TALLAHASSEE - If you were staring at the clock, you know it never moved. It reached 0:00 at the end of regulation and never ticked again. Not during the first overtime, nor for the second.
So how do you explain what happened next? The way time seemed to roll backward right in front of your eyes.
It was as if 2001 never happened. Or, for that matter, 2002. There was no Internet gambling, no faulty alarm clocks. Handicapped parking spaces were available, and deep discount jerseys were not.
For a moment, Florida State football was relevant again. And, in the blush of that moment, anything seemed possible.
"The way it ended," linebacker Allen Augustin said, "it seemed kind of like a storybook."
Understand, the tale was less ambitious than in years gone by. There was no unbeaten season to protect. No national title to be won.
But there was an ACC title at stake. That and the legacy of a handful of seniors who might have otherwise been mocked by history.
"We set a legacy for the boys next year," said senior cornerback Rufus Brown. "Just like the players did before us."
That is the way they will remember this day. Not as the game Chris Rix threw three touchdowns nor when Leon Washington rushed for 127 yards. Not for the breakdowns nor for the comebacks.
This was the day a dozen or so seniors felt as if they won something. An ACC title, to be sure. A BCS bowl game, too. But also a place in FSU's lore.
They arrived in Tallahassee from 1999-2000, when college football knew no better destination. The Seminoles won a national title in '99 and came one game short of another the following season.
Since then, they have lost more games than any FSU class of the past 17 years. They gave away the ACC title in '01 and backed into it in '02.
They saw players in trouble in courtrooms and in NCAA offices. They buried one teammate and said goodbye to others.
It was on their watch that the magic left Tallahassee.
"Unfortunately for those youngsters, they happened to be there when the law of averages took over," said North Carolina State Chuck Amato, who recruited many of those players as an FSU assistant in '99. "Fourteen years of 10 or more victories, 14 years of (No.) 5 or above in the polls?
"That can't go on forever. It can't. It just can't."
This is why Saturday was so important. Not simply for a place in the polls or a spot in one of the better bowls.
This was a way of making at least partial amends for the recent past. These seniors may not leave a spotless legacy at Doak Campbell Stadium, but they have picked up after themselves.
"It meant the world to us. It really meant the world," said Augustin, who knocked down a fourth-down pass in the second overtime. "That's what we talked about this week. That this is what it comes down to for us. Our last game at home.
"This may not have been up to part with what people have come to expect around here the last 15-20 years, but it's a conference championship and we're going to take it."
They'll take it because they remember the humiliation of an FSU team in the Gator Bowl. They'll take it because they recall losing to N.C. State last season when a victory would have clinched the ACC.
They'll take it for the player who was the first to be announced during Saturday's pregame ceremonies for seniors.
Before Darnell Dockett. Before Michael Boulware and Greg Jones. Before any other player, the public address announcer called the name of Devaughn Darling. Almost three years ago, Darling died during offseason workouts.
His memory served as a bookend of sorts for Saturday. It was the first name called before the game and the last afterward in the locker room.
"Our kids have been so good about remembering him," coach Bobby Bowden said. "Even though he died, those kids feel like he's still a part of their class. Travis Johnson stood up after (the game) and said, "Let's not forget Devaughn. He came in with us and is one of us.' It was special."
They will not be remembered among the best of FSU classes. That much is certain. There were too many losses and not nearly enough titles.
Yet all of these seasons later, they had one game to make a difference.
"That's what I remember from last year," said senior defensive end Kevin Emanuel. "Those seniors saying they couldn't believe the way it ended. Telling us that we had to come back this year and make a difference.
"It would have been crushing if we had lost this game. Now we can walk away proud. We've had our ups and downs, but we're leaving together."