with empty faces, trying not to pay attention as the players in white shirts and blue pants danced their way into a history that has been forever in coming. Eventually, however, they could not help themselves. They had to look.

Today, everyone has to. Today, you look up, and there is no one else to see.