PASADENA, Calif. -- Where were the fingers?
The purple Purdue eaters squeezed their hands into upraised fists. They wiped their hands across tear-filled eyes.
Their coach waved his hands while directing the band from atop a teetering ladder. One of their linebackers wrapped his hands around a shivering mom.
But where were the fingers? The ones proclaiming their college football team as the best in the country? The ones we will undoubtedly see Tuesday night in New Orleans and Wednesday in Miami?
That's OK. After a marvelous Monday in Pasadena, mine is ready.
If Oklahoma loses to Florida State in the Orange Bowl as expected, leaving the nation with no unbeatens, then this much should be true about the Washington Huskies after their 34-24 victory over Purdue.
They're No. 1.
Maybe not alone. Maybe not ahead of the Seminoles and Sooners and Miami Hurricanes, the three other one-loss teams that lead them in the rankings.
But certainly not behind them.
They're No. 1.
The Huskies beat Miami, remember? Miami beat Florida State. And if Florida State beats Oklahoma ...
The Rose Bowl isn't supposed to crown a national champion until next January. But, like Marques Tuiasosopo during countless feints and fades Monday, it has gotten ahead of itself.
This Washington team is it. Eleven wins, only one seven-point loss at bowl-winning Oregon, the sort of late resiliency East Coast voters never see and computers will never understand.
Eight of those wins were comebacks. Monday's win came after Purdue caught the Huskies at 17-all early in the third quarter.
The shadows had crept across Granddaddy's midfield rose. A chill had swept in from his San Gabriel mountain wallpaper.
Suddenly feeling at home, the Purdue fans began a rumble that sounded like the echoes from their banned locomotive.
Washington returned the kickoff to its 33-yard line, gathered in a huddle, and ... shrugged?
"This game was about the trenches," fullback Pat Conniff said. "We had been there before."
Tuiasosopo, the best college quarterback this side of Virginia Tech's Michael Vick, connected on two passes over the middle, another on the right side, each time stepping out of padded traps and around sudden collisions.
Conniff, who gained fewer yards this season (163) than many top college running backs gain in one game, busted up the middle for 17 yards.
It wasn't lovely, and it ended with Tuiasosopo disappearing into a pile far short of the goal line, but it didn't matter. It got the Huskies close, and this is a team that understands close.
John Anderson kicked a 42-yard field goal, the beginning of the end.
During the ensuing 20 game minutes after they were tied, Washington outscored Purdue, 17-0, and outgained it, 194-53.
"We really weren't that worried, to tell you the truth," linebacker Derrell Daniels said. "I mean, we go through this all the time."
One of the only two games the Huskies led from start to finish? That 34-29 win back in September against Miami, which will likely be crowned Associated Press champion with a win Tuesday night against Florida.
Just wait for the Hurricanes to scream bloody injustice if the Seminoles win the BCS national title upon defeating Oklahoma a day later.
"I know Miami, they'll be running around crying, but they can't cry," said Washington running back Rich Alexis, a south Florida native. "Because we stepped on them. So if they can cry, we can cry."
The odd thing about Monday was, the Huskies weren't crying.
That they have virtually no chance at a national championship -- lack of West Coast respect, too many close games -- illustrates everything that is wrong about college football.
That they weren't griping about it illustrates everything that is right about Washington.
After the beaten Purdue players scrambled away, mostly without bothering to shake hands, the Huskies began pointing and screaming at the press box.
Rick Neuheisel, the Husky coach and former UCLA hero understands better than most, pointed to his new cap.
"We'd love to be the national champions," he said. "With our score often coming in late, it's good that voters saw us. They know what we did against Miami. They know what Miami did against Florida State.
"But ... we're happy to have this hat on our head saying we are Rose Bowl champions."
Quaint? Certainly. But right about now, we could use some quaint.
With the national title game coming here next January, turning our cozy New Year's block party into a gaudy gala, we should remember the images of this joyous Washington team and the national championship it apparently will not miss.
A team that grew up wanting nothing more than playing in Pasadena. A team for whom this game has always been a national title.
They're No. 1, with a finger as long as a rose.
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