After Clemson clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship last year and was selected as the top-seed in the College Football Playoff, I remember head coach Dabo Swinney telling us—the media—to enjoy the ride. It’s not often we get the opportunity to cover a football program that is playing for a national championship.
He was right. It was the first time I had been able to do such, and I know it was the same for a lot of the beat writers who follow the Tigers on a daily basis. So I took Swinney’s advice and I enjoyed the ride.
As the Tigers, No. 2 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, continue another run this year, I think back to that day last December and what Swinney said. Clemson is once again positioning itself for another run at a national championship.
It’s crazy to think, but here they are again. With three games left in the regular season, they could complete a second straight undefeated regular season. That has never happened before in Clemson’s rich football history. We waited 34 years from the last undefeated regular season. Now we—the media and the fans—could see it for a second straight year?
Before I get ahead of myself, the Tigers still have three games left in the regular season – this Saturday vs. Pitt, at Wake Forest on Nov. 19 and back home vs. archrival South Carolina on the 26th. Then there is the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 3 so there is still some work left to be done.
As I was watching the replay of the Syracuse game last night, ESPN’s Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy and Tom Luginbill started talking about the Clemson program and how far it has come under Dabo Swinney. They mentioned all of Clemson’s current winning streaks … the 21 straight wins at home, the 23 straight wins in the regular season, the 14 straight ACC wins and of course the 44 straight wins against unranked opponents.
They brought up that dreaded word you guys all hate to hear—Clemsoning—but they said it should never be used again because the Clemson program has now established itself as one of the elite programs in the country and it has not done anything in the last five years to deserve that word being used in that way.
That’s when Luginbill suggested the meaning of the word should be changed to “winning a lot.” When he said that, I smiled and I thought about my Mother.
My Mom was a lifelong Clemson fan, but she did become a fanatic until her youngest child started pulling for the Tigers when he was seven years old. My passion for the Tigers ignited my Mom’s. My Mom was a single-parent in those early years so she lived through her children and she lived a lot through me and my passion for sports.
Growing up, I loved the Tigers. I never missed a game, and my mom was always there watching or listening to the game beside me. She would let me listen and watch every aspect of game days from the pregame show to the fifth quarter show, we listened to it together.
I used to think Mom did it for me, and she probably did at first, but when I went off to college and my Stepdad told me she would turn on the Clemson Radio Network and would listen all day long. My Mom loved the Tigers and she loved to talk to me about them. We did it every Sunday.
Mom longed to see Clemson win another ACC Championship and become a major player again on the national scene. She also wanted to see Swinney succeed at Clemson. She loved Dabo. She told me that every Sunday. She would say Clemson finally has the right coach in place. She would tell me they needed to leave him alone and let him build the program.
She loved that Swinney is a good Christian man and he is strong in his faith and he teaches his players good values. She loved his positive attitude and she loved the way he loves Clemson.
In 2010, when the program was struggling, Mom told me to give Swinney a message, now she requested this a lot to me back then and most of the time I did not bother Coach with it. However, this time I did give Swinney her message. She told me to tell him to keep being himself and don’t let those with negative attitudes change who he is. She said she supported him and she always will.
When I told Swinney the message, he was touched. He went over to his desk and got one of his “All-In” chips and he handed it to me. He asked that I please give this to my Mom. I made sure Mom had it before the next game. She loved it.
My brother later told me Mom held that chip in her hand every Saturday for the entire game … She was “All-In.” In 2011, as we all know, the turnaround began. And Mom was there to watch every second of it, which was amazing considering what she was going through.
In June of that year, Mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 bladder cancer and was given just six months to live. It was devastating to us all, but Mom, she was strong. She was getting ready for the football season. She wanted to talk about the Tigers.
My oldest brother, who was taken care of her, watched every game with her that year. He said sometimes she would be having a bad day, but when the Clemson game came on she would light up and for three hours every Saturday that fall, it was almost as if she did not have cancer.
When Clemson beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game that year, my brother said Mom had her best day. He said she was jumping up and celebrating every time something big happened. She was dancing around the house and she never complained about being in pain. My brother described it as a miracle.
What it was, my Mom was enjoying the ride. That was the last time my Mom saw her Tigers play. Three days later she had a setback and checked herself into the hospital. She passed away three days after that. But before she died, my Mom got to see her Tigers’ win another ACC Championship. I’m so glad my brother was there to witness that and to share that story to me.
So as Clemson continues to climb that mountain and possibly play for another national championship, I think about my Mom and how proud she would be of her Tigers. I can see here back at her Bamberg home now … sitting on the couch, holding her “All-In” chip and watching them play.
My Mom would be enjoying this ride so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to enjoy this ride. I hope you will enjoy it with me.