PASADENA, Calif. -- Take a good look. Bring a camera if you like. Pose with the family.
Make sure to get the San Gabriels in the background. Save those beads thrown from the balconies on Bourbon Street. You can tell your grandchildren you were at the first Division I-A football playoff. Well, sort of. With an asterisk.
Nick Saban and LSU might have to share a national championship with Southern California. (AP)
By pure chance, big-time college football has left us with what amounts to two national semifinals in the Rose and Sugar bowls. Never mind there isn't a way for the winners to meet. That's a small detail. Today, college football couldn't be any better whether you're pro-playoff honk or condescending BCSist.
Michigan vs. Southern California in the Rose Bowl. If the Trojans win they can claim at least half a national championship, maybe three-fourths of one if they stay at No. 1 in both human polls. In that case, think of the trees that will be killed and computer bytes that will be eaten up in the subsequent three days while the nation debates what the Sugar Bowl will even mean.
LSU vs. Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. If Michigan wins, then the nation focuses its view on New Orleans for a winner-take-all. Fine. Great. If it doesn't, then the Tigers and Sooners will be playing for a title.
But what kind of title? In a lot of minds, if USC wins, the reward in the Big Easy will be nothing more than a contrived crystal football trophy sponsored by a home security company.
Perfect. With screaming critics running for the exits, we will be reminded: Don't forget to set the alarm.
ABC doesn't even know how to handle it. It is the broadcast partner of the BCS. Two of the BCS' bowls can claim they are for the national champion, but the BCS awards its trophy only to the Sugar Bowl winner.
Going in, Oklahoma is No. 1 according to ABC and the BCS even though it is No. 3 in the polls. The Rose Bowl, the bowl that doesn't really want to be involved anyway, claims No. 1 USC.
Don't you get it, though? When the sun shines down on another postcard day here Thursday, everything will be as it should be. Two major bowls will matter for the first time since 1997, when Tom Osborne got his retirement gift from the coaches with half a championship.
For the first time in three years, the Rose Bowl will have the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions in an afternoon game preceded by the traditional Tournament of Roses Parade.
LSU Nation is cocked and ready to go off like one of those guns they shoot off in New Orleans to celebrate New Year's. Oklahoma is trying to stay above it all, although there is that nasty four-touchdown loss to Kansas State and the fact that it is the only one of the four not to be a conference champion.
In the current system, everyone has an argument and no one has an argument. The truth is this: Lose a game in the BCS system and you're vulnerable to being left out. The only way to assure a spot at the table is to win them all.
That means three teams still have a chance at the title. Only a true four-team playoff could duplicate that which brings us back to our original point. This might be the beginning of a playoff system or it might signal a return to the Stone Age. Either way, we may never pass this way again.
Enjoy the hell out of it.
The BCS was created in 1998, in part, because the human polls couldn't be trusted. BYU beat Michigan, a 6-5 sixth-place Big Ten team, in the 1984 Holiday Bowl then waited 12 days before it was crowned national champion.
"We won one when you didn't have to prove you're the best. How's that?" said USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a BYU assistant 19 years ago. "The polls did it. Lavell (Edwards) often said, 'I'm glad we won the national championship without having to prove that we're the national champion.'"
OK, so the BCS was the answer, using the polls only as a component. Not. The new system claimed only to facilitate a true national champion, not guarantee one. How right the BCS was.
Now the warring parties in the argument can't even agree on the type of rope they're using in their tug-of-war. Tulane president Scott Cowen, the pro-playoff guy who started the have-not revolution over the summer, wants a full-on 16-team playoff.
But the Pac-10 and Rose Bowl are less likely than ever to sign up for a playoff or a continuation of the BCS. They've gotten a glimpse of what each can do to the Granddaddy and they don't want to call for paramedics again.
"I don't think most people do (understand the Rose)," said Rose executive director Mitch Dorger. "We ... reluctantly went along (with the BCS). The Pac-10 and Big Ten felt that for their own prestige and stature within the college football community that their teams needed to be allowed to play for the national championship. They really wanted to be in this BCS system.
"We weren't particularly wild about it because we saw the Rose Bowl stood to lose part of its tradition and part of its luster."
The next step? It isn't a playoff, bucko. Not for a long, long time. Alaskan glaciers in the winter move faster than college sports. Change at this money-glutted, bureaucratic level comes in increments. Translated, that means years. If anything, the outcry for a playoff has quieted since Black Sunday on Dec. 7 when the BCS spit out the result we're living with.
The firewall is too high and too vast right now to even consider a playoff. You have to get past the presidents, those mighty academics who, let's face it, had a horrible year in the credibility department. How can we trust them to oversee a $150 million cash cow?
Nevertheless, there is still tremendous pressure from entities like the Knight Commission to clean up college athletics, not expand them.
And this isn't I-AA, II or III where the playoffs aren't really based on television and sponsorships and ticket sales and hotel rooms. Not to mention that a I-A athlete is elite. Subjecting his body to more football starts messing with his health and, by association, pro aspirations.
The way things are now, there are college football power brokers that aren't exactly against going back to the old system. That's when conferences hooked up with major bowls and arranged matchups weeks in advance based on attendance and television appeal.
And a playoff isn't going anywhere without the sport's highest profile bowl and at least one of its major conferences. Read between the lines: The Big Ten and Pac-10 basically believe that the Rose Bowl is more important than a national championship.
"We didn't have the branding system with the old system, we didn't have the two-tiered system," Cowen said. "There wasn't the illusion of a national championship. In a way the old system didn't cause the problems for us that the new system does."
Even adding one game presents huge logistical problems. Where do you play it? Who is eligible and how? Try telling the four existing BCS bowls they must now wait an extra year to play host to the title game if a fifth bowl is added.
The Fiesta, Rose, Orange and Sugar are going to produce four winners. Who picks the two teams out of those four that will play for the championship? Please, say it isn't computers.
The presidents are supposedly in the process of hashing all that out. But the more they talk, the more they seem to drift apart on the matter. A proposal for adding one more game died at the table in a contentious summit meeting between BCS presidents and their mid-major counterparts in November in New Orleans. Ominously, lawyers from both sides were present.
"There's always going to be some criticism this really doesn't represent the legitimate national champion," Cowen said. "What's going to happen is there is going to be a series of steps."
A series of steps that might take years or might never take hold at all. Until then, enjoy the view and the jambalaya. It's going to be a while before it's this good again.