ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Scenes from a championship: A Temple defensive back cruised around the checkerboard end zone, arms out as if he was flying. A receiver went over to some defensive linemen and pointed to his gloved hand, to his ring finger. A bunch of Owls players jumped up to the stands, to sit in front as Temple's band played Temple's fight song. Players grabbed souvenir signs, carried them around the place, high-fiving Temple fans who strung out along the whole sideline.
"Seeing these guys so happy,'' Temple coach Matt Rhule said about the real trophy amidst the joyful chaos inside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
It had been 49 years - back in an earlier version of the Middle Atlantic, before the Owls were independent, then in the Big East, and kicked out of the Big East, and into the Mid-American, and now the American Athletic Conference. That was the last time Temple had won a league title before Saturday's dismantling of Navy, 34-10.
Even for a team that had won six straight, this was eye-opening, a dream sequence. The AAC title game was 16 minutes, 16 seconds old and the Owls had three touchdowns, giving up nothing. If you've watched Temple at all lately, you felt it was over already.
There is one New Year's Day bowl berth available for teams outside the Power 5 league and the prevailing opinion starting the day was that Temple was out of contention for the Cotton Bowl after undefeated Western Michigan won the Mid-American title. The only way Navy, ranked 19th by the official selection committee and 20th by the Associated Press, could get into the mix was probably with a big-time win over Temple.
The selection committee probably can't leap over undefeated and get to three losses, which is what Temple had after six games and still has today.
But big time went the other way Saturday. Even the committee may believe it is passing over the better team if it takes WMU (ranked 17th by the committee, 13th by AP) over the Owls.
Talking about any bowl, Rhule said later, "You should want us there,'' clearly wanting to play the best possible opponent.
We'll argue that if Temple doesn't hear its name for the Cotton Bowl, it was Army that kept it out, in the season-opening upset. Two losses - including one to Penn State, now well into the top 10 - might be all right given the strength of schedule and the strength of the AAC itself. But three losses seems too much.
The bowl issue shouldn't divert attention from the accomplishment. Rhule had called Navy the final test for his defense.
"I think we can say we're one of the top teams in college football right now based on how we played,'' Rhule said at his news conference.
Navy is supposed to be the one confusing opponents with its triple-option, but there was one time the Midshipmen called a play and, based on the defense, switched it, as they often do. Except the switch didn't look so good either. Navy called timeout. The Owls were winning the physical battles and the chess game.
Talking about the play-calling by Owls defensive coordinator Phil Snow, his ability to show multiple defenses, all of them going at top speed, Rhule said, "You can only do that with players who can play multiple defenses."
Temple's playbook was open and useful. A jet sweep led to a fake jet sweep. A receiver dropped a big third-down pass? Go back to him on fourth down - "Same play, same exact play,'' said quarterback Phillip Walker, the game's outstanding player, despite not practicing all week with a banged-up ankle.
The network TV guys were playing up Rhule as a candidate for non-specific Power 5 jobs. That's how it works when you win the sixth-best league.The rest of the country notices. The 10-3 Owls aren't some cult hit.
"A good 'old-fashioned butt-whipping,'' said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose offense had gotten used to scoring, like, all the time. "They beat the crap out of us and hit us in the mouth. We have not been hit in the mouth like that in a long time and not respond like that."
Scenes from a championship: a Temple police officer who had worked Owls games for seven years, high-fiving and hugging players as they found him, laughing and laughing and laughing.
They all walked out of the place knowing: These Owls are no joke.