Jim McElwain didn’t need the game ball Saturday.
The 61-13 win against New Mexico State to usher in the McElwain era of Florida football was great, but once the clock hit zero, McElwain already had a bigger prize in sight, one that had everything and nothing to do with the game of football.
As he hugged his wife Karen and three kids following the victory, none of the intricacies of the game mattered.
To McElwain, seeing his family all in one place meant the world. To McElwain, that was and will always be the most important victory that came out of his first game in The Swamp.
"Them being at this ballgame, even though they’re all over the country now, that was something that was really special to Karen and I," he said Monday.
In a profession that has taken McElwain to all corners of the country over the past 30 years — from Eastern Washington and Colorado State to Alabama and now Florida — opportunities for the whole family to be together were not as frequent as McElwain desires, especially now that all of his children are out of the house, living their own lives.
"You know, we go through a lot of things as coaches, where we’re not there every day for our kids," he said. "We’re there, but maybe not in person."
On Saturday, they were all in The Swamp.
After the celebration of the win ended and the craziness began to subside, McElwain reached into his pocket, pulling out five sticks of gum, each with a name written on it.
The first three bore the names of his children: Johanna, Elizabeth and Jerrett.
The fourth was for Karen.
The fifth read the name Frank, for McElwain’s father who died in 2009.
"Just wish he could’ve been here to see it," McElwain said, his voice starting to break after a brief pause.
It’s a tradition McElwain has held since his oldest daughter Johanna was born and he was serving as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at Eastern Washington.
Holding on to those sticks of gum each game symbolizes the strength and closeness of his family regardless of the physical distance that might separate them.
No matter what happens, his family is always with him.
"It’s me remembering every day, when we go into those games, writing their names on a stick of gum ... why I do this," he said.
"Hopefully, (it) has helped them know I do this for them."
But on Saturday, his whole family was together again, embracing the win and the time spent together.
That’s all McElwain could ask for.
And while fans will remember McElwain’s UF debut for what happened on the field — the energized offense, the 61 points, the blasts of fireworks that lit up The Swamp after each of Florida’s eight touchdowns — it all takes a back seat in McElwain’s eyes.
The win was great, but family comes first.
And after each game, regardless of the outcome, McElwain will pull out those five sticks of gum and share a moment with his family.
With his wife and kids by his side, McElwain will always feel like a winner.
Follow Jordan McPherson on Twitter @J_McPherson1126
Surrounded by media, Jim McElwain celebrates Florida's 61-13 win against New Mexico State on Sept. 5, 2015. This was his first game as head UF football coach.